What is a legitimate state? If you’ve been with this blog for the last couple of years, you’ll probably have encountered that question in a variety of forms. [stderr] It’s not as simple as it seems.
When you get properly tangled up in this question, you wind up with an answer that almost always has something to do with the consent of the governed (making the state an emergent property of public consensus) or the successful implementation of a body of just laws.
None of that ought to inspire worship of the laws. They’re just a bunch of words on paper, and they ought to be periodically re-examined to see if they still represent the collective bargaining of The People. That’s the contractarian view of state legitimacy: we see the laws as an emergent capture of the popular will, re-framed and constrained so that certain things are not definable as accepted under the popular will. In the US, for example, we cannot (under the constitution’s 14th amendment) have a law that treats muslims unfairly. Ha, ha, ha, hee, hee hee, sorry, I try to keep a straight face but it’s hard.
Here’s a weird thing about America: the country’s founding principles are libertarian/anarchist, in spite of the fact that they are mostly bullshit. In principle the laws are constrained by checks and balances – i.e.: if someone passed a bad law, the legal system itself would be used to dissect and negate the law. A cynic (do we have any of those in the room?) would recognize all of that as a scam intended to get the public to sit down and shut up long enough for the screwing to occur. But a less fortunate or less thoughtful person might have grown up under such relentless propaganda that they actually fall for that line of reasoning. That’s how we get armies of people on Facebook and elsewhere saying things like “those immigrants were breaking the law!” thereby according the law entirely too much deference: it’s just an emergent property of the popular will, right? It’s not something handed down on clay tablets written by Cecil B. DeMille. The law is changeable; that is implicit in the fundamentalists’ attempts to re-write the nation’s abortion laws. Have you noticed that their fellow ‘conservatives’ aren’t telling them, “hey, it’s the law so suck it up, buttercup, and stop complaining”? It’s built into the notion of the laws that they have no particular moral value* – just work to change them back, and do it fairly without anyone’s thumb on the scales of democratic enquiry.
Never mind that the American christians have had their thumb on the scales that established US law, all along. I find it oddly amusing that many Americans today are literally foaming at the mouth about “Sharia Law” when many of the things that islamic law stipulates are right in line with traditional christian jurisprudence and values like homophobia, misogyny, slavery, judicial murder, etc. I hope nobody tells the poor deluded christians that the muslims are their natural allies against atheism and rationality; they might make an effective political alliance.
In the meantime, if we could sit back and enjoy the spectacle, it would be almost funny. The authoritarian wing of American politics has been forced to drop the pretense that they actually have any sort of moral justification, at all, and they’re having to deal with the moral relativism inherent in their own position. Wait, what? Oh, let me amuse you: they didn’t realize that the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” just re-opened all of the deep rifts that led to the reformation and the 30 years, 100 years wars, and countless crusades and pogroms. It’s saying that the individual can claim their personal conscience supercedes the laws, if their interpretation of their faith is different from the law, and the judge has to help work it out. By the way, that is also sharia law, but let’s give credit where it’s due, to that old nihilist Martin Luther.
It would almost be funny, if it weren’t so serious. In the meantime, let’s all make sure we tag them as heavily as possible with the moral nihilism that they are engaging in – let’s point out that they have ceded pretending to hold any moral high ground at all and have resorted to the most earthly, corrupt, political chicanery and wheeling-dealing. After all, if you believed that god hated abortion, why didn’t you sit back and let him rig the election for you? Instead, you tried to rig the election, yourselves and were a bunch of ham-fisted amateurs. Enjoy your felony convictions, those of you who get them! Oh, and they broke the law – which, you know, justifies bringing the weight of the state down on them in the fullest, most cruel possible way.
There’s one great big law-breaker whose family deserves to be broken up and scattered, but they’re all protected by submachinegun-toting secret service agents.** So instead let me ask oh-so-seriously why these guys haven’t been arrested yet, and their families deported: [alternet]
Colorado sheriffs say they’ll go to jail rather than enforce controversial ‘red flag’ gun control law
Jail? Fuck it. Throw them over the wall to Mexico. They like cops that won’t obey the law.
