When Justice is Taken Away, What are Kingdoms but a Vast Banditry?

By Dr. Murv L. Kandakai Gardiner

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 8, 2018


Dr. Murv L. Kandakai Gardiner

From his pen at the center of the Roman-African Church, St Augustine of Tunisia/Hippo, asked, “When justice is taken away, what are kingdoms but a vast banditry?” These words by an African Catholic Bishop even flowed through subsequent centuries to become the basic pillar in the thought of the Protestant Reformer, Jean Calvin. St Augustine’s concern during the formative stages of the Church has become the same concern that some well-meaning international agencies and some Liberians have. That concern points to the nihilistic threat with its accompanying decadence which is rapidly approaching due to the clamoring for power on both sides of the equation.  

In this essay, as a psychologist, I invite the reader to join us in looking at some of the positive aspects as well as some of the deleterious effects of the 2017 Election challenge through the lenses of Augustine’s question. If governments (the people) encourage their citizens to become aberrational to the Rule of Law, what are kingdoms but a magna latrocinia? The needed change that the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), other political parties, and the rest of the citizenry are longing for is best attainable through a just process and the exercise of jurisprudence. In this light, let us applaud the Supreme Court of Liberia for its fortitude thus far in its adherence to the Liberian Constitution.  

Citing Article 20 of the Liberian Constitution, the high court under Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered a Writ of Prohibition because the National Election Commission (NEC) had erred in announcing a date for the runoff election without probing the Liberty Party’s claim of alleged frauds and irregularities. Thus, the NEC denied the complainant due process.

But the high court, also, subsequently on December 7, 2017 lifted the Prohibition and affirmed the Runoff Election because the Liberty Party failed to prove its case. And simultaneously, it ordered the NEC to employ corrective measures. Chief Justice Korkpor, in a sense, underscored the roots of democracy, which stemmed to Pericles in antiquity. With tour de force, he provided the best explication from the Constitution on the inherency of power in the people and by the people’s authority only, free governments are instituted for their benefit and when their safety and happiness so require, they have the right to alter and reform the same. (Article 1, 1986)

Qualitative social change is attainable in Liberia through a just process and the exercise of jurisprudence, which has some historical antecedents in the parent (USA) country’s legal system that in effect originated in England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688, which brought into focus a system of rule predicated on the Constitution. Through the ingenuity of the Liberian Supreme Court and President Johnson-Sirleaf’s beautiful, stylistic capacity for self-transcendence, which found resonance in me, justice was achieved. Hence, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and his Associate Justices are comparable to Chief Justice John Marshall of the United States and his Associates in asserting the right of the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the Constitution. Moreover, as it is common knowledge, Article 2 of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution is a replica of Hamilton’s Federalist 78 appertaining to Judicial Review, which Justice John Marshall adhered to in 1803 regarding the Writ of Mandamus.

But the Korkpor Court of Liberia is dissimilar to the Rehnquist Court of America, in that the latter actively allowed the disenfranchisement of many Americans in Florida, especially some African Americans. Ironically, Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, actively participated in the disenfranchisement of many poor and African Americans in the U.S. Presidential Election of 2000. Also, ironically, what we witnessed live on CNN and later via Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, with the exception of Senator Schumer of New York, no non- African American member of the US legislature assisted the Congressional Black Caucus in their efforts to rescue Al Gore and the aforementioned Americans who were robbed of their Fifteenth Amendment rights.     

In his work, The Nation, Kreitzner (2000) averred that in Bush vs. Gore, “the Rehnquist Court with a 5-4 vote disingenuously invoked ‘equal protection’ to abort the counting of unrecorded Gore votes.” As Justice Stevens pointed out, “the majority ordered the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of votes.” This injustice occurred because the Republican Secretary of State in Florida deleted from the voting roll thousands of eligible voters that were illegally identified as felons. The injustice also occurred because the high court/Federal Supreme Court became antithetical to an essential tenet of the Constitution in abrogating State rights by superimposing its might and will on and over the Florida Supreme Court that had previously reordered the recounting of the votes.

Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Tennyson have all stated in variety of ways that nobody will ever be happy in the midst of war. For this reason, in his City of God (Augustine, 158) accentuated, “If justice is taken away, what are kingdoms but a magna latrocinia?” For Augustine, the governments/kingdoms of robberies are kept in place by enhanced impunity. ..The dark shadow of fear and the lust for blood has fallen over them…If it does not do justice, what is the government but a great criminal enterprise?” (158)The change that ordinary Liberians and other social groups including some elites are longing for is rooted in the radicalism of the revolution of Liberia’s parent, America. As a socio-cultural and political metanoia, that change as consciousness is “an ever-flowing stream” (James).The U.S. Revolution brought to consciousness the plausibility of an egalitarian way of life. This radicalism gave impetus for Americans, however British they continued to be culturally and intellectually, to begin the break from absolute monarchy (divine right) to become citizens with the freedom (elutheria) to strive social-economically via hard work.

According to Gordon Wood, “it was not inequality but pervasive equality that raised fear and the possibility of instability…And equality did not mean that everyone was the same, but that ordinary people were closer in prosperity to those above them and felt free of aristocratic patronage and control” (Wood,1986). Embedded in this radicalism, also, was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – Liberty as the destiny of America, which was extrapolated from the Calvinistic tradition/longing to transform the world but not necessarily Jeffersonian/Lockean rights of man, which TJ restricted to only land-owning white males.
Still yet the major change/social justice that Liberians are longing for is rooted in the basic ideological origins of the American Revolution. Primordial to this longing is intellectual determinism. And the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of Liberia predicated on Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution, which stand commensurately with Hamilton’s Federalist no. 78, echoes this intellectual determinism. Hamilton’s argument is that the legislature and judiciary are comparatively smaller to the power of the people. And a pivotal function of the judiciary is to ascertain that the legislature continues to function as a servant of the Constitution and the people who gave it its breath.

Nevertheless, however brilliant our justices were, they were also challenged politically in the face of the anxiety that our international partners were experiencing. Yet they did not falter in their faithfulness to the Constitution in its emphasis on the sovereignty of Liberia (Article 3) and the raison de^tre of the Republic in ascertaining the social, economic, and political well-being of Liberians (Article 6). As our high court has brilliantly and gallantly illustrated, the true revolutionary paradigm or map to true liberation is the Constitution. Nietzsche puts it this way:

He has heart who knows fear
But vanquishes it;
Who sees the abyss but with pride.
He who with eagle’s talons grasps the abyss,
He has courage.
(Thus Spake Zarathustra)

In 1768 as the British stationed their troops in Boston, this brought to surface a huge intellectual meaning. (Bailyn, 1967) Britain which set the stage for freedom and continuous enlightenment in the wake of its Glorious Revolution, was now, paradoxically, encroaching on the liberty of Americans in the thirteen colonies. Liberty was at the center of the American Revolution. James Otis, John Adams, and Abigail Adams focused on liberty as they made their points at Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Indeed liberty was at the center of the American Revolution. But did this mean liberty for all? It was not until Reconstruction that liberty was actualized for all via the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery, made Africans in America citizens, and gave them the right to vote respectively.

Only Hamilton and Paine were sincere about liberty. It would take several years later for John Quincy Adams to emerge as the true defender of liberty in mediating and advocating justice for some African slaves before the Federal Supreme Court. The African/Armistad slaves were taken to the Americas on the notorious Portuguese vessel the Tecora.

Hamilton, the greatest legal mind during the formation of the American Republic, facilitated plenary power for the Federal government and the creation of the First National Bank. He went on to underscore in his Federalist essay that:

The vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.  
(The Federalist Papers)

How true Hamilton’s words are as they impel us all to become introspective as we take a retrospective glance at the inception of Liberia’s 1980 Revolution, which became a direct antithesis of England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 as well as the antithesis of the very slogan of many Liberian “revolutionaries” at the time. Right after President Tolbert was slain, and thirteen men executed horrifically as other innocent Liberians were imprisoned, words were trumpeted, “In the name of the people, the struggle continues.” That “struggle” marked the beginning of an interregnum that plunged the country into tyranny that hurt everybody on all sides.   
Critically observing the importance of the Constitution, Robert Middlekauff underscores the point in his work, The Glorious Cause that neither the battle at Yorktown nor the Peace Treaty at Paris brought the American Revolution to a decisive end. For him, it was the Constitutional Convention (1787), Constitutional Ratification (1788), and the Election and Inauguration of George Washington that made the difference (132).

