Ashcroft the Nihilist

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In an article last year, I accused U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft of being a "postmodern bureaucrat." However, I fear that I was unfair in my characterization of our nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer. No, Ashcroft is not "postmodern," he is a nihilist.

That’s right, nihilist. I realize that is a loaded word, so I need to define my terms. In the post-modern world, intellectuals have taken to believing that since God does not exist, there can be no proper set of standards by which people should act. Indeed, Marxists have taken the mantle of the postmodernists, declaring that all law is nothing more than the exercise of power. Thus, the famed Critical Legal Theorists who have so inhabited Harvard University’s famed law school have provided fuel to the racialists, gay rights groups, and feminists who hold that law has no moral basis, but instead is nothing more than a mechanism by which one group is able to oppress another.

The dictionary definition of nihilism is as follows, at least in the political realm: “The doctrine that all existing social, political, and economic institutions must be completely destroyed.” What replaces those institutions is the exercise of raw power by those who have taken the seats of authority. And while Ashcroft does not openly subscribe to some of the tenets of nihilism, he is actively destroying rule of law and replacing it with the doctrine of “I do this because I have the power and authority to do it.” That, in my opinion, is a practical definition of nihilism.

Of course, the “Crits” don’t want to return the view of law to the days of the famed English jurist William Blackstone, who helped define the “Rights of Englishmen” and helped define law as a moral force to protect the innocent both from predators and from the overreaching state. No, that would be law with an eternal purpose. Instead, the Crits and their allies want to be able to grab hold of the mechanism of law for their own uses and self-aggrandizement.

Since the Crits hold to the belief that there can be no truth, then lies are perfectly permissible where law is concerned. It is a sorry state of affairs to see the supposed legal "leaders" of the future being trained in this nihilistic worldview, but that is modern America for you.

When Ashcroft underwent his bruising confirmation hearings in early 2001, the Crits and their allies were among his most fervent critics. As I see it, they should have welcomed him with open arms, as he and the Marxists have the same basic view of law: it is to be little more than the raw exercise of power.

As a result of my writings on law, I have received a large number of emails from individuals who have been caught up in the federal criminal system. The charges against them are ridiculous and certainly do not adhere to any historical definition of criminal behavior (except, perhaps, in the former and present communist nations, where no one has made any pretense that these are societies under rule of law), yet they are in the dock.

Most of them have never had troubles with the law before, and they had no idea that a federal prosecutor would ever be able to fashion their behavior into felonies that carry 10 years or more in prison. From money laundering to conspiracy to mail fraud, federal criminal statutes are a fraud themselves. For the most part, these laws exist not to protect the public or to make U.S. society safer, but simply to add to the country’s already pregnant prison population.

Many of these victims had no idea just how rigged the federal court system really has become until they actually were in the dock, protesting their innocence (which federal law also has deemed a crime — see the Martha Stewart case). They had no idea that federal prosecutors can legally suborn perjury (called "statements of interest") and that judges are sickeningly pro-government to the point where they are simply another arm of the prosecution. And they had no idea that their trial would differ only in name but not in substance from the famed Stalinist show trials of the late 1930s.

In his defense, John Ashcroft did not create this cauldron of injustice. He inherited it from his predecessors (and while in Congress he helped pass some of the more obnoxious and evil laws). However, instead of denouncing the system for the mound of corruption that is has become, Ashcroft has embraced it and seeks to give his underlings even more power.

That Ashcroft is no friend of justice is apparent in his tapping James B. Comey of Martha Stewart fame for his number two man. Comey signifies everything that is wrong with American "justice" these days; now, he sits near the head of power and is nearly untouchable.

Why does Ashcroft do these things? He does them because he can do them, and by so doing increases the power of the state. Although Ashcroft will not remain in his post forever, he has further driven U.S. law into a nihilistic state in which power is everything and honor, decency, and yes, justice, are nothing.

While Ashcroft confesses to believing in God, from what I can tell, the only God he and his minions worship these days is Power. In my opinion, that makes him a nihilist, and he is no different than the Crits or the thugs who have sat at the head of totalitarian regimes. In the end, they leave behind death and human destruction.

January 10, 2004

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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