The law of rule

By Michael J. Smith on Friday September 21, 2012 11:44 PM

An acquaintance was prating to me the other day about 'the rule of law' -- he may have even quoted that old bromide, 'a government of laws, not men'. What a curious infatuation. In the first place, it's impossible; in the second, undesirable.

To take the obvious and undeniable point first: laws are enforced and interpreted by men (lato sensu; including women nowadays). The law means what the cops and the DA and the contemptible Supreme Court say it means. There is no appeal to what Humbert Humbert calls the 'wingèd gentlemen of the jury'. The contorted bizarrerie of court rulings needs no belaboring for anybody who's paying attention; and this applies to benign and constructive rulings as much as to reactionary ones. Roe v Wade was as arbitrary and policy-driven as Citizens United.

Who, after all, made the laws? Not all of us got our laws from the Almighty Himself, on Sinai, and we can only envy those who did. The rest of have laws with a far less distinguished provenance -- a series of, well, men, for the most part; starting in the dark backward and abysm of time with the common law, and thence forward, through dubious characters like the Founding Fathers and Napoleon and oh, I don't know, pick your villain; Woodrow Wilson?

So there is no alternative to a government of men (and women of course). But really, even if there were, who would want it? Bad rulers can always be deposed or decapitated, like Louis XVI or Charles I. But if laws as such ever somehow per impossibile got into the saddle, how could you touch them?

It's really kind of a bizarre notion, isn't it?

There's a sensible interpretation, of course, for what is on the surface a nonsensical phrase: 'rule of law' really means something like 'orderliness' or 'procedurality'. That is to say, though we obey the law, we retain our human autonomy -- in the last analysis, law is our servant, not our master. We can change it if it no longer suits our human purposes. But then what are we to say when we can't -- when orderliness and procedurality make the obviously necessary outcome impossible? This is, of course, precisely the predicament many of us find ourselves in right now.

And yet one knows so many people who eagerly embrace these chains; who acclaim the 'rule of law' at the very moment when the rule of law threatens them, in principle at least, with rendition -- though few are worth rendering, even in the culinary sense; so the threat is more theoretical than real.

The ingenious caveat is to claim that the duly elected, nominated, and confirmed President, Congress, and Court, and all the other po-faced soup-hounds of legality, are somehow acting illegally: that there's some court somewhere even more supreme than the Supremes, and by its winged standards the actual agents of law are to be called to account.

Well, to borrow a phrase from Andrew Jackson, let the winged gentlemen enforce it. Much as I would like to see that happen, I am not holding my breath. If this transcendent law is going to be enforced, some non-winged gentlemen and ladies will have to enforce it -- must destroy the law in order to save it.

Comments (31)

In reference to the common law, Bentham called it "Dog Law": "When your dog does anything you want to break him of, you wait till he does it, and then beat him for it." So much for the rule of law.


@Michael Yates: Truth to tell, I like the common law better than Bentham. Punishing people for peeing on the carpet, or whatever, seems a more modest undertaking than soul-engineering. Bentham's ambitions were too ambitious.


Destroy law to make law

That anarchotics rise in beelte browed fury agin that maxim
Has it's non droll ironies

Old Hegel has a nice
I off handedly translate into Paine-ese as

Relative totalization

Consider the difference between a mixture and a compound


Out of great disorderliness comes ...


Favor Common law
over Jerry B 's laputa codes
Fashioned on the baze table tops
of great analytical minds wearing contact lenses and green eye shades

Why father you are becoming a manhattan friar tuck


If I had means to post
I'd gloss the Hegel quote father provided back there
up the post stream

His notion of the state as a intricately composited sum of general actions

How one navigates
Thru Ned Burke white waters
looms large as we
Traverse Clio's gauntlet

In particular whilst in a smooth currented glassy patch
like these global doldrums

We must sedulously Thank her majesty Clio
That in this dull and miserable hour we have Arabs


I can't think of a single significant Supreme decision that wasn't completely shaped and influenced, for better or worse, by the political temperament of the time. In 89 I marched with half a million people in DC in favor of abortion rights. (ok, part of my motivation was probably trolling for phone numbers.) "But you're protesting about a decision the Court would make," I was told huffily, as if the Court were impervious to action in the streets Ask Sandra Day how impervious she was.


Or as Mr Dooley said: "Th' Supreme Coort mostly follows th' illiction retoorns."


