April 26, 2004
"The first thing we've got to do if we want law and order in the West is
to take out all railroad agents and shoot them down like dogs."
The local newspaper editor in the 1939 film "Jesse James" was frequently ordering his assistant to "Set an editorial!" Then he'd repeat the previous sentence substituting some new offending group in place of "railroad agents."
The last time he recited the statement he was interrupted before he could complete it but his assistant continued "...and shoot them down like dogs."
Many people, much like that editor, expect that phrase, "law and order," to resolve problems in society.
What meaning does law and order convey? It is a symbol of something -- but what is it? Why and where is it invoked? Does it imply justice, tolerance and tranquility for a community?
The Law and Order President
Before the turbulent '60s criminal law was the province of the states. The federal government was only involved in a very limited way. But to stem the tide of the numerous protesting groups -- anti-war, civil rights, women's liberation, environmentalists -- Richard Nixon with his call for law and order made the Feds a major factor.
Creating a new federal crime, a victimless crime no less, he proclaimed that the nation was declaring a war on drugs. That war authorized a budget increase to augment local law enforcement agencies. It provided them with the latest equipment and in many instances changed the friendly cop on the beat to a modern version of a storm trooper.
Every government in the world, capitalist, communist, democratic, totalitarian, authoritarian, you name it, consists of a small ruling group and all the rest of the populace. That small ruling group is intent on maintaining "law and order" within its jurisdiction.
Why is there so much crime and strife throughout the world? Because the subjects of those laws, wherever they are, do not and cannot abide by them.
The Usual Suspects!
Those laws were written by and are enforced by the ruling elite. Yes, they write the laws and they enforce the laws; that is what "law and order" comes down to.
They create those laws to insure their grip on power. To maintain that power they short-change the subjects of those laws, the general population.
The rulers are sophisticated. They are aware that the undeserving masses do the work and fight their wars. The masses are a necessary burden whose support must be maintained.
Accordingly, the laws that they create must appear to be neutral in effect but are skewed to satisfy their interests. They cannot create a black and white set of laws for themselves and the others without destroying the loyalty of their subjects.
From time to time they will modify the laws to grant them some rights and benefits or remove them. Changing conditions require an adjustment in how much of their spoils should be sacrificed. Just enough but not too much to keep a sufficient majority subdued.
A proper combination of carrots and sticks is necessary to keep them pacified and under strict control.
Law and order should not be confused with justice. They are quite different concepts.
Anatole France described it brilliantly when he wrote "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
Law and Order in the U.S.
In the U.S., the ruling elite's laws are designed to protect wealth.
Those with the least wealth must cut corners to survive. Result: they break laws and are punished. They know the cards are stacked against them but feel powerless.
A rabble-rouser who vehemently resists and musters support in opposing those unjust laws becomes a threat to the established order. He will be targeted for the harshest punishment.
Should one of the privileged be in violation of the law a different result can be expected. If there is no publicity to embarrass the authorities the entire episode may be squashed. If not, and the legal apparatus must be applied, the ultimate punishment will usually be quite lenient.
Dissidents to the established authority who violate no law will find themselves on the defensive while lawbreakers who are loyal and supportive will be protected.
Current Examples of the Exceptions
The corporate swindlers and their elite confederates in crime who pilfered fortunes from stockholders, employees and creditors are still enjoying the fruits of their schemes; yet petty criminals whose offenses were sometimes the result of their desperate situations and amounted to small potatoes may be confined to a life in prison.
Whistleblowers are disclosing the lies and cover-ups of the Bush gang. Since they broke no laws they cannot be indicted. Therefore, they have become targets of abuse by the media and the administration.
It would be too embarrassing for the administration if the culprit who exposed the CIA agent, Valerie Plame, is not brought to trial. No one has been indicted and it is obvious that those in the administration who are knowledgeable are not cooperating. Should interest flag it may soon be forgotten.
The British whistleblower, Katherine Gunn, was not brought to trial. Although she violated Britain's Official Secrets Act the public response to a trial would have been unfavorable for the government.
The "law and order" concept exists in international relations as well.
The major world powers are the ruling elite. They seek to repress the second and Third World nations through various international organizations and thereby maintain their unique definition of peace and democracy throughout the world.
The United Nations was created at the end of World War II by the victorious nations. The five major powers at that time -- the USA, the USSR, Britain, France and China -- are the permanent members of the Security Council and as such each is a possessor of a permanent veto. The inclusion of the USSR probably distressed the other four. But the Soviets' contributions to victory were so immense that they could not be denied.
Time after time a resolution that is overwhelmingly supported by most is vetoed because of the selfish interests of the major powers -- the elite governments of the world.
And even when they are judged in violation of international law should they so desire they simply ignore the ruling!
"Law and Order" boils down to that simple old statement. Keep the system as is: The rich get richer and the poor poorer.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).
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