In the most revolting election period known in this country, it may be as well to reflect on what good governing may look like. This advice was given by Don Quixote to Sancho Panza on governing an island. It mattered not that the island did not exist.
Never be guided by arbitrary law, which finds favour only with the ignorant who plume themselves on their cleverness. Let the tears of the poor find more compassion in you, but not more justice, than the testimony of the rich. Seek to uncover the truth amid the promises and gifts of the man of wealth as amid the sobs and pleadings of the poverty stricken. When it is a question of equity, do not bring all the rigor of the law to bear upon the delinquent, for the fame of the stern judge is no greater than that of the merciful one. If the rod of justice is to be bent, let it not be by the weight of the gift, but by that of mercy. When you come to judge the case of someone who is your enemy, put aside all thoughts of the wrong he has done you and think only of the truth. Let not passion blind you where another’s rights are concerned, for the mistakes you make will be irremediable, or only to be remedied at the expense of your good name and fortune… Abuse not by words the one upon whom punishment must be inflicted; for the pain of the punishment itself is enough without the addition of insults. When a guilty man comes under your jurisdiction, remember that he is but a wretched creature, subject to the inclinations of our depraved human nature, and insofar as you may be able to do so without wrong to the other side, show yourself clement and merciful; for while the attributes of God are all equal, that of mercy shows brighter in our eyes than does that of justice.
Nor does it matter that the Don was as mad as a cut snake when he gave this advice. The role of governor included that of the judge, and I know of no better statement of what that might entail. But there are many courts which could use in neon lights the advice of the Don about bending the rod in the way of mercy – the inarticulate premise of judges except for the outright ratbags – and sparing the loser the insults – which are nothing more than the proud man’s contumely
And while I am with that author, my favourite lines apply equally to judges and to the dreadful dross of our politics now.
But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d;
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.