Tag Archives: government

Thucydides on Catastrophe and Lawlessness

On the plague of Athens in 430 BC. History of the Peloponnesian War (2.52): “the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or law.” Thucydides continues (2.53, Warner trans.):

In other respects also Athens owed to the plague the beginnings of a state of unprecedented lawlessness (ἀνομίας). Seeing how quick and abrupt were the changes of fortune which came to the rich who suddenly died and to those who had previously been penniless but now inherited their wealth, people now began openly to venture on acts of self-indulgence which before then they had used to keep dark. Thus they resolved to spend their money quickly and to spend it on pleasure, since money and life alike seemed equally ephemeral. As for what is called honour, no one showed himself willing to abide by its laws, so doubtful was it whether one would survive to enjoy the name for it. It was generally agreed that what was both honourable and valuable was the pleasure of the moment and everything that might conceivably contribute to that pleasure. No fear of god or law of man had a restraining influence. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped them or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately. As for offenses against human law, no one expected to live long enough to be brought to trial and punished: instead everyone felt that already a far heavier sentence had been passed on him and was hanging over him, and that before the time for its execution arrived it was only natural to get some pleasure out of life.

Ron Paul Didn’t Just…No, He Didn’t

For a brief moment yesterday, I thought that Ron Paul had introduced one of the most brilliant and important pieces of legislation in the past decade, maybe in the past two or three decades.

That turned out to be my misreading. Paul’s American Traveler Dignity Act is a single paragraph, carefully crafted response to the stupid, abusive and bullying practices of the TSA. And I like that it puts the emphasis where it belongs, on human dignity – which is exactly what airport security takes away from the people it is supposed to protect, even if there is no touching of junk or x-rated x-ray imagery. Take off your shoes, take off your belt, stay in line, take orders, don’t joke, show your papers, give us your keys, give up your toiletries, answer the question, empty your pockets: submit.

The text of Paul’s Dignity Act (H.R. 6416) reads as follows:

No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimetre waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.

But that wasn’t exactly the way the bill was advertised, and this isn’t the language that got me excited. “Ron Paul,” wrote one blogger, “has introduced a bill saying the government can not do to us what would be illegal for us to do.” This turned out to be a paraphrase of something Paul himself said when summarizing the bill on Wednesday evening. “The bill I’ve introduced… It’s very simple. It’s one paragraph long. It removes the immunity of anybody in the Federal government that does anything that you or I can’t do.”

Now that would be a great act. Imagine a bill that stated, simply, that the Federal government and its agents cannot do anything citizens cannot do. Or, more precisely, that the Federal government and its agents are subject to the very same laws to which you and I are subject. That would be the equivalent of saying that the law applies equally to citizens and those elected to govern their affairs. The bill would have a great leveling effect, introducing what is, without exaggeration, a revolutionary idea – that all are equal before the law, that citizens can stand toe-to-toe with the people who govern them, and that government is no longer the refuge of tyrants and scoundrels.

But would anyone in Congress ever support such a revolutionary bill? As of this morning, just two Republicans, Walter Jones (North Carolina) and and John Duncan (Tennessee), had joined Paul as co-sponsors of his act. It seems unlikely anyone in the current Congress would want to support anything so radical as the measure I thought Paul was introducing.