Nuremberg Trials: “A law above the law”

At the end of WW II, many Nazi leaders were put on trial for war crimes. Their defense was simple but almost impossible to challenge except on the basis of the teachings of the Bible.

The defense was that the Nazis were innocent because they had been obeying the law and the legal Fuhrer. Clearly, they were guilty of great and inexcusable evil but how does one establish that in court, since “evil” is not a legal category?

The chief counsel for the United States, Robert H. Jackson, won the day with the argument that there is a “law above the law” that is the measure by which some laws can be deemed good and some evil. His position was upheld by the court and used as the basis for the conviction of most of the Nazi leaders and the execution of many of them.

Would a court today be able to agree with Jackson? Having worked hard to scrub any traces of God from our national structures, how could we envision any sort of “supra-legal” basis of legal judgment? All such attempts to establish a secular morality end up being either absurdly permissive, leaving society with no cohesive principles, or totally arbitrary.

We can coast for a generation or two on the foundation of biblical ethics which guided most American and Western thinking for so many centuries but each generation becomes more and more removed from the source. The convictions about right and wrong become muddled. We soon will be where ancient Israel was for a time before their kingdom was established: “. . .all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

Moral anarchy is ugly and deadly. And we are already paying a great cost for having rejected any foundation for ethical thinking.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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