Book Review: The Tyranny Of Good Intentions

The Tyranny Of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors And Bureaucrats Are Trampling The Constitution In The Name Of Justice, by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton

This is the sort of book that people like me read when they want to scare themselves about the state of the rule of law in the United States. I was told about this book by a coworker of mine who is part of the general reporting analyst group within the company I work for [1] as we were returning from one of our group jaunts to a nearby Indian restaurant. Having some interest in law and in the history and philosophy of law, I looked to this book as an encouragement to follow in the legal traditions of our fathers, who stood against tyranny and in the rule of law, even where (and especially where) that meant defending people who were unpopular and obnoxious. After all, it is precisely those people whom we think the worst of that most deserve the protection of law, to save them from our prejudices, and to be treated justly and with respect and honor as citizens, rather than to have their lives determined by their political skill.

In terms of its structure and contents, this book is a straightforward one that is topically organized and takes up only about 180 pages of main material after its introduction. The authors examined various aspects of contemporary law in the United States that are severely screwed up, and points the blame for that to the influence of Benthamite legal scholars who were impatient with restrictions on administrative law and the behavior of unaccountable bureaucrats and prosecutors seeking redistributive social justice and who sought an end to long-sought constitutional protections such as the requirement for mens rea (a guilty mind) and proof of criminal activity. The book begins by comparing the law as a shield, the view of the long development of English law, with the law as a weapon through the examination of the fate of purged Soviet leader Nikolai Bukharin, who found his power was of no protection when he ran afoul of the paranoid Stalin. The authors then discuss how the law was lost from the early 1900’s through the New Deal, bit by bit, through executive grandstanding and judicial and legislative cowardice and treachery. The authors then discuss the problem of crimes without intent, retroactive law that violates ex post facto prohibitions, the psychological torture of plea bargains, the demise of attorney-client privilege, racial and social privilege trumping rights, the problem of civil forfeiture, the problems that result from the ambition of district attorneys to make a name for themselves by targeting the successful out of envy, the abdication of legislative power to unconstitutional executive agencies, and what is to be done, which looks at the collapse of Benthamite government in this country as it has failed in every other country around the world so far.

The authors themselves have no particular partisan ax to grind–they show that presidents of both political parties have done great harm in the last century or so to the body of constitutional law and protection, whether in the name of discredited lame duck presidencies like the last days of the Carter presidency to the law and order justice department of President Reagan to the corrupt FBI under Janet Reno’s watch, or the constitutional revolution of the New Deal or TR’s bully pulpit. The terror that the authors paint is one that some of us, myself included, have actually experienced over the course of our lives, where legal protections and the expectation of fair and just behavior on the part of authorities are nonexistent for those who have made themselves obnoxious to authorities, and where even the anonymity of living a quiet and obscure life cannot save one from feeling the force of personal and unpleasant attention when one has drawn the scrutiny of the police apparatus [2]. This book is the exploration of a nightmare that anyone can experience if they happen to run afoul of our nation’s bureaucracy, where no privileged status or wealth can protect one from continual harassment that targets one’s property, one’s reputation, and one’s freedom, regardless of whether one has actually done anything wrong or not.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Book Review: The Tyranny Of Good Intentions

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Last Battle Of The Civil War | Edge Induced Cohesion

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