MJS, sometimes if it's loud enough, they hear the noise in the streets too.

michael yates sez on 09.22.12 @01:35:
In reference to the common law, Bentham called it "Dog Law": "When your dog does anything you want to break him of, you wait till he does it, and then beat him for it..."

Interesting you'd put it that way... although actually, in reality, it's more like Cat Law: you get on peoples' case for something you don't want them to do when you catch them, and they stop doing it until you're out of sight, and then go back to doing it... kind of like when I come into the living room and catch Minnie clawing the sofa. I admonish her sharply for doing it, and she stops and slinks out of the room -- where she waits until I've left, so that she can return to the living room to resume clawing the sofa.

I know this from extensive personal experience, i.e. my pretty-much lifelong use of marijuana. In public, or mixed company, where there's cops or narcs or other disapproving types, I'm like "oh, marijuana? No thanks..." and as soon as I'm someplace where I know I won't be hassled -- my house, a friend's house, a friendly party -- I'm toking up right away.

Chomskyzinn sez on 09.22.12 @19:24:
MJS, sometimes if it's loud enough, they hear the noise in the streets too... which point They either a) close the windows, or b) send the cops or army out there to beat/gas/shoot until the noise stops.

Cynical? Yeah, a little.


@MikeF: I do think you're being a little too pessimistic. I suspect that our rulers are actually pretty alert to noise from the streets; that's one of the reasons they went to such extravagant lengths to suppress OWS and the other Occupations elsewhere.

It's an interesting imaginative exercise to put yourself in the position of some real plutocrat. One of the things they seem terribly concerned about, all the time, is *protection*, or 'security' as they prefer to call it. They seem to imagine themselves almost immersed in an ocean of actual or potential enemies.

The thugs they hire to protect them can usually deal with the enemies one or two at a time; but suppose there were a tidal wave? The hired thugs couldn't be depended on, and even if they could, they'd be vastly outnumbered.

One of the things the 1% can usually do is *count*.

MJS says "One of the things the 1% can usually do is *count*." Or as Frank Zappa said, "A fire in the street ain't Like a fire in the hearth." In labor law, which I used to know something about, there is great debate about the purpose of the Wagner Act. Was it people in the street and occupying factories that gave rise to it? Was it a clever ruling class plot to force workers into the strictures of collective bargaining? A little of both?


Who, after all, made the laws? Not all of us got our laws from the Almighty Himself, on Sinai, and we can only envy those who did. The rest of have laws with a far less distinguished provenance--a series of, well, men...

That maligned Florentine was also interested in cutting down these colossi to size, if only to get those frozen into stone-like positions to start exercising some ossified muscles:

For the civil laws are nothing else but the decisions given by the ancient Jurisconsults, which reduced to a system presently teach our Jurisconsults to judge and also what is medicine if not the experience had by the ancient Doctors, (and) on which the present Doctors base their judgments?


“Off topic” ...yet not really.

Well despite the fact that the Daily Mail didn’t at all address the UK Suicide rate (would love to know the ‘urban’ England, Scotland stats, ...along with Ireland (as in PIIGs ) stats ... (or should I have specified Southern Ireland, versus Northern Ireland?) this was a partial hideous breath of reality:

More Americans now commit suicide than are killed in car crashes as miserable economy takes its toll Deaths from suicide up 15pc with fears more deaths go unaccounted

•Deaths from suicide up 15pc with fears more deaths go unaccounted

•$56m suicide prevention plan being rolled out after [UK REVEALED!!!!!] shocking statistics [threaten $$$$UZ$$$$$ Mythology!!!!!!]

As to prevention (after having read a bit of the pontificating quotes in that piece ...from Directors and Academia of this and that bought and paid for UZ mouthpieces and $$$$Suicide Study$$$$$ “Non-Profits” which profit enormously while proclaiming those who no longer want to live as having a: can’t buck up to economic hardship disease ....versus: those who no longer want to live realizing how horrendous living has become .....for anyone who does not want to do harm to their fellow human beings in order to ‘see tomorrow’ ...):

Hey ya’ll well paid, Pharma/NAMI/APA/Guantanamo, et al, Hankied Scheme Tanks why not admit that the powers which abuse are so god awful despicable and PUNITIVE AGAINST ANYTHING HUMANE, that many no longer want to live, as they see no way out of their misery and they have no community support whatsoever (in the midst of that thoroughly planned: class war).... outside of putting their names on a database of fragile Lone Wolfer Terrerists proclaimed to be Mentally Deficient for not wanting to experience the tomorrow ...of our Hope and Change ...nor the tomorrow of Righteous Citizens Need No Civil Safety Net[which they’ve actually funded out of their own pockets, via SS and Medicare] (both one and the same ...Hope/Change!!!!!!!/Austerity!!!!!![for those who who have no taste whatsoever for doing in their neighbors, and much, much further away ...fellow humans, .... in order to survive]).

