Voluntary Servitude
by Christopher Britt

At the core of Fenn's comments on outcome based law as a form of voluntary servitude (The Law, January 2, 1995) there is the perplexing and troubling issue of the "illegitimacy of justice." The nexus, that Fenn's work defines, between illegitimate justice and voluntary servitude inspires a suggestive string of interrogatives: how is it possible for the unjust law, a despot or an illegitimate State to conserve their legitimacy despite their being unjust? Why is it that society "permits" itself to be scripturally administered when this practice undermines the impartiality, consistency and integrity of the law as a discipline -- undermines its "justice" and supposed source of legitimacy, and by extention society's faith in and respect for the law? Moreover, given this damage to power, what can it mean to uphold, on the one hand, that "men and women are perfectly capable of rational or irrational disobedience before the law: that their respect must be daily earned" when, on the other, what distinguishes the law from other canons is that it is "generally obeyed by people"? The first of these italicized statements -- both are citations from Fenn's essay -- would seem to refer to voluntary disobedience in the face of an arbitrary law that lacks the critical self-consciousness of a discipline; while the second, to voluntary obedience in the face of a self-consciously coherent set of values and principles. Both cases are constitutive of the same kind of civic subject: a sensible, knowing, astute subject, an accountable vigilante who disobeys the arbitrary because it is arbitrary and who obeys the coherent because it agrees with his sense of lawful integrity. But the import of Fenn's essay is to be found elsewhere; concretely, in that it contrasts this accountable figure with quite another form of subjectivity altogether: the lazy, indolent, deceived subject who is an executioner of accountability and who voluntarily obeys an arbitrary, discredited and illegitimate form of justice. The primary question at hand is: Why does he obey? What hath he obscured beneath that cloak of inertia?

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