Friday, May 26, 2006

Pots and Kettles

Lew Rockwell raises a valid question concerning the "trial" of Saddam Hussein: on what grounds, exactly, does one put a government on trial?

The essence of government is the right to obey a different set of laws from that which prevails in the rest of society. What we call the rule of law is really the rule of two laws: one for the state and one for everyone else.

Theft is illegal but taxation is not. Kidnapping is illegal but stop-loss orders are not. Counterfeiting is illegal but inflating the money supply is not. Lying about its budget is all in a day's work for the government, but the business that does that is shut down.

So this raises many questions. Under what law should the heads of governments be tried? If they are tried according to everyday moral law, they would all be in big trouble. Did you plot to steal the property of millions of people in the name of "taxing" them? Oh sure! Did you send people to kill and be killed in an aggressive war? Thousands! Did you mislead people about your spending? Every day! Did you water down the value of the money stock by electronically printing new money that you passed out to your friends? Hey, it's called central banking!

Judged by this standard, all states are guilty. And all heads of state are guilty of criminal wrongdoing if we are using a normal, everyday kind of moral standard to judge them. Thus are they all vulnerable.

To be clear, I'm not talking about states in our age, or just particular gangster states. I'm speaking of all states in all times, since by definition the state is permitted to engage in activities that if pursued privately would be considered egregious and intolerable.

So on what basis can one state put another state on trial? Yes, some regimes are worse than other regimes, but who is to decide and on what grounds?
Rockwell isn't a moral relativist - quite the contrary. He isn't advocating letting the government off the hook, but rather arguing against the hypocrisy of one government putting another on trial. "Pot, meet kettle," and all that.

When people like me raised that issue concerning the NATO-sponsored ICTY putting Slobodan Milosevic on trial, we got slammed for "defending the monster Milosevic," as if his misdeeds (both real and imagined) were somehow an excuse for outright war crimes committed by Clinton, Albright, Clark, Solana and the rest of that particular "joint criminal enterprise." When Rockwell and others criticize the show trial of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq, they are "countered" by "arguments" that Saddam was evil. Evil enough to justify starting an aggressive war, murdering tens of thousands, occupying a country, unleashing a jihad...?

I don't think so, and I wonder how anyone, in good conscience, can.

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