Thoughts on Law & an Anarchic Century


Reading Vaclav Havel’s “To The Castle and Back” yesterday, I got wildly distracted, and found myself YouTubing my DC power/intellect crush: the luminous Samantha Power.
Havel’s book is a tremendous read — scattered and tangential, but fascinating nonetheless. It feels as if one sat down at the playwright’s cluttered desk in 2003, and was privileged to rifle through memos and diary entries and jotted ‘notes to self,’ scattered recklessly about.
The line from the memoir that brought me to Power, and to Sergio De Mello, began from a query about leaving so much of the communist bureaucracy intact in the Czech government. Havel responds, “after the Velvet Revolution, personnel changes were more difficult and took a longer time. You can’t produce a thousand judges overnight.”
It reminded me of something Martti Ahtisaari told me last winter: that in nearly all the places he has worked, we’ve been dangerously slow to bring the rule of law up to speed, and, in particular, business law.
As we begin to re-imagine the world for the twenty-first century — Sergio’s world, as Power is fond of saying, of “broken people and broken states” — it seems that building successful legal systems needs a bigger niche than we typically afford.
Global warming, and all that it will bring to the forefront — power outages, food shortages, increased tropical storms generated by larger and warmer incubating zones that stay heated for longer — should lead us to expect more faltering governments and broken systems.
Law is often listed in a litany of woes: corruption, education reform, poverty reduction, clean water, health care expansion — but it needs to begin to rise above.
Hamas won Gaza on a justice and anti-corruption platform; the Taliban, we know, draws a good deal of its support from providing a perverted justice in place of lawlessness; there’s no disputing that stability follows security in counterinsurgency.
The incredible success of military exchanges has often struck me. Whether it’s American sponsorship of foreign officers to study at war colleges or merely simulations and war games that bring colonels and petty officers into contact, most in the armed forces can’t speak highly enough of the relationships built and the exchanges of knowledge produced.
USAID does little in the way of legal sabbatical or fellowship, from what I can discern.
School of the Americas — or whatever it’s called now — would be better replaced by schools of international law. Of course — in reference to Havel’s quote — judges are not legal systems. Police, corrections systems, and any number of other factors are all intricate parts. As Power notes at about the 30 minute mark, police in the developing world are overwhelming oppressive forces, rather than martials of justice. De Mello, Power’s argues, thought that strengthening the power and structure of law was key to avoiding human rights abuses.
How about some tax dollars to train lawyers rather than privates, high courts rather than high commands?
— Brian Till


19 comments on “Thoughts on Law & an Anarchic Century

  1. David says:

    Some great quotes, erichwwk. Thanks for posting them.
    Durbin has a penchant for uttering the most important truths in simple, direct terms. Great guy, so of course the Republicans tried to do him in, generating the term to durbinize.


  2. erichwwk says:

    It’s more than an issue of cajones. As Sen. Durbin stated, “the banks own Congress”.
    The amount of money shoveled out the back door by the Fed pales in comparison to what goes out the front door.
    And you may have noticed, despite the fact that tons of empirical work has been done on income determination by marginal product, beginning with Robert Solow and Peter Drucker, that earnings in excess of 30 times average earnings have no basis, Wall Street executives continue to con the public (or brazenly give the public the one finger salute).
    What Uri Averny said about war applies equally to those that rob America blind:
    “The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions”
    While Ben Bernanke acknowledges that “he must hold his nose” while making these bailout decisions, I am reminded of something former AEC
    chairman David Lilienthal once said about atomic bombs, that also applies to economic policy:
    “We keep saying, ‘We have no other course’; what we should say is, ‘We are not bright enough to see any other course.”
    Peter Drucker argued that:
    “that CEO compensation should be no more than 20 times what the rank and file make — especially at companies where thousands of employees are being laid off. “This is morally and socially unforgivable,” Drucker wrote, “and we will pay a heavy price for it.” –Byrne, John A., “The Man Who Invented Management,” BusinessWeek, Nov. 28, 2005


  3. ... says:

    erichwwk – thanks for your comments and links.. i agree with them fully…
    i liked this line from the krugman article…
    Unfortunately, the House measure is opposed by the Obama administration, which still seems to operate on the principle that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.
    not sure when politicians will get the balls to alter this principle…