Yes the military efforts of the thirteen colonies led by George Washington were historically significant. However, the American Revolution as an event of historically critical change was attainable primarily because the Constitution guided the colonists from regressing into the abyss of slavery through the Stamp Act, Tea Act, and other modes of oppression.

But I would go a step further than Middlekauff in asserting that it was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first US Constitution, which was ratified in 1781that set the legal paradigm for liberty from Great Britain. But the first Constitution did not go far enough. Therefore, Hamilton, who understood what real liberty was all about, very skillfully, along with support from Madison and John Jay, framed the new Constitution, which diminished power from an alarmingly powerful legislature and allocated equal powers to the executive and judiciary.  

Hence, John Hanson the first President of the United States (1781 – 1782) should be applauded. But Patrick Henry of Virginia (Give me liberty or give me death), Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison (Federalist Papers), and Thomas Jefferson were pivotal to the success of the American Revolution because freedom was enshrined and guaranteed best in the second US Constitution as it accorded every citizen what was envisaged and articulated by Jefferson and invariably Abigail Adams in The Declaration of Independence as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Article 11A of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia extrapolates from this document. It is worth noting here that in view of the above, and in light of historical irony, just as major Greek writers of antiquity like Euripides, Sophocles, Homer, and Aeschylus never celebrated life without affirming death, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, America’s second and third presidents died exactly on the same day during the 50th Anniversary /Jubilee Celebration of America’s Independence on July 4, 1826.

Was Aeschylus correct when he averred that we are called to tame the savageness of men and make tranquil the place of this world? It is our hope that our new president and vice president will continue to be loved and respected by all Liberians. They will need lots of support and understanding in the midst of mounting challenges. If Aeschylus is accurate, President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor will succeed in helping to tame the savageness of men in order to make peaceful the place of this world.
When justice is taken away, what are kingdoms but a vast banditry? We echo St. Augustine’s question in such a way as we bring finality to this essay because justice must be explicated and transmitted within the context of the Hebraic mishpah and tsadakah. In other words, socio-economically or assiduously, redistributive justice must flow/roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:24) No matter how much civility we are able to mediate from the bottom or top of the strata of society, we must never be satisfied with the world as it is.

Because of the intellectual fervor felt in some areas like Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong, Cape Mount, Bomi, Montserrado, and other parts of the country, Liberia will transform from an intellectually insouciant community to an active, thirsty, and creative community in harnessing its medical, anthropological, social, agricultural, and technological skills for the true liberation of our native land and the preservation of all of our ecosphere.



Augustine, Bishop. 426 AD, Hippo, The City of God Book four vol 1, ed. Marcus Dods
Edinburgh: T & T Clark
Bailyn, Bernard. 1967. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press
Hamilton, Alexander. 1787. The Federalist Papers, New York & Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jay, John. 1787. “Federalist 2 and 64” The Federalist Papers, New York and Philadelphia,
Kelly, Alfred H, Harbinson, Winifred. 1955. The American Constitution: Its Origin and
                                                             Development, Berkely, California: Norton Publisher
Kreitzner, Richard. 2000. “The Supreme Court Gives the Presidential Election to George W.
Bush,” The Nation, New York
Madison, James. 1787. “Federalist 41”, The Federalist Papers, Virginia and Philadelphia,
Moore, Michael. 2004. Fahrenheit 9/11 A Documentary on George W. Bush Agenda and
Election, US and Canada: Dog Eat Dog Films
Middlekauff, Robert. 1982. The Glorious Cause, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press
Sawyer, Amos. 1986. Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, Monrovia, Liberia
Wood, Gordon S. 1996. Radicalism of the American Revolution, Baltimore, Maryland: Johns
Hopkins University Press

Dr. Murv L. Kandakai Gardiner is Professor of Psychology and
Chairman of the Department of Social Sciences at
William V.S. Tubman University, Harper, Maryland, Liberia
He can be reached for comments at murvgardiner@gmail.com and



What is your take? Please post your comments below:

© 2017 by The Perspective

E-mail: editor@theperspective.org
To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: http://www.theperspective.org/submittingarticles.html