Law and justice across the ages of artistic representation -- a fair system of justice means nothing when ice water, corruption, and evil run through the hearts of those appointed to enforce the system
The 1980's crime novel Gorky Park, Shakespeare's 'problem' play "Measure for Measure," Marx and Engels political manifesto "The Communist Manifesto," and the World War II Warner Brothers motion picture "Casablanca" all fundamentally ask, at their respective narrative and philosophical hearts the fundamental human question: what is justice? All grapple with the issue of how best to create a truly rather than a superficially just society. Do just men and women, or a just system of laws, produce fair and equitable societies? What is more important, a fair code of laws, or good people attempting to do what is right within any particular moral context? Despite having been produced during different times and for different purposes, these four works form a textual unit that may be analyzed as argument by the critically inquisitive reader. Taken as a whole, this package of textual materials argues that the formulaic construction of law and government are meaningless and the acts of good human beings alone can construct a truly just society.
In Gorky Park, Arkady Renko, a police inspector, faces the vexing dilemma of how to solve triple murder in a Moscow park. Although the book was written during one of the coldest periods of the Cold War, the reader is encouraged to feel tremendously sympathetic to this Russian chief homicide investigator and even identify with the Russian's struggles. Although the investigator is trapped in a difficult and unjust system, the central character is still full of a passion for common, human justice that transcends any of the inequities of the communist system. The book begins after three corpses are found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing. The KGB presents the investigator with seemingly innumerable obstacles to solve the crimes. Yet not simply the injustices of the Soviet legal system threaten the efforts of Arkady Renko. The FBI and the New York police as well attempt to circumvent his quest for justice as well as his life and livelihood. It is not the evils of the communist system that are most at fault for Renko's difficulties, for such a system can produce good people such as Renko as well as evil people in the KGB. Rather it is the corruption within any system, democratic or communist, that is run by bad individuals. It does not fundamentally matter if the system were negative and oppressive like communism or positive and democratic like the United States system of justice. Even Renko himself is nearly undone by his own personal foibles, most notably love, after, at the end of Chapter 11. Renko watches the girl he once loved, whom has entangled herself in his investigation, putting a cigarette out against the bark of a birch tree," as if the warm stab were being pressed into his heart. He [had] believed her. The truth had gone from her into the tree and into him." The immoral nature of an unfortunate love affair nearly proves Renko's undoing, not any systemic evils of communism or democracy -- a character rather than a systemic, structural flaw in the justice system is what nearly unravels his entire investigation. In Chapter 2, "naked," the woman he loves is shown "peeling an orange," but utterly closed, in truth, in her heart to the investigator who loves her -- she is never unpeeled until the end, much like the mystery that unravels through Renko's personal dedication rather than through any systemic construction of justice in America or in Russia.
Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" also starkly illustrates the principle that good people matter more than good laws. At the beginning of the play, the weak but kindly Duke temporarily cedes power to the Puritanical, morally fanatic Angelo. "I have deliver'd to Lord Angelo, / A man of stricture and firm abstinence, / My absolute power and place here in Vienna," (1.3) The system structurally has not changed from the passage of authority from one man to the other. But Angelo, because of his narrow-minded character finds archaic aspects of law to prosecute those…