The Tyranny of Good Intentions


Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton have just released an updated edition of their highly acclaimed book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice, which was first released in 2000. The first edition of this book was praised by G. Gordon Liddy, Milton Friedman, and Alan Dershowitz; I can not think of many books that have been praised by such a diverse collection of people from across the political spectrum.

The authors have revised their reporting on some cases that have moved forward in the legal system since the first edition was released; the Microsoft anti-trust matter for example, and they also added two entirely new chapters. One deals with various new cases of abuse of citizens rights over the past eight years since the first edition, and the other chapter is devoted to the abuse of the constitution and the law by the Bush administration since the tragedy of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings.

The purpose of the book is to explain to the average citizen how the law became the shield that protected the population from tyranny, and then how this shield was lost in recent times. It explains how, as Roberts argues, Americans once enjoyed the protection of what were termed “the Rights of Englishmen” by 18th-century jurist Sir William Blackstone which gave us a rich tradition in both law and politics that guaranteed our rights and freedom. Roberts also explains how the thought of Jeremy Bentham, the 19th-century philosopher who popularized the theory of utilitarianism, has worked to erode these rights in the interest of expediency and efficiency.

Roberts and Stratton convincingly argue that conservatives and liberals alike use prosecutors, regulators, ill-conceived laws, and the courts to destroy freedom and justice as they seek evil monsters to slay here at home, just as we seek monsters abroad to unleash our military upon – even if for the best of intentions. This book shows how the rich and important such as Charles Keating, Leona Helmsley, Michael Milken, Exxon, and Archer Daniels Midland Corporation are victimized; and the book also outlines horror stories that happen to the "regular Joe" just like you and me. It is a chronicle of the unrestrained powers of police, prosecutors, unfair forfeiture laws, and unreasonable bureaucratic regulations which have the status of laws that should only be passed by accountable legislative bodies.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on "crimes without intent." It is an ancient concept that one must have a "guilty mind" to be guilty of a crime and this protects us from being punished for accidents or acts that were innocent in nature. It is natural for children in grammar school to instinctively claim, "I did it on accident!" when something happens. In this chapter there are many high-profile cases, but also little-known cases from our history that paved the way for the abuses of today. Another chapter deals with retroactive law; the fact that one can commit an act that is perfectly legal today, and yet becomes an illegal act in the hands of an unscrupulous prosecutor. The idea that nothing can be made a crime by a law enacted after the fact has been lost to modern Americans.

There is a chapter on legal torture, and this was written before we learned the CIA was torturing people all over the world in secret camps. This torture is different however; it is the forcing of plea-bargaining on almost all defendants, approximately ninety five percent here in the USA. This chapter is a chilling look at the basic reality of the modern "justice system" in our country and may be the most important chapter in the book, if one could pick between so many different types of injustice. Roberts and Stratton also cover the overturn of attorney-client privilege. The book also has a chilling chapter outlining the raw ambition of those involved in our justice system where obtaining a great record of convictions trumps the finding of truth. Prosecutorial misconduct naturally plays a major part, but that is not the entire story in this sad report on abuse of our rights.

In the last chapter, one of the new ones for this edition, Roberts covers the abuses of the Bush administration such as the PATRIOT Act, denial of Habeas Corpus, indefinite detentions, torture, and secret evidence. He covers the case of Sami Al-Arian here in Florida which shows the witch-hunt nature of anti-Arab hysteria by the government. It is a clear case of the law being used as a weapon of persecution in this land where everyone is supposed to be equal before the law.

This book is one that every American should read; it clearly shows the real nature of our so-called justice system and lets one know that the justice system you learned about in civics class is long gone; if it ever was that way in our lifetime. For your own protection you need to know what the government can do to you and your loved ones, be you millionaire or working class poor; read this book.

April 1, 2008