Wait, what’s that you say, “no, they don’t”? Shoot. Put ’em on a plane to Russia; they’ll get their belly full of authoritarianism there. But. rather obviously, they don’t like the laws of the US and are prepared to disobey them. So sad. Fire them. Maybe the Secret Service is hiring.
We’ll break it down in more detail below, but the basic idea is that this law, effective Jan. 1, 2020, will allow law enforcement, family members, and roommates to appeal for an individual’s firearms to temporarily be removed, for their own protection and general public safety. CNN reports that fourteen other states (plus D.C.) have passed similar legislation
Wait, what?! The Colorado cops have stated, publicly, that they will prefer for one of their buddies to encounter a possible deranged person and get killed, rather than enforce the law? I am sure that all the ‘conservatives’ who masturbate whenever someone reminds them of how authoritarian Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, will support the governor just firing all the cops. They can hire migrants.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams disagrees so much with a gun bill making its way through the Colorado legislature that he’s willing to go to jail rather than enforce it.
“It’s a matter of doing what’s right,” he said.
Today, roughly half of the counties in the state are calling themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” (Yes, really.) As reported by CNN, sheriffs across the state have declared that they'[d rather go to jail than enforce this new legislation. Their argument is they believe it is unconstitutional.
That’s not “moral relativism” that’s moral irrelevancy. Call me, Colorado, I have a fix for your problem. You need better cops.
* Good thing, too, or we’d have to watch people trying to morally justify the US’ vast history of legislation that looks pretty damn immoral across the chasm of a remarkably short time-interval.
** Wait until those praetorians turn on you, as praetorians always do.
Does anyone want to bet against me that those “second amendment sanctuaries” are predominantly white areas?
Yeah, I’ve been chuckling about that for some time… Because here in Scotland, those rifts are still a live issue for a significant number of the fairly small minority that still give a shit about religion (or the social divisions which arose from it), and “sectarian violence” (meaning between Catholic and Protestant) is still a fairly regular occurrence.
Andreas Avester says
It always annoys me how religious people try this one. Agan, and again, and again. For example, the law might say that I have a right to obtain voluntary sterilization, but some conservative doctor will just refuse me and get away with it. The fact that religious people routinely get away with this is what bothers me most. It’s unfair. Why can’t I get the same privileges? I could invent some religion that worships a trickster god and says that I am allowed to just take other people’s possessions. Yet if I tried that, I wouldn’t get away with it.
This one always makes me wonder what Christians really believe. They say that there’s an omnipotent and omniscient God who hates abortions and wants to prevent women from obtaining them or wants to punish those who have them anyway. An omnipotent God could easily blow up all the abortion clinics on his own. He could just direct hurricanes and floods on them. He shouldn’t need puny human help. God doesn’t want to intervene with people’s free will? OK, but then he’ll just punish sinful women after they die. Why do Christians want to get themselves involved in this question if God can handle it on his own? Do they want to save sinning women from the torments of hell? Yet I routinely witness Christians hating various groups of people and wanting them to suffer. The only rational explanation is that Christians don’t actually believe in their God’s omnipotence, and that prompted them to take matters in their own hands.
I’d further bet that the selfsame cops would eagerly work to enforce the law if they were being called about someone who was nonwhite. Black, Amerindian, South Asian Indian, Hispanic — all of a sudden, they would be all “Hey, the law’s the law”.
Were there any police who honestly acted out of conscience and refused to enforce racist law at any time?
Marcus Ranum says
they would be all “Hey, the law’s the law”.
It’s as if they don’t actually believe anything; it’s all just a convenient excuse.
OK, they probably believe in gravity. The law’s the law.
Marcus Ranum says
I could invent some religion that worships a trickster god and says that I am allowed to just take other people’s possessions. Yet if I tried that, I wouldn’t get away with it.
They invented their bullshit god long ago and now they can appeal to “tradition.”
