CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Henderson on Vigilantism

Stephen E. Henderson (University of Oklahoma College of Law) has posted Daredevil: Legal (and Moral?) Vigilante (Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 15, 2017) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In 1964, the comic world was introduced to its first physically disabled practicing attorney: Matt Murdock. Initially a proud graduate of “State College” and later more impressively pedigreed as a graduate of either Columbia or Harvard Law, Murdock supplemented his day job as attorney with a side of vigilante justice as Daredevil.

In 2003, Murdock became the only attorney superhero to appear as the title character in a movie. A truly awful movie, yes, but a movie all the same. And then in 2015, thanks to the talents of Drew Goddard, Murdock became the star of a terrific television series.

But while it makes for good comics and television, does it make for good law? Good policy? Is there such a thing as moral vigilantism, and, if so, is Matt Murdock a moral vigilante? What of his foil, the Punisher, or the police officer who comes around to assisting Daredevil’s endeavors? I propose preliminary answers to these questions, including considering vigilantism as theorized by Paul and Sarah Robinson, Les Johnston, and Travis Dumsday. Their metrics are helpful and illuminating, but not, I think, a fully satisfying articulation of what constitutes moral vigilantism. And if we cannot adequately discern moral vigilantism in fictional characters, we will fare no better in the real world. There remains more good work to be done—and more good comics to be written.

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Moral vigilantism, as trope follows accurately in most cases, carries all the perils of utopianism in terms of a willingness to sacrifice many in service to a overriding goal. It is dangerous, and it's glorification is indicative of a Hobspawnian type of honor system where the judgement of the outraged supplants a perceived rigged system to the ultimate good of all. Poisonous fictions.

Posted by: Mike D | Dec 7, 2017 12:08:58 AM

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