Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

GOT problems? Produce a report and make lots of lovely laws. Jack Straw is doubtless itching to produce a raft more on the back of the recent Report on Multi-Ethnic Britain to show how 'tough' he is. But, as Plato pointed out, it is the mark of a bad government to pass constant legislation on more and more trivial matters, like the sick who think the next palliative will solve everything.

The Romans, for example, established broad principles and let local initiatives interpret them. Take St Paul. During riots in Jerusalem a Roman tribune took responsibility and arrested him. He then judged that Paul should be allowed to continue but after more trouble decided to examine him by scourging. Paul at once claimed Roman citizenship. The tribune now felt things were getting beyond him, rejected sending him to the Sanhedrin (there was a death threat) and sent him to Governor Felix. The trial was inconclusive and Paul was held in detention. The Jews lodged a prosecution before the next governor, Festus, and Paul appealed to Caesar. Festus allowed it but then discussed the matter with the local client-king Herod Agrippa II, gave Paul a second hearing and acquitted him (had he not appealed to Caesar, he would have been discharged). …

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