Silencing Court Jesters

The role of a court jester was subtler than you might think, he made fun of the king and his courtiers in such a way as to often tell truths which could not be said directly. A strong king did not fear the role of the jester, knowing it was a safety valve for dissent and an indirect source of intelligence that would be otherwise difficult to convey to his face. A wise king who was lucky enough to have a clever court jester could learn much from how the court reacted to his japes and court observers could learn from how the king reacted more than might otherwise have been known.

Only a king too weak or too arrogant would find a jester insufferable. Jesters strengthened kingdoms.

It seems to Guido that today the rich and the powerful are too arrogant and perhaps too afraid of the media, much as weak kings feared the jester, they fear an unfettered free press.

In an age of moral relativism the court of public opinion is so often the only one we have in which to judge public figures. The politician who disports himself naked in parliament – like Nigel Griffiths did – may feel no shame, his wife may be blameless, his party may stay silent, but should he really be able to hide his foolishness from the voters? Should he be able to go to the Courts to protect his privacy after literally cavorting with his lover in the public offices of parliament? He won an injunction to stop a free press reporting the full truth about him to his voters. That seems to Guido to be dangerous to our freedom and to the exercise of informed choice in a democracy.

Celebrities who use their wholesome image to endorse products similarly protect their commercial value using the Court to cover up their sordid reality.

Celebrities, soap stars and footballers go to Courts of Law to avoid being judged by the court of public opinion. If they succeed they escape censure and society is worse off in two ways; public figures get away with behaviour which society rightly disdains and they still manage to project a false self-image without the truth being exposed to the society they deceive. Secondly there will exist in society those who know the truth about public figures – mainly people in the media, politics and the law – and those who are kept ignorant like Roman plebeians.  That can’t be right.

Fear of widespread humiliation and popular opprobrium are two social restraints on the tendency of flawed humans to succumb to their baser instincts. It is an unfortunate fact that many of the characteristics which drive men to power are the same that make them scoundrels. If society wants those who rise to fame and fortune to behave less scandalously, society should keep the justified fear of exposure by a free press as a restraint. Muzzle the press by protecting the privacy of public figures and public life will be even more dominated by unreported scoundrels.



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Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh on Labour’s soft left

“Ms Cooper does not believe the previous Labour government was wrong to run a fiscal deficit after 15 years of economic growth. Both she and Mr Burnham think families should be entitled to tax credits for a third child. These views are not mad. They are just a bit too left-wing for Britain. For any serious party, that amounts to the same thing. The soft left is more electable than the hard left but then Mars is more habitable than Neptune: neither planet will host human life anytime soon.”

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