Imagine a time when people govern themselves. When they are both held accountable and willingly accountable for their actions. There are no police or jails – they are simply not necessary. Imagine a time when everyone in the community is honored and taken care of. A time when people hold the Earth and all who live on her as sacred.
A utopian ideal? Not at all. For this is the system of governance that was present in Ireland for hundreds if not over a thousand years – oral traditions evade historical timeline. They are the Brehon Laws and they were the laws, more accurately the civil codes, that embodied a sense of social justice and fostered thriving communities. Communities in right relationship with the sacred, with the Earth, and with each other.
These codes, these mores, were organic. They were created by the people and adjusted by the people when necessary. These laws were not created through delegation. There were no local, regional, or national legislative bodies to create and impose law upon the people and there were no policing agencies to enforce them. It was a system of self governance. The only exception were the Brehons, judges steeped in the law who were called upon to arbitrate when there was a question of interpretation. But the Brehons held no enforcement power. That was left to the people. Justice was restorative not punitive and there was no capital punishment.
There is much to be explored about the Brehon Laws from the value of honor accorded each individual, the rights of women, and the care of children and elders to the requirement to locate hospitals next to running water. There is a rich depth and complexity to this civil structure. But the questions I sit with are about relevance. How is this relevant to us today? What might be possible if we were to consider the Brehon Laws, or any indigenous system of civil codes, as we create our future? It is even possible? Our Irish ancestors were no more or less human than we are. They held the same spectrum of human strengths and weaknesses that we do. But there is one critical difference.
Mores are defined as folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group. The Brehon codes were based on shared moral values that were intrinsic to and embedded in the heritage and very psyche of the Irish people. So the real question is what moral values are as equally embedded in our American psyche and intrinsic to us as Americans that could serve as the foundation for enlightened civil codes in this country? Do we have the courage to claim a moral foundation for our future?
We the People. It’s up to us.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org