Whenever I approach christians’ flexibility toward morality and justice, I try to describe it not as “morals” but “authoritarianism.” You’ll notice that christianity actually makes no moral arguments at all – it just asserts stuff. That’s just how it is, god says, therefore it’s true. That’s the biggest beginner-level move in all of philosophy. When that doesn’t work out, they try to lean on their numbers, as if they were doing some kind of moral democracy or something. Never mind that authoritarians can’t achieve morals by democratic means, they’ll take what they can get, as long as it gives them a fighting chance at getting their will. In fact, they’ll do whatever it takes – lie, cheat, break the law, all in order to uphold the law.
Re: Christianity and the law: I heard a point made the other day that had never occurred to me before. The USA is this for-all-intents-and-purposes theocracy, right? Judges and similar always trying to get the ten commandments put up on plaques and similar? And as a nation, well gee you better show some damn respect to my sincerely held (Christian) beliefs, right? Except…
Except turn up in a court of law accused of some heinous act, and tell the people present that God – the Christian God – spoke to you and told you to do it. Y’know, like he did with the prophets and so on. Does that get respect? Is that a get-out-of-jail card?
Very much not. That, right there, is the first plank in a defence of insanity. And nobody, no pastor or cleric stands up and disputes this or claims it’s a diabolical liberty and a deeply offensive trivialisation of their sincerely held beliefs. Oh no – they’re all “he’s a wacko alright, lock him up”, like the rational people. Despite the accused’s claim being not differently in quality to their very own.
Andreas Avester says
Even the stuff the Bible asserts cannot be called as “moral guidelines.” It’s worse than awful.
Growing up in the atheist country, I didn’t think about religion much. Sure, I knew that a few elderly people believed in God, but I didn’t encounter religion in my daily life, so I was free to ignore it. Up until I was about 16 or so, I was closer to an agnostic rather than an atheist—I just hadn’t bothered to think about God at all. I tried reading the Bible once, but I gave up after the first chapter. It was such an awfully written crap. Thus, instead of listening to preachers or reading the Bible, I learned about Christianity from atheist videos on YouTube. And that sure was a hell of an introductory course. One of the first things I learned about Christianity was that in the Bible there are verses that instruct slave owners about how hard they are allowed to beat their slaves. Or that men aren’t allowed to sit on some chair if beforehand a woman had sat there while being on her period. Or all those countless genocides God committed in the Bible. Years ago, as I was learning all that, I just couldn’t reconcile Bible verses with any notion of morality or justice. Americans who grow up in Christian families have been raised since childhood to accept and excuse God’s atrocities, but for me, somebody who had grown up in a non religious environment, they seemed incredibly wrong and barbaric.
I cringe each time I hear Christians talking about how God has given them moral guidelines. In the Bible there are countless verses that sound like they were written by psychopaths.
Some Old Programmer says
Many people are just not familiar with the–hmm, let’s call it flexibility of the law.
Several years ago, in one of the most disagreeable experiences I’ve had, I was a juror. An ancillary charge came up for consideration, that of having sex without regard to risk of observation by passersby (shorthand: sex in public). A fellow juror asked in exasperation, “Who gets charged with this?”. With mordant humor, I enlightened him, as the case at hand didn’t evidence the most common use of the charge. “Gay people. Gay people get charged with this.”.
Andreas Avester says
Some Old Programmer @#8
It can be much worse. Where I live, gay people don’t get charged with this. Here I have never seen gay people kissing in public. I don’t even remember seeing gay couples holding hands in public places. In general, most gay people are just too scared to step out of their closets.
Some Old Programmer says
Andreas Avester @9
Indeed it can be much worse. Both legal and extrajudicial considerations abound. There are destinations I strenuously avoid, whether for legal hostility (e.g. too many countries to enumerate) or a history of bigotry and a resistance to change (e.g. the US South). Despite living in a more tolerant region, it’s quite rare for my husband and me to hold hands in public; maybe in San Francisco’s Castro district or Provincetown, Massachusetts. I have the privilege to be able to be out, but I’m always aware of my surroundings, and that in the wrong place at the wrong time, things can go pear shaped.