The American Police State
by William L. Anderson
Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Law Enforcement are
Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Paul Craig
Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008,
pages (paperback), $16.95.
In the past six years, I have written a number of articles, papers,
and columns about how any pretense of the rule of law in the United
States is dead. This was not always the position I took, but after
reading the hardback version of The Tyranny of Good Intentions
2001, I realized that not only were the people who were officially
entrusted with keeping the law in this country not interested in
fulfilling their duties, but that the very nature of law itself in the
USA has fundamentally changed. That change, unfortunately, has been for
the worse. I wish I had more comforting words.
Paul Craig Roberts, an economist and a former assistant secretary of
Treasury during the Reagan administration, and Lawrence M. Stratton, an
attorney and currently a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Ethics at
Seminary, have exposed the modern U.S. legal system for the wretched
that it has become. From the fraud of the "War on Terror" to
the destruction of ancient legal doctrines, Roberts and Stratton
the death of law in the United States.
Before I go through the litany of cases and situations that Roberts and
Stratton present, I first must point out that the main service they do
not the presentation of many injustices that are a regular part of U.S.
law today though what they say is important, if not downright
discouraging. (I would warn all readers that they need to prepare to be
angry and shocked at the many evils done today in the name of the law.
a reader has problems with high blood pressure, I would urge that
to stop right here.)
No, the most important thing that Roberts and Stratton do is to
educate the reader about the source of U.S. law, how it began,
why it has become so corrupted. In this review, I will deal first with
their vision of the law and the downfall of that vision, before
mentioning a few cases.
While we might look back to the signing of the Magna Charta in 1215 as
the beginnings of what are called the Rights of Englishmen, perhaps the
most influential document in the history of our law was (I emphasize
"was") William Blackstones
on the Laws of England, published between 1765
and 1769. As Roberts and Stratton point out, Blackstone believed that
law should be a "shield for the innocent" and that the purpose
of law (and government) was protection of innocent people (and their
property) from predators and from the predatory state.
From Blackstones vision came the view of "innocent until proven
guilty," and the protection of rights for those who were accused.
>From Blackstone, we are given the famous quote: "It is better that
ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer." Indeed, the
concept Rights of Englishmen has been absolutely vital to the very idea
of liberty in this country.
However, there also was a competing vision, one that was drawn up by
"father" of modern government, Jeremy Bentham, a British
philosopher of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the one who
the term, "utilitarianism." Bentham scoffed at the idea of
individual rights, and believed that the state needed to be a mechanism
by which the largest number of people could be able to experience the
greatest pleasure with the least amount of pain.
In Benthams view, the state was to accomplish that purpose by being as
unrestrained as possible, led by people whose vision was superior to
vision of ordinary people who did not know better. Law, in Benthams
view, was not to be a "shield" for innocent people, but rather
a set of rules that would push people in a certain direction through
incentives, both benign and harsh. Even wrongful convictions of
people were not harmful, for they empowered the state and sent a
to everyone else.
For example, readers of this page and (one would hope) most Americans
recoil at the thought of government using torture to extract
While Blackstone railed against the use of the "rack" and other
such torture devices, Bentham saw torture as useful for the state, to
administered by the Wise State as a mechanism to teach the subjects of
country to obey their political masters.
Another example came with the use of prisons. Bentham believed that
people should be arrested and imprisoned before they committed
crimes. The state would be wise enough to determine who was a threat
who was not, and those people deemed to be a threat to
"society" were to be locked up and forced to engage in labor.
Moreover, prisons were not to be dedicated to incarcerating dangerous
violent people; they were to be used as tool to strengthen the power of
Where Blackstone believed that government should be restrained by
law, and be a "shield" for the innocent, Bentham saw the
states role to be a sword against people who might threaten the
well-being of those in political power. In his view, there was no such
thing as "natural law;" indeed, law was nothing but a set of
rules put into place by those who had power.
It does not take a particularly astute person to see which vision has
triumphed in the United States. Roberts and Stratton, after laying out
the competing visions of law, demonstrate unequivocally just where U.S.
law is headed, and the many injustices that the Benthamite vision has
visited upon innocent people.
From the Drug War (and the policies of asset forfeiture read that,
seizure by government authorities of property under flimsy pretenses of
guilt) to the creation of ex post facto laws to bills of
attainder, they document conclusively just how prosecutors, corrupt
judges, and the police have destroyed any last vestiges of natural law
and constitutional rule.
For example, they deal with the ancient doctrine of mens rea,
which meant that in order for a person to be charged with a crime,
authorities had to show that he or she intended to commit a crime.
