Wednesday, July 21, 2010

QotD: Literary edition...

I just finished re-reading Hunter S. Thompson's classic Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, the book that created the gonzo legend, and had to dog-ear this passage:
American law enforcement procedures have never been designed to control large groups of citizens in rebellion, but to protect the social structure against specifically criminal acts, or persons. The underlying assumption has always been that the police and the citizens form a natural alliance against the evil and dangerous crooks, who should certainly be arrested on sight and shot if they resist.

There are indications, however, that this "natural alliance" might be going the way of the Maginot Line. More and more often the police are finding themselves in conflict with whole blocs of the citizenry, none of them criminals in the traditional sense of the word, but many as potentially dangerous - to the police - as any armed felon.
The book was published in 1966, but the mood is uncannily modern. All you need to do to move some of the quotes from various government officials, such as the mayor of Laconia, forty-some years into the future is substitute "terrorists" and "Homeland Security" for "communists" and "Civil Defense"

12 comments:

Wolfwood said...

That might be because the American government is designed to see itself as acting from the consent of the governed. In other words, that any legitimate government will be in the right. Thus, any large unrest will necessarily be unjustified so long as the American government is legitimate and, whether a single person or a large armed group, necessarily criminal and still within the framework suggested by Thompson.

It's an interesting problem: what happens if We The People decide that the government is illegitimate? If illegitimate aspects of government can't be checked by the legitimate exercise of government power (such as impeachment or judicial review), rebellion would be the remedy authorized under social contract theory.

Montie said...

Tam,

As I have discussed here before, I have seen radical changes in law enforcement over the last 25 years. Back when I started, I was pretty sure that we were doing the will of the people. I also felt that if the SHTF, and orders ever came down that were illegal or unconstitutional, that officers en masse would rebel against the carrying out of those orders. These days, I really worry that many would go full steam ahead, just like in Germany 70 years ago.

theirritablearchitect said...

Reminds me of Rand;

"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."

It appears to me that the government has been in the business of making it an Us-versus-them scenario for some time.

Matt G said...

My first department, my chief posted Sir Robert Peel's Principles Of Policing. At my current department, I posted them.

They're worth re-reading, if you deal with the issues of public order at any point.

Thompson was an interesting writer, but at heart, he was little more than a counter-culture shill. He wore Che Guevara T-shirts, and was a Truther. While he asked some important questions, his stock in trade was attempting to destroy, rather than build.

It will be a shame if he becomes an icon unto himself, but he probably already is.

TheGraybeard said...

Woolfwood said, "It's an interesting problem: what happens if We The People decide that the government is illegitimate?"

The polls I've been seeing in the last six months have shown from around 20 to 30% feel the government has the will of the governed.

It appears we're going to find out what happens.

Frank W. James said...

I think HELL'S ANGELS was Hunter's best work. I read it while still in college and my son has that old copy, but I always admired his skills as a wordsmith.

HOWEVER, I put no value in his method of demise and felt it was the act of a coward; no matter what excuses are made for him.

Ultimately, I feel his suicide like Hemingway's before him is evidence of the fact that when writers burn the candle at both ends until the flame reaches the middle and they are no longer capable of composing a cogent thought, due to the damage from years of soaking their brains in alcohol (if not other stuff), then the extent of their pride, vanity and ego produces a great act of terminal cowardice.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Montie said...

Matt G,

Oddly enough I posted Peel's Principles in our locker room, and I include them right up front in a class I teach for civilians on crime prevention and interaction with the police.

Bubblehead Les. said...

"...into the future is substitute "terrorists" and "Homeland Security" for"communists" and "Civil Defense". What was that report that DHS commissioned a couple of years ago about? Something about "right-Wing Militias in Missouri" or words to that effect?

docjim505 said...

Matt G beat me to it. Peel's central tenet was that the, ultimately, the citizens are the police: no police force, even one as ruthless as the Gestapo or the NKVD, can enforce the law as well as a united and determined citizenry, nor can it operate with any efficiency when opposed by a united and determined citizenry. So long as laws are seen as just and uniformly applied, the police generally has the support of the people.

Montie - I also felt that if the SHTF, and orders ever came down that were illegal or unconstitutional, that officers en masse would rebel against the carrying out of those orders. These days, I really worry that many would go full steam ahead, just like in Germany 70 years ago.

I hope that you are wrong. I respect the police generally and like to think that we are all on the same side, i.e. the American side. If we come to a state where the local police, sheriffs, state patrol, and even the feds are seen as modern-day redcoats...

But it raises a nice point: is it given to the police to determine when laws are "illegal or unconstitutional" any more than it is given to soldiers to determine when orders are lawful? More to the point, when can a police officer decide that a law so violates his personal morals that he will not enforce it? Is this not a slippery slope?

Boat Guy said...

I'm with you docjim; while I'm not a cop I respect them "generally" for doing a difficult job and respect the ones I know personally for doing that job well.
I will say that it IS given to "soldiers" to determine when orders are lawful. Seems a judge in Iowa just reinforced to some hack sheriff that those who would enforce the law need to be cognizant of Constitutional precepts.
I dunno what percentage of cops would go full steam ahead; I can surmise that some in the services would but I doubt they'd be in the majority

Will said...

Boat Guy,

"dunno what percentage of cops would go full steam ahead; I can surmise that some in the services would but I doubt they'd be in the majority"

Some years ago, this statement would have been correct. However, when the hiring practices exclude those who have an independent mind, eventually you end up with a high proportion of those who will follow any orders. Point: A lot of depts have specifically excluded those who are in the gun culture. It would be expected that most of these would be constitutionally minded. That hiring practice alone will start skewing numbers in the wrong direction.
As the older cops retire, you lose the current base of right thinking cops, who are replaced by mindless drones.

docjim505 said...

Will - As the older cops retire, you lose the current base of right thinking cops, who are replaced by mindless drones.

Scary thought. It's often occured to me (doubtless as a result of watching too many episodes of Adam-12 as a child!) that being a good police officer requires a large degree of common sense as well as good training: a good cop must know and UPHOLD the law, but he also needs to know when to be a stickler for every jot and tittle and when to say, "Today, my jurisdiction ends he-ah. Pick up my hat."