“It’s not natural to forgive without some sense of evening the score. It’s intolerable to know that someone gets away with something, and there’s no sense of avenging the act.”
Thane Rosenbaum talks revenge in the second episode of our two-part 9/11 special! An author and law professor, Thane recently published Payback: The Case for Revenge(University of Chicago Press), an exploration of how the American judicial system has excluded vengeance from justice, to the detriment of the polity and the moral universe.
“I’m not advocating that people go seek revenge as self-help; I am advocating that the legal system has to do a better job to do it on our behalf.”
We discuss why the American legal system has a problem with emotion, how victims have been trivialized, what to do about suicide bombers, how western man split justice and revenge (and why it was a huge mistake), how Aeschylus’ Oresteia creates a perfect model for the justice system, how to make better lawyers (and better people), how The Godfather demonstrates the rule of proportionality, and a whole lot more.
“Let’s stop pretending that we don’t believe in vengeance. Because if you believe in justice, you believe in vengeance. It’s a false distinction between them.”
Bonus: You get to hear about the time I had to decide whether to have someone killed!
About our Guest
Thane Rosenbaum is an essayist, law professor, and the author of the novels, The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and Elijah Visible. His articles, reviews and essays appear frequently in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other national publications. He moderates an annual series of discussions on Jewish culture and politics at the 92nd Street Y. He is the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Fordham Law School, where he teaches courses in human rights, legal humanities, and law and literature, and also directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. He is the author of The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right. He is the editor of the anthology, Law Lit: From Atticus Finch to The Practice: A Collection of Great Writing About the Law. His newest book is Payback: The Case for Revenge.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Knife Feels Like Justice by Brian Setzer. The conversation was recorded at Thane’s home in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. There was some trouble with mic placement, so I apologize for all the plosives. I tweaked the EQ to try to reduce them without damaging the overall quality of the conversation. Also, there was a fan on at the other end of the room, so there’s a light fuzz throughout the conversation, but I think that makes it more homey. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Top photo by Zofii K., bottom photo by me.