If you’re like me in that you remain compelled by McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and that singular creation known as The Judge, then you should really have a look at James McWilliams’ short essay on the subject. He talks about The Judge in terms of a search for authority, which I think just about nails it. In doing so he links it to the French thinker Joseph de Maistre, who wrote during the excesses of the French Revolution, a Blood Meridian-esque time if ever there was one.
A lot for McCarthy fans to think about.
But Maistre’s work ultimately enables us to see beyond the blood in Blood Meridian, and it is there that the Judge starts to make sense. Les Soirees unveils an early modern intellectual landscape marked by the death of royal prerogative and the emergence of human rationality. When superimposed on the Judge and his men scouring the scorched earth for their human bounty, Maistre recasts the Judge—that “saltland bard”—as a counter-Enlightenment figure from hell. Maistre’s defining mission was to illuminate the human need for implacable authority in a chaotic world defiant of rational comprehension. This was the grand lesson that the French Revolution taught him as it unspooled into head-rolling mayhem, leaving him committed to the idea that violence symptomized a breakdown of authority, rather than revealing an inevitable necessity in an anarchic dystopia. The Judge, for all his overt cruelty, embodied this distinction.