The events in Egypt don’t seem as far away to me, I think, as they do to someone who has never been to Egypt or the Arab world. What do they mean to me?
Hosni Mubarak took over as president of Egypt in the wake of the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. I had a Palestinian client at one time who’s take on that particular event went something like “Who killed the president? Well, who is president now?”
Sometimes we don’t like our leaders and we’d like to see them replaced, but then someone gets carried away and they get killed. Here’s a picture (WARNING! GRAPHIC!) of one such result. Diem was bound and then mercilessly shot to death. He was a handsome young man in his day. When I see pictures like that I am reminded how terrible a thing it is to end the life of another human being.
Life is very fragile, but we deceive ourselves that death is tomorrow’s problem. And then tomorrow’s again. But none of us is guaranteed tomorrow or even the rest of today. We didn’t create ourselves and we are not masters of our own fate, up to and including how it all ends.
Power is of course fragile, too, and that’s a paradox. Power is ultimately weak and passable. Sic transit gloria mundi: the ancient Romans knew. We should not be dumber 2000 years later, but I fear sometimes that we are.
Norm Pattis muses about Egypt and whatnot:
Anarchists see the state as an enemy, and view its elimination as a return to natural freedom. Utopian visions say that in the absence of coercion, love and a proper regard for one another will set us free to live at ease, and without the oppressing hand of government. I want to believe that. I really do. But what I believe is that left to our own devices, we’d dash one another’s brains to smithereens. In every breast sleeps a killer. Deny it at the cost of becoming a hypocrite yourself. My anarchism extends simply to the proposition that government is yet another gang, another group bent on limited ends that will result in divisions of humankind into winners and losers. Temperamentally, I favor the underdog, so I distrust government.
People take to the streets half a world away and it’s scary to people like Norm because he knows how very close to the precipice we are ourselves.
You know what a lawyer is more than anything else? He is the bridge between the individual and his government. The interface. The keyboard that allows the individual to communicate with his government. To do that job, the lawyer must know the individual, and he must know the government.
So when the government begins to break down – and this occurs long before people take to the streets – what group of people are going to know this and recognize it? Yes, lawyers.
I was in a pre-trial conference not that long ago in which the judge characterized the state government as a “banana republic”. It was a quip, but he was not exactly joking.
Years ago, after watching how poorly the criminal justice system functioned (or didn’t, as the case may be) I wondered what the consequences would be if we just did away with it. No more laws, no more police, no more courts, no more – gulp – lawyers.
I disagree with Norm, and I disagree with the utopians. I doubt very much that “…we’d dash one another’s brains to smithereens.” On the other hand, I doubt very much it would be a love-fest, either. In fact, I doubt very much there would be any real difference. People who rob or kill are only rarely concerned about laws against that conduct – at least before they act.
The law is not much of a deterrent. It is more of a standard. It is more of a teacher. It is social glue, but very little of its adhesive power depends upon its enforcement. The job of the court is done at the time it renders judgment. Andrew Jackson famously said (or maybe not): “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” Enforcement, you know, being an executive function and all.
Conversely, all the enforcement in the world will not make a wrong judgment right. We are often importuned to abide by the judgments of courts even when we “disagree”, that respect for the law depends upon it.
Not so. Respect for the law depends upon sound judgments. How dare the robed masters foist their own responsibilities onto the backs of their victims against whom they have rendered poor and wrong judgments?
Every grade school civics class student knows that our government has three branches, checks and balances, blah blah. The judiciary is one of the three branches. If the judiciary chronically renders lousy or dishonest judgments then the government has effectively broken down, whether or not anyone is protesting in the streets yet.
And the lawyers will know. The lawyers do know. All you have to do is ask them. Any of them that are not on the government payroll, that is. If any of those remain.
I wonder if the lawyers in Egypt ever tried striking?