CLIO 7 (1) - page 20

The most uncomfortable aspects of a topic
– the ones who teeter on the boundaries of moral-
ity – tend to be the ones most brutally neglected
and avoided; issues people are more than happy to
flit over because drawing a conclusion to them is an
impossibility and people fear the idea that there is
no finite answer. Vigilantism is one such issue.
Described as an individual or organisation
that acts in the capacity of a law enforcement
agency but without official legal authority, it may
be interpreted that participants of vigilantism are
in the wrong and are morally inexcusable - however
in many cases, the motivations behind their actions
can be deemed noble. The question stands as to
whether vigilantism is a subtype of political vio-
lence and so should include hate groups, or whether
it should solely be characterised as an “ultimate act
of good citizenship” (Johnson 1996), which would
therefore support vigilante acts as being substitutes
to a system that is believed to have ‘failed’ through
means either ineffective or non-existent. Is this
form of self-protection then deemed necessary?
Can acting in place of the law in order to deliver
‘justice’ really be considered a crime?
Acting immediately with the intention to
punish and following the principles of ‘lex salica’
and ‘lex talimus’ – the ideas that those who deserve
punishment deserve to pay (the former) or deserve
to feel pain equal to the crimes they have commit-
ted - which in certain cases such as serial murders
is inapplicable - (the latter), vigilantes are often
aggressive in their methods which leave no space
for the ‘interference of the courts’.
Vigilantism, despite its controversial sta-
tus, has been present in societies even before the
English language introduced the word. Religion has
always had a powerful influence on societies so I
feel it is important for it to be considered as either
a cause of vigilantism’s later fervency or as a reflec-
tion of its popularity at the time. The surprisingly
frequent and inconclusive references to it within
the Bible further the idea of it having always been a
controversial issue yet one people feel naturally and
consistently drawn towards.
One such is example is the Biblical story of
Dinah where she was raped and kidnapped by the
son of a city leader who then asks her father for her
hand in marriage. Her brothers were outraged and
asked as a dowry for all the men in this city to be
Vigilante: from Latin roots, via
Spanish, meaning watchful, careful
or awake.
A foundation for a modern society or a
destructive act of selfishness?
17th century depiction of the rape of Dinah
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