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Representing Justice: From Renaissance Iconography to Twenty-First-Century Courthouses (with Dennis E. Curtis), 151 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 139 (2007)


In the summer of 2003, The Economist ran a column criticizing the use by the United States of military commissions to deal with individuals detained in the wake of 9/11. As the text of the headline ("Unjust, unwise, unAmerican") on the cover of the magazine made plain, the authors objected to employing an ad hoc process instead of a regular court system to try alleged terrorists. But the editors hoped that readers would quickly understand that critique by looking at the visual accusation—a blindfolded woman draped in Grecian robes and holding scales and sword—viewed through the sights of a rifle. The artist turned Justice into the target rather than the goal.

Our first question is why the publishers of The Economist had the confidence to market their product internationally by relying on such a picture for the cover. They were not, after all, selling their magazine only to people familiar with this remnant of Renaissance iconography. Why did the editors assume that viewers would connect the image to justice, gone awry, rather than to warrior princesses, the Roman Empire, or operas?

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