If ya’ll Hankied Social Anthropolgy Tanks really wanted to stop the suicides (versus sucking off a deformed tit) YOU WOULD TELL THE MOTHER FUCKING TRUTH OF THE MATTER.

(directly related: The reason why there are so many HOMELESS in the UZ, is that the homeless ..would rather be under a bridge than having some creepy obscenely paid “social anthropologist” .or NAMI/APA-Guantanamo hot shot ..prescribe their problem as a MUST BE TREATED IMMEDIATELY!!!!! .(to avoid contamination!).....chemical deficiency/illness (Which iz a DIRE THREAT!!!!! to the $$$$$UZ$$$$$$ Sys STEM).... in not being able to healthily adapt to Sadism. ..In other words (in my ‘subjective’ thoughts), the predominant “homeless” message is: Ya’ll ‘$$$$$$hooked up ones$$$$$$’ ... are the: sick ...vicious ... ill ....totally deficient .... Mother Fuckers out there .....)

(yes ..well, a tad of the ‘fermented,’ ..but me thinks I won’t feel the need to retract much, if anything at all, ..on the morrow...)


oops.... I did throw in two 'end italics' 'codes' at the front of this post... it becomes so hard to be chained to the elites required coding which they themselves never have to take the time to learn and impossibly keep track off (they don't have to "Blog" to be heard, they do it in person ..or on a totally protected Telephone Line)...I'll never forget reading a Warren Buffet 'editorial' that he understood none of the world which him, little billy the gatekeeper, et al, have forced on the majority, in order to communicate ...


welp, that's my algebra for the day ...:

[all downtrodden] class[es] has[have] been dismissed [and left to kill each other off as to make far, far more room for the true predator class, with no valid, humane explanation given] by the truly DISEASED.

(an infinite toast to infinite love though, .... on a more serious note, ... something to both live and 'die' for ... actual kindness and benevolence ...aiming for that high road ... versus, sinking in hatred and despair.)

Funny that you should bring up the law. I see that it's perfectly legal now to shovel money to the MEK.

What were once vices are now habits.

Peter Ward:
I suspect that our rulers are actually pretty alert to noise from the streets; that's one of the reasons they went to such extravagant lengths to suppress OWS and the other Occupations elsewhere.

Outright paranoid, I'd say. Consider the fact the Federal Reserve banks feel the need to operate their own police force. It's a fear that's clearly not justified by the tepid rebellion so far... though, perhaps -- one hopes -- our rulers have divined something brewing among the mob the mob itself has not.


Mike F: don't overlook the extent to which the powers that be are motivated by fear and cowardice. They even fear threats that don't exist but that they know might gather.


I'm surprised to see the last pair of comments

I have No security elements attempt to " whip up"
Fears among the money elite and within the plutonian class
There are surely cowards and paranoids

But I suspect there's as much careless bravado and more delightfully
Many laffing at the pwog enfeeblement
and the kulack regiments parading around
ready to club senseless any 47% upstarts

Not to mention the lumpen predators
seeded among the lesser elements
To make the toilers fears real real as any silk hat fears as much as they do erupt
I know there are many many top dogs more
So far from fear they are positively excited by the prospect

Nothing ill suits those engaged in the class struggle
Like over estimating
the self concious evil
the irrational bloody mindedness or the louche spineless ness
Of the class enemy

let alone underestimating
their ability resolve
and ingenuity

Too much hollywood I guess
are excessive


(dear ... Oocytes, I pray you are doing okay, an 'installment': )

diane sez on 09.23.12 @17:24:
“Off topic” ...yet not really.

Well despite the fact that the Daily Mail didn’t at all address the UK Suicide rate...:

More Americans now commit suicide than are killed in car crashes as miserable economy takes its toll Deaths from suicide up 15pc with fears more deaths go unaccounted...

