Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Rule of Law...of Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Paul is a "rule of law" scholar, and a smart guy.

But I don't understand this lament. I agree with the sentiment, but not the contradiction.

Abuse of power is not a perversion of government. Abuse of power is the ESSENCE of government. We trade off abuse of private power, theft, and foreign aggression against the certain knowledge that our own government will abuse the powers we give it to protect us against the bad things in the first part of this sentence.

Or, as the young Edmund Burke put it:

Parties in Religion and Politics make sufficient Discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober Man a proper Caution against them all. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient.

In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!

Observe, my Lord, I pray you, that grand Error upon which all artificial legislative Power is founded. It was observed, that Men had ungovernable Passions, which made it necessary to guard against the Violence they might offer to each other. They appointed Governors over them for this Reason; but a worse and more perplexing Difficulty arises, how to be defended against the Governors? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

In vain they change from a single Person to a few. These few have the Passions of the one, and they unite to strengthen themselves, and to secure the Gratification of their lawless Passions at the Expence of the general Good. In vain do we fly to the Many. The Case is worse; their Passions are less under the Government of Reason, they are augmented by the Contagion, and defended against all Attacks by their Multitude.
(source link)

So, Paul: I'm with you for being upset at government abuses of power. But how could even your fertile imagination for a moment believe that it could be otherwise?

1 comment:

Paul Gowder said...

Heh -- we like to think (ok, I like to think) that there are ways to arrange our affairs such that we can at least cut down on the abuses of power -- keep it to a dull roar. Put differently, I'll see your Burke and raise you Madison. And surely we've succeeded a little: ours still abuses its power a lot less than, say, Stalin's, did.

Secret memos authorizing extrajudicial killings are, alas, far more than the dull roar that Madison would have imagined.