Dot Wordsworth

Where did ‘No justice, no peace’ come from?

Mark Duggan’s supporters are using a slogan with a surprisingly long history among the chanting classes

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The chant No justice, no peace by supporters of Mark Duggan, the drug gangster shot dead by police in 2011, sounded more like a threat than a prediction. No one knows the originator of the slogan, but that is not surprising. It is a commonplace of the struggle.

In 2011, for example, a pair of artists called Mikkel Floher and Rasmus Nielsen put on an exhibition called No Justice No Peace at a gallery in Frederiksberg, Denmark. The artists are ‘united by a common sense of injustice and indignation’. They should meet my husband.

No justice, no peace has been around since the 1970s among the chanting classes. Some contributors to a moderately intelligent blog called Language Log said that No justice, no peace reminded them of notices in the form: No drinking. No dogs. But, as with the legendary No Irish. No dogs. No blacks, the sign does not suggest that one thing would lead to the other.

More surprising is a widespread ignorance of the meaning of Bob Marley’s lyric No woman no cry. It does not mean that without a woman in one’s life there is no need to cry. It merely follows the standard form of the Jamaican negative imperative, meaning ‘Don’t cry, woman.’

No justice, no peace uses the logical form of the American revolutionary slogan No taxation without representation, and the literal form of James VI’s No bishop, no King. James was not of course threatening that if bishops were abolished he jolly well wouldn’t continue as king.

A century earlier, William Tyndale said that there was a proverb, No penny, no pardon, taken, I suppose, from the pardoner’s trade in indulgences granted for almsgiving. Another dead proverb, remembered in the 17th century, was No penny, no Paternoster, or the variant, No longer pay, no longer pray. From later in that century comes No purchase, no pay. I’m not quite sure what that means: I think it refers to customs inspectors or, on the other side, pirates, who get their pay by confiscation. Perhaps someone can give historical particulars. A glorious revival of the formula by ambulance-chasing lawyers is No win, no fee, an apparent contradiction of the proverbial No pain, no gain.