Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lawyers, Guns and Oil

I miss Warren Zevon, of course, but devote this post primarily to the consideration of things legal, and the sometimes refreshing fact that they impact the world of which we are a part, regardless of our fondest beliefs to the contrary.  Philosophy will creep in however.

I'm saddened to learn that the Great Oil Blot will likely make it to the Florida Keys.  I'm fond of Key West, and not merely for the fact that it was the site of a fist fight between Ernest Hemingway and Wallace Stevens.  There is a stretch of beach at the Casa Marina which is quite lovely, and I hate to think of it filled with what have been called tar balls.  Soon, perhaps, we will be favored with the sight of our President on that beach, frowning in an effort to emote for the cameras.  The things we ask of our politicians.

I'm not all that saddened, or surprised, at the Supreme Court's decision in the McDonald case.  The Fourteenth Amendment has been used for quite some time now to restrict or prohibit state action deemed to impose on the rights granted by the Constitution, and applying it with respect to the Second Amendment seems demanded by consistency, if nothing else.  I, personally, have never been fascinated by guns, nor have I ever been inclined to think of them much; as a result, I haven't pondered whether I have or should have a right to lovingly possess them.  If we have a right to bear arms, though, I think we should have a right to bear swords as well as guns.

According to the Declaration of Independence, we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights.  The Declaration, of course, is not a law.  One must remember this from time to time.  The Constitution says nothing about the will of our Creator, if I recall correctly, and the Constitution is very much a legal document, fashioned--largely by lawyers, and good ones--to function as law.  Lawyers understand that laws are broken, repealed and remade with startling frequency.  It would be inappropriate, therefore, to attribute them to any competent Creator.

It seems we don't have a right to clean beaches in quite the same sense as we have a right to possess guns aplenty.  To the extent that our property or livelihoods are damaged, though, we have civil recourse; there is criminal recourse as well when the damage is intentionally caused.

Let's acknowledge that our laws are indeed our laws.  We made them, and we need them.  Some may claim they are based on God's laws, or should be based on them.  I've always thought it rather presumptuous to claim knowledge of God's laws, God's will or God, for that matter.  God can't be much of a God if we know what he thinks or desires, or what he is.  I would say that it is possible to maintain that we sometimes fashion laws in accord with "natural law" if we mean by this that we do so based on what we can legitimately discern regarding human nature.  In any case, we make laws, we break them, we enforce them, we comply with them, regardless of the source of their inspiration.

What is their purpose?  For what reason should they be made, repealed or remade, or broken or followed?  Once justly made, how should they be enforced?  These are practical questions, and it seems to me the only significant questions about law, unless one's interest is legal history.  And it seems to me that their purpose is to allow us the opportunity to be happy and develop our own abilities to the extent that we can do so without causing undue harm.  Even those who claim that our law must follow those supposedly imposed by God would seem to be fated, as it were, to take this position.  It would be somewhat difficult even for them to claim that the purpose of laws is to make us miserable, limit our opportunities, etc.

There are those who, like Plato, believe only they or those who think like them know how to achieve such results.  There are those who, like Heidegger, or Hegel or Marx, think that some mystic leader or force operative in our history knows what is best.  Democracy or some variant of it, though, seems to be more likely to achieve such results, simply because it is more likely to recognize and give weight to what people actually think about and desire when it comes to their happiness.  Democracy has its problems.  Democracies will err.  Democracies have the best chance, though, of coming to desirable results, as they are susceptible to change, and such change need not be violent.

Democracy, then, is not a form of government favorable to the great system builders among us, nor is it conducive to those who see the path to be taken and believe others should follow.  When such people appear in our politics, we should worry.  Democracy properly understood is a very pragmatic form of government, I think.

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