•Deaths from suicide up 15pc with fears more deaths go unaccounted

•$56m suicide prevention plan being rolled out after [UK REVEALED!!!!!] shocking statistics [threaten $$$$UZ$$$$$ Mythology!!!!!!]

Hey, I saw that one, too... in a link from the Drudge Report, of all places (hey, don't judge me; you get cheap laffs your way, I get 'em mine). When I read that article, my first thought was no shit, Sherlock! I mean, c'mon... you've spent twenty, thirty years of your life working hard, saving, trying to do everything right, and suddenly you're middle-aged, out of work, foreclosed, no future to speak of, too late to start over, staring poverty and homelessness in the face, nothing left, deciding you might as well end it... and some goddamn' guilt-ridden do-gooder is thinking he's doing you a big-ass favor by preventing you from killing yourself, like you've got something wrong with you for deciding, in the face of all that, that suicide is a perfectly viable option? I mean, how fucked up is that?

The other day, in the concourse leading to the farecard gates in the Metro, I saw a couple of big ads announcing a Walk To End Suicide, apparently modeled after all those other big-assed, commercialized charity walks which are supposed to help end AIDS, breast cancer, heart disease, autism, you name it. That's right, another bunch of commercialized charity do-gooders are putting on a charity walk in DC that's supposed to end suicide but which will not do a goddamn' thing, really, except make a few thousand people feel good without doing jack shit to end the conditions which are causing more Americans to die of suicide than die in traffic accidents.

Then, after being slimed by those two blasts of smarminess, I went through the gates and down to the platform to wait for the train, and saw a bunch of billboards sponsored by the Washington Metro Transit Authority along the platform displaying the number of a suicide hotline, for the benefit of all those unemployed, foreclosed-on, about-to-be-evicted folks waiting for a train home after another unsuccessful day of job interviews and who are seriously contemplating catching a Red Line to the Hereafter. For those of you outside DC, the Metro Transit Authority here has been badly stung by a recent rash of suicides in the subway stations; as I recall, at least half a dozen people have thrown themselves under Metro trains in DC in the past year and the WMATA, under the impression that it's going to help, has offered free billboard space for the suicide hotline people.

I've been getting more and more annoyed lately by all the emphasis these days on preventing suicide where the people trying to do the preventing spend absolutely zero time dealing with all the things that are driving people to suicide in this country -- unemployment, foreclosures, evictions, desperation, middle-class people suddenly becoming poor, the misery being inflicted by the burgeoning police state, the feelings of isolation and helplessness, the feeling that there's nothing left that's "good" anymore, and a host of other issues I may have missed here.

What I found especially insulting about all this was the fact that people who've lost all hope of finding work, who are about to lose their homes and see no point in living are treated as if they're the ones who have a problem. It's become quite obvious to me that all this recent effort directed towards ending suicide is motivated entirely by guilt. I mean, OK, you've stopped someone from jumping in front of a Red Line and you feel good about yourself, but the person at the other end of the phone line is still unemployed, broke, about to lose his home, feeling totally beaten down and has no hope for the future.

Occasionally, in the middle of the night, when my wife gets up to go the bathroom, returns to bed and turns the TV back on, I'm awakened by commercials for any number of antidepressant drugs -- hell, there's even one called "Soma", f'cripesake. Those bastards really know what they're doing, too, running those commercials at three or four in the morning, the hours when unemployed people about to lose their homes, with rapidly dwindling savings and no hope are so desperately depressed that they can't even get a decent night's sleep and are sitting up staring at the TV at four in the morning. It really makes me ill. It's all about selling desperate people something that will mask their desperation and hopelessness for a while, while their problems are still there and getting worse. Again, the message is that you, the depressed and suicidal person, are the one with the problem, and not society at large. It's really vile.


DISCLAIMER: I post this comment as someone who's struggled with depression since adolescence, but who has assiduously avoided all contact with the mental health industry and prefer to self-medicate with my favorite bad old horror movies, my favorite old music, many hours at the drawing board, and marijuana -- except for a few months in my senior year of college during an especially hard bout of depression when I spent an hour a week shooting the shit with one of the Psych professors who worked as a volunteer counselor at the campus free clinic. Man, was he great... really smart, good listener, perceptive, didn't judge, and gave me some really handy advice on how to handle it when The Demon hits.


