In the tradition of Montaigne and Orwell, Rory Stewart MP has an extremely important blog post about the need for judicial decisions to be be made case-by-case, using humane wisdom, intuition, and discretion, and not by deterministic or mechanical algorithms. The same applies to most important decisions in our lives and our society. Sadly, his view runs counter to the thrust of modern western culture these last four centuries, as Stephen Toulmin observed. Our obssessive desire for consistency in decision-making sweeps all before it, from oral examinations in mathematics to eurozone economic policy.
Stewart’s post is worth quoting at length:
What is the point of a parliamentary debate? It isn’t about changing MPs’ minds or their votes. It wasn’t, even in the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860s Trollope describes how MPs almost always voted on party lines. But they and he still felt that parliamentary debate mattered, because it set the terms of the public discussion, and clarified the great national questions. The press and public galleries were often filled. Churchill, even as a young backbencher, could expect an entire speech, lasting almost an hour, to be reprinted verbatim in the Morning Post. MPs put enormous effort into their speeches. But in the five-hour debate today on the judicial sentencing council, the press gallery was empty, and for most of the time there was only one single person on the Labour benches – a shadow Minister who had no choice. And on our side, a few former judges, and barristers. For whom, and about what, were we speaking?