Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Anarchy, Vigilantism, and the Ownership Society

Yesterday, at a local watering hole, I found myself in half-lit conversation with a long-time criminal defense attorney who looked like a football player, talked like a construction worker, but also carried into the bar a copy of Sarah Vowell's latest book, Assassination Vacation, suggesting a more complicated character than one might first assume. Upon realizing that we both worked in the law, we started getting into it regarding the nature and value of criminal law. As the conversation wore on, he revealed himself to be libertarian almost to the point of absurdity, defending against every attack the idea that a community can police itself. Of course, a criminal defense attorney, almost of necessity, needs to have a libertarian streak to do his job well. But this guy was pushing a bit too hard, and by the end I reached a point where I could only say, "I don't believe you," referring to my strong conviction that neither he nor anyone else in his right mind would want to live in the functionally lawless, might-makes-right society he was postulating.

Anyway, this morning, getting up to speed only very slowly, I stumbled across last weeks Onion, and found this gem of a spoof.

Bush's self-described "plan to have no plan" permits elected and appointed government authorities to "look the other way" while bands of U.S. citizens enforce both the community standards that the existing legal code overlooks and those laws that police fail to enforce.

"From bordello-busters to subway shooters, vigilantes have a long history of pinpointing and resolving the problems plaguing their communities," Bush said. "Let's give 'em a shot."

Bush's remarks came in the wake of criticism among his ultraconservative supporters, who argue that "activist judges" often make decisions that contradict the will of the people. To help remedy this problem, many special-interest groups had been calling for an official tolerance of "vigilante judicial committees."

"Vigilantes have an undeserved reputation for recklessness," Republican pollster Jennifer Mendenhall said. "As we phase vigilantism in, be prepared to hear a lot of talk about 'mob-ocracies' and 'tyrannies of the bat-wielding, roving majorities.' That rhetoric is meant to scare peaceful citizens into thinking they need magisterial authority to protect their interests. But vigilantism is not about crazed drunkards clustering in town squares, waving pitchforks and crying out for blood. It's about an opportunity to let the citizens of America serve as their neighbors' meter maids, correctional officers, chiefs of police, or, if necessary, SWAT teams."

Good stuff. (It's funny 'cause it's true.)


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker