Recently, I watched the HBO produced movie “The Jack Bull” starring John Cusak. About a man who was denied Justice by the legal system and took the law into his own hands, it had some good moments but was completely undermind by Christian principals, all the good characters die while most all of the evil characters remain to suffer on Earth.

As the movie is a Western adaptation based upon Heinrich von Kleist’s novelle Michael Kohlhass (written in 1810 and set in 16th century Germany), I wondered how true these elements were to the original work. While I am still reading, I did come across the following good quote, where Kohlhass explains to his wife why he sold his farm after the courts denied his claim:

    “…I will not go on living in a country where they won’t protect me in my rights. I’d rather be a dog, if people are going to kick me, than a man!” [p. 30]

Update 11/25/2005: I have finished the novella, and found one additional good quote. Kohlhaas has secreted himself into Martin Luther’s chambers so that he can explain himself after Luther’s public condemnation of him. Kohlhaas says:

    “I call that man an outcast who is denied the protection of the laws! For I need this protection if my peaceful calling is to prosper; yes, it is for the protection that its laws afford me and mine that I seek shelter in the community; and whoever denies me it thrusts me out among the beasts of the wilderness; he is the one–how can you deny it?–who puts into my hand the club that I defend myself with.” [p. 55]

While I do not recommend the the novella, it does have several redeeming qualities: (1) as a historical fiction based upon actual events it provides a sense of the times, and (2) its portrail of Luther’s politics is consistent with his writing “Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should be Obeyed“.

As an classroom exercise, a comparison between the novella and the movie could be an interesting assignment.

Another interesting comparison could be made between Kohlhaas and President Bush in the War on Terror. Kohlhaas has an out-of-context idealized sense of Justice that leads to his choice for self-destruction by making war on the state. Like Kohlhaas, President Bush’s appeals to Justice against state sponsors of terrorism have been denied by the United Nations, which is as corrupt because of its relationships as 16th century Germany portrayed by von Kleist. In addition, both Kohlhaas and President Bush have a religious orientation inconsistent with the choices they make to seek Justice. To what extent is the religious aspect an Achilles-heel?

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