  4. erichwwk says:

    Don’t know much about Samantha Power. I certainly don’t wish to diminish what she has accomplished on her own, but here might be an opportunity to plug her new husband Cass Sunsteins’ “The Second Bill of Rights”.
    Cass Sustein does cut through the nonsense of how capitalism and free markets have morphed from Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” into some justification of selfishness and theft as earned income.
    One of my favorite quotes from Cass Sunstein, which captures so well the view of that large group of economists which Larry Summers presence excludes from advising Obama (Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, Robert Kuttner, Gar Alperovitz ), that try to indoctrinate the public that income in excess of 30 times average income is somehow “earned”.
    (or as John Galbraith put it:
    “”The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
    Anyway, Cass’s quote”
    “In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully ‘ours’? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without the support of bank regulators? Could we spend it if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live?… [ ]
    BTW, Krugman had a great oped in LAST sundays NYTimes called “Rewarding Bad Actors” on this topic.


  5. Ben Rosengart says:

    Brian, if you didn’t see this recent NYTimes article about problems
    with law enforcement in Pakistan, make sure you check it out.


  6. ... says:

    readoftealeaves – thanks for the additional comments.. – “socially responsible discussions about public goods”… that would be a refreshing conversation and probably the end of wealth for a small few and poverty for the rest of us… just think a world where the gift of what we have was shared by all rather then exploited by a few…. the way laws have been used for the past few hundred years have put emphasis on the exploitation and none on the concept of sharing what is rightfully everyones… thus who have those who always talk about private property as a means to rally a continuation of this narrow perspective… i am not a fan of it..


  7. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Agree with joshmeah on the importance of Fukuyama’s notions of
    ‘social capital’ and the importance of trust in societies; depending
    on the village, people have more (or less) trust for outsiders.
    … Agree that there are many ‘urbanites’ who are plenty literate
    and use the legal codes as a means for economic concentration of
    wealth (to them), oppression, and activities that diminish what
    Fukuyama would call ‘social capital’.
    The focus on ‘private capital’ the past 100+ years has ignored
    more socially responsible discussions about public goods, the
    best means to manage and regulate capital, and economic
    activities that can help engender as much ‘social capital’ as


  8. Outraged American says:

    How about we cut off all money/ weapons to Israel and then let
    them decide how to “implement and execute (their) laws.”?
    Cantor needs to STFU.
    # for Cantor’s office. He’s the GOP Whip BTW. And there is no
    “left” or “right” in “our” government, they’re war mongers, the lot
    of them:
    202 225 2815
    And no, AD, I probably did know that at some point about why
    we dropped two bombs, but I’d forgotten. Too many people to
    slaughter too little time.


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Here we have yet one more contingent of Washington scumballs directly undermining their President in regards to foreign policy. Note that Cantor and his crowd of Republican turncoats actually SUPPORT Israel’s evictions of the families.
    Any hope that Israel will change policies, make concessions, are being dashed by the counterproductive actions of Reid and Bayh on the left, and Cantor on the right. What incentive does Israel have to change policies, obey international law, honor treaties, and stop its egregious human rights abuses when both party’s leadership are making it clear that Obama has no support for his demands?
    A couple of excerpts….
    A U.S. delegation of Republican congressmen visiting Israel on Thursday said that the Obama administration’s policy on Israel is misguided, puts too much emphasis on the issue of settlements and ignores the bigger threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
    Led by minority whip Eric Cantor from Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, the delegation of 25 Republicans said their weeklong mission is designed to show solidarity with Israel and promote Mideast peace.
    A group of Democratic congressmen is expected to visit next week. Cantor said that instead of focusing on issues such as Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, Obama should concentrate on “the primary issue of import…and that is the existential threat that Iran poses not only to the state of Israel but to the United States.”
    Cantor and others supported Israel’s handling of the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem earlier this week, a move criticized by the European Union and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
    “I don’t think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws,” Cantor said.