Blackstone wrote that a "vicious will" was necessary for such
charges to be made justly. Bentham thought otherwise.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court and lawmakers have obliterated mens
rea, in the process wiping out a very real protection that
individuals had against the predatory state. In their chapter,
"Crimes Without Intent," Roberts and Stratton outline a number
of criminal cases brought in which it was clear that the defendants did
not intend to break the law or even knew they were doing so.
One very sad case involves that of Benjamin Lacy of Linden, Virginia, a
73-year-old producer of apple juice who was targeted by the Clinton
administration and the Environmental Protection Agency in 1994. Lacy,
had written down a few wrong numbers on waste water forms (he received
his information over the telephone) was tried and convicted in federal
court for "conspiracy to mislead" the government.
Prosecutors theorized that Lacy was trying to cover up polluting a
stream. However, they never offered proof that the stream was ever
polluted, and they were successful in convincing a judge not to permit
Lacy to use evidence that no pollution had taken place as a defense. A
sycophantic jury (What other kind of jury exists these days?) believed
the prosecutors, and Lacy went to prison, his life ruined.
In case someone thinks Roberts and Stratton exaggerate, perhaps a line
from the majority 1957 opinion in Lambert v. California,
by Justice William O. Douglas (mistakenly called a
"libertarian" by many) will be enlightening: "We do not go
with Blackstone in saying that a vicious will is necessary to
constitute a crime." In fact, while legal historians and others
might claim that the Earl Warren Court of the 1950s and 60s
expanded the rights of the accused, Roberts and Stratton
demonstrate that this court accelerated a trend in which the state
especially the bureaucracy gained huge amounts of power against
When agents of the state are given unlimited power by legislators and
judges (the Constitution be damned or turned into a mechanism by which
expand the powers of the state), then one should not be surprised when
those agents lie or suborn false testimony. Throughout this book,
and Stratton document and I mean document how the
themselves have become the lawless, and the examples are
I must point out if only because the critics of this review will
me of being overly favorable to the authors that they mention my name
in their section on the false prosecution of innocent Duke University
students by the infamous Michael B. Nifong. As readers of my articles
already know, Nifong indicted three Duke student-athletes for rape,
kidnapping, and sexual assault despite knowing that they were innocent,
but needing to bring charges in order to gain enough black votes in
Durham County, North Carolina, to win an election. (The accuser was
black, and the defendants were white. That was enough for the
and voters of Durham and much of the Duke faculty and administration
to conclude that the charges simply had to be true, even if no evidence
of a crime existed.)
While I appreciate the authors pointing out my very small role in
exposing Nifongs predations, I also can say that I would have written
this review even had they not mentioned my name. In fact, I will say
that no book no book has influenced me more than their 2000
version of Tyranny, and this book is an improvement over the
original. If a reader wishes to understand the points from which I come
as I deal with the legal abominations of the authorities of this
this book is the best place to start.
I will go farther and say that I really did not understand the law
I read the first version of Tyranny, and that the book gave me
equivalent of a legal education. Had it not been for Roberts and
Stratton, I never would have become involved in the Duke case at all,
because I would have believed Nifong, but rather because I would not
understood the real issues behind the case.
This book is not a politically-motivated polemic, as both
conservatives and liberals are exposed. The modern Drug War is the
creation of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, and is championed by
most conservatives (and especially the Christian Right). The legacy of
this "war" has been the explosion of the U.S. prison population
from about 300,000 when Reagan took office in 1981, to more than two
Yet, liberals also come under scrutiny. Roberts and Stratton document
massacre of innocents at the home of the Branch Davidians in Waco,
which liberals championed aggressively. (I watched the 1995 U.S. Senate
hearings on the affair, and Senate Democrats did everything they could
discredit the critics of Janet Renos Department of "Justice"
which ordered the attacks.) The evisceration of mens rea
accelerated during the Clinton administration and is a staple today of
modern political liberalism, which seeks to criminalize normal business
practices and more.
As I warned earlier, a careful reading of this book is guaranteed to
raise ones awareness and blood pressure. I can feel mine rising as I
write these words, so I will stop at this point, for the sake of my own
I cannot overemphasize just how important this book really is for those
who care about liberty and the rule of law. This is not something which
looks at modern law and makes a few recommendations, as though a few
"reforms" would make a difference. No, Roberts and Stratton
have attacked the modern tyrannical state root and branch and have
demonstrated conclusively not only that the Bentham vision has
"won" the legal battle in this country, but just how utterly
destructive that "vision" really has become.
Perhaps all we can do right now is to learn, and for those who wish to
better understand the foundations of liberty, this is a good place to
start. A very good place.
Constitution Society 2900 W Anderson Ln C-200-322, Austin, TX 78757
512/299-5001 www.constitution.org jon.roland@...