The Rule of Law and Tinkerbell

What follows is an abridged version of a 12/21/2018 “Education and Freedom” post; the content may be especially relevant as we near the 2020 Presidential Election and consider what may lie beyond Election Day.

What we have been witnessing since 2016 is a continuation of the classic scenario that wannabe autocrats follow as they cement their illicit authority over, We The People. As my spouse will readily affirm, I have long been a worst-case-scenario kind of guy. Three years ago, when America’s political world began to be turned upside down, I shared my view with anyone who would listen that we were looking at the beginning of the end of our Republic, which elicited universal but friendly rebukes based upon the belief that, in America, one person can never be above the law, a point of view endlessly echoed by pundits in progressive media echo chambers.

My retort has been that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all of the laws that have followed are written on fragile, easily destroyed paper. Those documents have no magical powers, and anyone with sufficient power—ill-gotten or otherwise—can choose to circumvent and/or ignore them.

The power of which I spoke then and write about now is not the power of The Rule of Law, which is a mythical power that depends upon the Tinkerbell Effect; rather, it is the power that comes from an ability to instill fear in the minds of a critical mass of citizens—fears of significant material loss, of unjust incarceration, torture, and/or fear of death—fears used by an autocrat in order to force that critical mass into compliance. Imagine, for example, the treasure trove of treason that is the sum of Facebook posts and Tweets ready for pillaging by an autocrat looking to punish opponents.

Human history is replete with thousands of examples of this use and abuse of power from playground bullies to Al Capone, Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun, each of whom manifest our primate legacy: the instinctive need of some (almost always) males to seek and ascend to positions of power coupled with the instinctive response of the majority of a clan (or nation) to acquiesce in the face of fear.

There is no difference in effect between the results of Adolf Hitler’s actions and the actions of a dominant silverback gorilla, actions which the latter uses to dominate his troop and the former used to dominate a nation. The principal difference between the two is that a silverback uses his personal size and strength to overcome opposition and maintain control, while the strategies used by dominant male humans are more complex but no less effective.

Driven by what some authorities suggest was a pathological narcissism, Adolf Hitler dominated a nation by using deceits, most notably the practice of blaming scapegoats for his country’s ills, and by relying upon media outlets eager to curry favor, the rise of military and justice subordinates willing to do his bidding, and by exploiting the inability of millions of his countrymen to understand and foresee the negative consequences of absolute power in the modern world.

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, Germany had a constitution. The Weimar Constitution had articles and paragraphs and expectations by which the nation was to be governed. The government and people of Germany took for granted that the Rule of Law as outlined by the Weimer Constitution would be followed. The Weimer Constitution was different in specific content from the United States Constitution, but it was exactly alike when it came to being printed on paper.

Gorilla societies, we know, are guided by power pure and simple. When a stronger silverback appears, he literally overthrows the existing leader if he can, after which the troop responds to the whims and wishes of the new boss. We assume that our American society is far more sophisticated because it is guided by the Rule of Law; unfortunately, the Rule of Law is a myth, a beautiful contrivance of truths and beliefs that not only transcend primate instincts; the Rule of Law contradicts those instincts, so that a society in compliance with the Rule of Law can rise above the world of fang and claw, which is the natural world in which humans not only fear to tread: most of us think we are beyond its reach.

Living in a nation where the Rule of Law is unquestioned due to delusion, complacency or ignorance or all three—as sometimes happens with myths—there can come a time when the Rule of Law is accepted as being as unmovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. It is then when the Reverse Tinkerbell Effect ascends, and the Rule of Law becomes vulnerable to the pathological, narcissistic needs of a Tyrant who understands that the Rule of Law only exists when everyone wholeheartedly and sincerely believes in it and acts accordingly.

3 thoughts on “The Rule of Law and Tinkerbell

  1. I remember reading this several years ago, Jeff. I appreciated it then, but, you’re right, it’s especially timely now. Thanks for taking the time to post it again. Do you follow “Letters from an American“ by Heather Cox Richardson? I receive her letter daily. I was dispirited last night after the debate and this morning was looking for an antidote, and there it was in my in box, her fine researching, thinking and writing, the perfect balm for my spirit. I admire her gifts and yours, as well. Warmest regards, Jeff, Kate

    Sent from my iPad

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  2. sorry for my tardy response but i wanted think about what i wanted to say… here goes: the current intellectual moment poses a serious threat to both freedom and justice. the american experiment has always been a mixture of mythology and achievement. the founders did not come down from mount vernon holding the constitution on stone tablets. they realized that they were fallible, and their successors would be too. what they created is an ingenious system to be run by imperfect human beings, not by an infallible god or monarch.

    when they invented the constitutional republic from whole cloth, they did something unprecedented: they created checks and balances, wrote the opposition into the government and meticulously divided its powers and responsibilities. they complemented the constitution with the bill of rights, a document that is all more the remarkable for focusing not on what the government is obliged to do for its citizens, but on what it may not do to its citizens.

    from the very beginning, the nation was rife with injustices and contradictions – foremost among them the enslavement of millions and the bloody civil war that set them free. we need to remember the willed moral progress brought about by slaves and free blacks who would accept no compromise only total emancipation. together they helped america do away with the hypocrisy of the founders, bringing their noble words a giant leap closer to reality.

    the free world has always contained a large number of people who like to engage in the game of whataboutism. neo-fascists talk about cultural and ethnic purity, not concentration camps. trump and other defenders of the confederacy take about history and heritage, not slavery and treason. when you have power, you don’t need to disguise you intentions. the far right is especially gusty of this.

    on the left the charge is coming in the name of the marginalized and the forgotten, from those who have never had the chance to inscribe their stories in the history books since they have never counted among the winners. after going unheard for so long, they understandably aren’t very concerned that others may be silences by their fury. even where history is in serious need of correction facts still matter other as George Orwell warned, our memory of the past will forever be determined by the forces that happen to prevail at any one moment or as faulker put it – the past is not even past its always present..

    take the case of t jefferson. he is guilty of many sins and failings we should make no effort to hide. but he was one of the key inventors of the universal principals of liberty.. we should honor these men whom we owe so much despite their flaws.

    the founders were imperfect, as was the government they created, and as all of us. but the system was designed to be improved upon by future generations. to do so is now our duty. we have to be able to say what is right to fight effectively against what is wrong, and is right about america is that it strives to adapt and improve in the pursuit of freedom and justice. if we do not believe that w are fighting for a better future, apathy will inevitably set in. if people hesitate to speak because they might be accused of being insure and unworthy, and are afraid of losing their standing or employment, then the stagnation of our political institutions will soon find an echo in the moral and intellectual stagnation of our society. some ideas merit exclusion from civilized debate. i’ve got no tolerance for intolerance of any king and a free society must protect itself from those who would destroy it.. we should cancel the ideas, not the people who express them.

    ugh… sorry.. political exhaustion has set in.. cheers

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  3. Dick…I’ve communicated this directly to you, but I wanted to document this in the blog: thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, which do extend and amplify the thoughts in a post.

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