  10. arthurdecco says:

    “As Power notes at about the 30 minute mark, police in the developing world are overwhelming oppressive forces, rather than martials of justice.”
    Are you claiming that our north American police forces are not “overwhelming oppressive forces”, Mr. Till?
    “(and why did we have to incinerate TWO cities?)” Outraged American
    You really don’t know?!?
    The USA had built two distinct types of nuclear weapons and they wanted to test both to see which was more effective at peeling the melted skin off old women and babies.


  11. Outraged American says:

    How about we leave everyone else alone and sort out our own
    problems? The sheer cost, estimated to be three trillion, of Iraq
    Invasion Part Two could have been spent on alternative energy
    and we wouldn’t be mucking around in Afghanistan killing bridal
    parties willy-nilly.
    I’m all for the UN if it worked, but liberal interventionism, as
    exemplified by Power’s views, has killed a lot of people and
    accomplished what?
    And honestly, trusting Democrats with bombs and guns has led
    to Hiroshima, whose anniversary was yesterday, Nagasaki, two
    days from now (and why did we have to incinerate TWO cities?)
    Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq sanctions, and now Pakistan. I’m sure I’m
    forgetting a few in there.
    The American Conservative had a great article on Power’s book,
    just a week or so ago. I posted the URL here. I found it on so it should still be in the archives there.
    I tell my interns that this “Save Darfur” campaign, spearheaded
    by the late Tom Lantos, may he rest in hell, is just an excuse by
    UsRael to horn in on Sudan’s resources, which include a lot of
    oil. So they’re not saving anything unless they consider death
    the ultimate liberation.
    Oil is a finite resource (DUH) It’s estimated that three states,
    California, Arizona and Nevada, could power the entire US west
    with solar power alone. I heard a guy talk about it on C-Span in
    the run-up to Iraq Invasion #2, and what he said made a lot of
    So why aren’t we doing that and leaving the Pakistanis of the
    Swat Valley alone?
    The next thing: water is considered the oil of this century. If we
    are to survive we need to have viable, cost-effective
    Israel’s already engaging in water wars (Lebanon, the West
    Bank). If global warming is a real thing than we’re all going to be
    fighting over water as well.
    Let’s stop spending money on the “Terrorism” Industrial
    Complex and the Military Industrial Complex, and start working
    for healthy solutions to resource management.


  12. joshmeah says:

    There’s some pretty cool economic analysis that
    links up an increase in the density of lawyers per
    amount of population with a downturn in economic
    growth. Check it out.
    Um — to readerOfTeaLeaves:
    The world is a big place. I wouldn’t generalize
    the world’s illiterate population as being one way
    or another regarding treatment of outsiders. Just
    to present a counternarrative, my experience is
    the exact opposite of what you said. To me,
    illiterate populations, especially in village
    settings, have proved more friendly and hospitable
    than almost any other people on the planet that
    I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Why? I think a lot
    has to do with the amount of trust that exists
    within the villages themselves — people trust
    each other, and then end up trusting humanity.
    Consequently, outsiders are welcomed, because
    humans are good.
    There are ample counter examples to my own
    examples from which the above analysis was drawn
    Oh — and for stability, we need more “Trust” in
    general. By that, I mean as described in the book
    Trust — by Francis Fukuyama. That kind of trust
    is important for “counterinsurgency,” economic
    development, and whatever else.


  13. jessica says:

    Most in the armed forces can’t speak highly enough of the relationships built and the exchanges of knowledge produced.
    No Credit Checks instant Payday Loans


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Speaking about “law”, I have been following with interest the brewing clash of secular and Orthodox Jews in Israel. More and more, the matters of marraige, birth, divorce, etc., are being turned over to the Orthodox rabbis. Russian jewish immigrants are not being allowed to marry, and much to the dismay of secular Israelis, ultra-orthodox jews are moving into secular nieghborhoods, and attempting to impose strict orthodox doctrine on the communities.
    With a higher birthrate than the secular community, it is estimated that by 2025, over one quarter of the Israeli jewish population will be ultra-orthodox.
    Much is made of “sharia law”, particularly in regards to women’s rights. Well, obviously the Muslims don’t have a monopoly on wackjob zealotry as it applies to the fairer sex. And ultra-orthodoxy is growing in Israel. I can’t help but wonder, when will mankind outgrow this infatuation with dark age religious weirdness? If in fact there is a God, he must be shaking his head in amazement. Between chuckles, that is.


