James P. Kimmel. Suing for Peace: A Guide for Resolving Life’s Conflicts (without Lawyers, Guns, or Money). Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads, 2005. Paperback, xix + 147 pages.
This is a small book with a punch. It proposes an extraordinary idea, namely that instead of seeking justice, we should seek our own happiness. This piece of wise counsel comes from someone who has spent his professional life battling for justice in criminal and civil courts in a country—the United States—that is by far the most litigious in the world. Every year, some 36 million law suits are filed in the US, with the better part of 700,000 lawyers making their livelihood from the misery of other people in pursuit of the elusive notion of justice.
Every second lawyer, the author informs us, is dissatisfied with his job; every fourth lawyer suffers from clinical depression; every sixth is an alcoholic. Despite his successful law career, James Kimmel himself was downright unhappy. Unlike most other lawyers, however, he pondered his situation deeply and after years of inner turmoil changed his life around in keeping with his visionary theory of nonjustice.
This new legal model puts personal happiness and forgiveness above the old-fashioned notions of justice and revenge. The ideal he puts forward lies at the core of all true spirituality, and is found embodied particularly in the sophisticated teachings of Buddhism. It is also at the heart of Jesus’ teachings.
Let us be realistic: Pursuing the ideal of nonjustice entails a level of personal integrity and nobility that very few people possess. But Kimmel is an untrammeled optimist and believes it is a viable and feasible ideal not only in private life but also in the juridical system. Above all, he feels, we must move away from the present merely punitive orientation to justice, and many would agree.
His well-argued ruminations on nonjustice and a nonjustice system, which he thinks ought to replace the current legal system, are wonderfully thought provoking. He sees our pursuit of justice as the cause of human suffering. In light of the more comprehensive Buddhist teachings, this seems a somewhat lop-sided view but one that still represents a noteworthy step toward correct view and conduct.
While one may not want to agree with Kimmel on each and every point, he clearly has formulated an alternative to the present limping legal system and jurisprudence. His radical reversal of currently pushed values sensitizes us to new possibilities and certainly points us in the right general direction. With the progressive Americanization of non-American nations, this is even timely warning and advice lest the litigious virus should spread around the world.
I have one axe to grind, though: The ideal of maximizing one’s own happiness, as promoted by Kimmel, smacks too much of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy celebrating the virtue of self-interest. Surely, in the end, for us to be happy, we must show a deep concern for the happiness of others—a point that should have been brought out in the book. Still, Kimmel provides an excellent launching pad for discussion, and so my verdict has to be: This book represents a fine accomplishment. Who would not want to see a world without lawyers but rich in understanding, cooperation, peaceful settlement of differences, and forgiveness? If some of the pronunciations in this book come across as overly optimistic, then it is only because Kimmel is an enthusiastic visionary, and without the likes of him we would long have perished.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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