Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blackstone's Legacy To America

Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law: Blackstone's Legacy to America, published by the Alliance Defense Fund in 2003, is little more than a pamphlet. The book was written by Professor Robert D. Stacey, Chairman of the Department of Government at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.

Although the book gives a short biographical sketch of Sir William Blackstone, the book primarily concerns the legacy and the impact of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, which was a seminal text used by American lawyers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Blackstone believed that the foundation of all law was the law of God revealed in the Bible. Dr. Stacey compares the philosophy of Blackstone, that not even the King was above the dictates of the Common Law, with the judicial tyranny which we are ruled under today.

" . . . for all practical purposes America has been transformed from a rule of law state to a rule of man state. Devoted Christians and lovers of liberty in America face a determined enemy already emboldened by the conquest of much precious territory, and the enemy seeks still more. At such a time, Blackstone is more than an inspiring figure from the past. He is a brilliant scholar and practitioner who in a different age faced circumstances remarkably similar to our own. Blackstone effectively advocated a God-centered legal system at a time when many leading culture-shapers sought to impose a man-centered system. He directs our attention away from positive law and a 'living Constitution' and toward a higher law that secures our liberties. As we seek to repair the damage done in the last hundred years to our culture generally and our legal system specifically, we may look to Blackstone's Commentaries to see what a Judeo-Christian, higher-law-based legal system looks like.

. . . Where have new philosophies like pragmatism, positivism, and relativism gotten us? Government has grown stronger under their stewardship, to be sure - witness the "End of Democracy?" - but what has become of us? . . . Post-modernism claims to empower the individual by severing his ties to faith, divinity, and anything transcendent, but in doing so, post-modernism leaves the now atomistic individual in a state of despair and hopelessness. At the same time, post-modernism empowers government, which tends to fill the void left by the absence of true faith. In the end, the falsely empowered individual is powerless to resist the genuinely empowered government.

The further we get from the rule of law, the more fragile our liberties become. . . One step toward remembering would be to begin educating a new generation of 'Blackstone lawyers.' But, one might ask, what would it mean to be a Blackstone lawyer today? First and perhaps most obviously, it would mean that young law school students would read the Commentaries. . . Beyond this obvious starting point, a modern Blackstone lawyer would be one who regarded the science of the law as the Judeo-Christian world has always thought of science until recently - as the opportunity to discover more of God's glory and magnificence through the study of his creation."

About 18 years ago, I bought a set of paperback copies of Blackstone's Commentaries. I have never even taken volumes 1 through 3 out of the plastic. I dipped into volume 4 since it concerns the criminal law and I was serving as a prosecutor at the time. That unwrapped book has turned yellow while the other three volumes wrapped in shrink wrap are pristine white. It's probably high time that I actually undertake to read them.

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