  15. ... says:

    poa i once remember someone saying there are 30 lawyers in the usa for every 1 in japan.. the flip side of this is there are 30 engineers in japan for every engineer in the usa..


  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “How about some tax dollars to train lawyers rather than privates”
    We have too many of both.


  17. ... says:

    to offer a view slightly different then readeroftealeaves..
    I’ve spent time in what might be called ‘urban’ places, with people who (supposedly) have very high literacy rates.
    they sometimes use law in an abusive way to lord it over others thinking money can buy the legal answer they are looking for… as a consequence these same people make a mockery of law and the legal system only interested in power and how to wield more of it over others with less means at their disposal.. witness the bush admin for good recent examples…
    the idea of having a good legal system in place only works if it is accessible to all and not affected by how much money someone has.. at present that is the flaw in our own western systems of law as i see it.. it is nothing to do with literacy and a lot to do with the intent of those who do or don’t wish for a just world…


  18. Zathras says:

    The answer to this question must depend in large part on how we think of law.
    I submit that to think of law as a natural element of human society in which certain countries are, through no fault of their own, deficient — somewhat in the way that some people have blood without enough iron in it, or are unable to digest dairy products — is to invite failure. In most places and at most times, both law and the institutions nominally dedicated to supporting it exist to support the authority of the state and the privileges of those who run the state. These two objectives are assumed to be identical.
    The reasons for this are not always praiseworthy, but the fact is that even in many countries seen to be the most unstable or rife with human rights abuses, law is doing what it is intended to do; it is an instrument of power, not justice. Our problem in the United States and Europe is that we think law ought to represent something else. Of course, there is a good case to be made for that, but the major questions relating to power — what should the state look like and who should have what authority to run it — were settled in Europe over a half century ago, and in the United States long before that. This isn’t the case, or at least is not felt by governments to be the case, in many other places.
    Exchanges of the kind advocated here can impart technical expertise, which has some value as it does in the military field. So has the development of personal relationships. Fundamentally, though, we’re talking about trying to persuade governments accustomed to using law for one purpose to use it for another — in the simplest terms, to make them more like us. There’s nothing wrong with that, from my point of view, but we should neither deceive ourselves that this is not the issue nor underestimate the difficulty of the task.
    The School of the Americas both conveyed technical instruction and fostered personal relationships with great success; what it did not, because it could not, do is induce Latin American militaries to see their place in their respective countries in the same way the American military sees its place in the United States. The legal training proposed here would represent an attempt to do something much more difficult than the School of the Americas ever attempted; its mission would be not only to train a thousand judges but to train a thousand good ones, while persuading skeptical governments that good judges posed no threat to them.


  19. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I’ve spent time in what might be called remote places, with
    people who have very low literacy rates.
    You should check with a good librarian if you are really
    interested in this topic, but here’s my quick synopsis:
    1. Tribal people, if they are illiterate, have a sense of ‘justice’
    that is limited to people they know; anyone else is an ‘outsider’
    and therefore does not merit protection — and is often seen as
    a threat. This is ‘tribal justice’; an eye for an eye, a bloodprice
    must be paid in case of death. If no bloodprice is paid, you
    have endless fueds and more deaths.
    2. Literate people start to move to urban areas and have to live
    with others to whom they have no blood ties or tribal linkages;
    tough phase, particularly when they are limited to physical
    labor, criminal activity, and are at the bottom of the social heap
    and have to rely on strangers for their food. Their ideas of
    ‘justice’ shift.
    3. Urban, literate, ‘professional’; abstractions about a global
    system of justice. Lots of written laws and legal codes and
    layers of judicial activity. But doesn’t mean didly without law
    enforcement resources.
    I think DeMello had it right; but what it seems to me too many
    fail to recognize is that people who are illiterate cannot jump
    from 1 to 3. There are ‘developmental phases’ that have to be
    moved through, and at the core of it are personal relationships
    built on paying attention to THEIR needs, and then also
    patience in teaching reading skills to both adults and children.
    Long, sloggy work.
    But the only hope for a better future, IMVHO.


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