Justice Out of Balance

Critical Inquiry, 45 (2019):280-306.

Posted: 26 Jan 2019

See all articles by Mario Biagioli

Mario Biagioli

University of California -- Los Angeles

Date Written: December 29, 2018


The balance is the oldest element in the iconography of justice, both secular and divine. First encountered in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it resurfaces in Persian religious texts, in the Old and New Testament, and in the Koran The balance adorns court houses throughout the world, emblematizing justice with its purported ability to weigh accurately the opposing arguments, evidence, and interests pitting plaintiffs against defendants. It also embodies the paradigmatic image of criminal law at the center of this essay: the balancing of crime and punishment. There is a gap, however, between the balance’s iconographic success and the quality of its performance as an instrument of justice. This essay is about that gap.

Keywords: justice, scales, balance, lex talionis, crimes, punishments, retaliation, iconography

Suggested Citation

Biagioli, Mario, Justice Out of Balance (December 29, 2018). Critical Inquiry, 45 (2019):280-306., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3307742

Mario Biagioli (Contact Author)

University of California -- Los Angeles ( email )

UCLA School of Law
385 Charles Young Dr. East
Los Angeles, CA CA 90095
United States

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