Mike F has got it right. There's a cheery-beery sign posted on the approach to the nice high Henry Hudson Bridge, a longtime source of solace for the despairing. It proclaims "Life Is Worth Living." This from the infamous Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, one of Robert Moses' many hellspawn, an agency which spends the rest of its time making life *not* worth living.

We have plans to be in a state that allows assisted suicide if one of us gets terminally ill.

I once had a bout of depression serious enough to warrant medication. I took paxil for awhile, and it helped a good bit. But the side effects were not good. What helped was therapy. A therapist put me on the right track. I was having a lot of trouble at work. I remember a night class, and I used to take a nap before it. I'd awaken and ask myself how was I going to get up those steps and start that class. I knew I had to quit doing that job. The therapist gave me the greatest advice. He said you have to retire with dignity. That turned out to be a key. I kept this in mind as I prepared to leave a job I had held for 32 years.

There is so much misery in this country and in this world. At the least, we should be able to decide whether we can live in it or not.

Sidebar: In a prison class I was teaching once, I pointed out that when unemployment rise, suicides rise too. A black man said, well that must be for whites. I'd just find a way to take the money I needed to survive. Suicide rates for black men and women are lowr than for whites.

michael yates sez on 09.25.12 @09:47:
I once had a bout of depression serious enough to warrant medication. I took paxil for awhile, and it helped a good bit. But the side effects were not good...

My wife often gives me flack for self-medicating with marijuana. I remind her that my alternative would be to turn myself over to the mental health industry and have my already-meager savings sucked dry by pill-pushing shrinks and to give myself an official record of having "mental health issues" at a time when doctor-patient confidentiality is in the toilet, and finding a job's been damn' near impossible already without a potential employer peering into my medical records and seeing that I've been undergoing treatment for depression... not to mention that marijuana is the only anti-depressant I know of which doesn't have a black-box warning on the package stating that it might increase the possibility of suicide. (Stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there a survey taken in the late '90s in which a large majority of psychiatrists said they'd prescribe marijuana for depression if it were legal?)

Given these choices, the decision's pretty much a no-brainer. It's self-medication, FTW... in a walk.

Brian M:

A friend and coworker was recently killed by her cancer treatment. (That's putting it baldly, as the leukemia would have gotten her anyways, but perhaps in not so gruesome a manner). She spent months and months in the hospital being subjected to the horrors of invasive modern medicine. She had young children who needed her, so she went through it for them. She was very brave andan amazingly strong person.

Myself...I don't have children or a wife, I am 49 years old in a dead end job, and I am completely and utterly NOT brave when it comes to doctors and shots and treatments and stuff. I doubt that I would go through with it. I am not "suicidal" at all, but to spend months in a hospital bed fighting the inevitable seems me for me.

that is the url for a survey of white working class amerika

-- my beloved white male
high school or less sub age 60
wage earners are stuffed in there somewhere
among the scores of near beer personages

its genderized regionalized
and creed divided

its grouped by attained level of schooling and
its voncincingly age arranged

whatever the mis partitioning
and the fork tongued framing

and whatever the confidence intervals

it makes chewy reading


Mike F., you’ve reminded me of a hideous report I once looked at four plus years ago (I think it was a Rand report, but can no longer find the link to it) , which I believe was linked to on one of the CDC’s web pages, about setting up a database of those considered mentally unstable. The whole IT MED Records bit, and the prescriptions tracking ( for instance, and how is this shit legal: ) is evil, as anyone with any sense knows it will not be used for good purpose, and it will not result in better medical practice.

I’m with you on the self medicating for gloom, I wouldn’t get anywhere near a Big Pharma/Mental Health Org., but it’s really fucked that some people really are at the mercy of those fuckers.

Brian, really sorry to hear about your friend.

Owen, that is kind of chewy, thanks.

Save the Oocytes, I’ve added a bit more below.


Honestly, the reponse to the Daily Mail suicide piece, made me feel validated in my own rage against the goings on and the stigmatizing of the better of humanity as being insane ...when it is quite the other way around ....

Thanks so much ... (ya'll know who you are) ...

(I shouldn't have noted "tonight" versus "today" "Save the .... , it's there now though, but not done yet: )


("should" versus "shouldn't)

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