Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Glenn Greenwald at Yale Law School - "With Liberty and Justice for Some"

At the 59:54 mark:
One of the things that you can tend to do is to be very critical of US political culture and US political history and it's all very well deserved but a lot of times that can obscure the parts of US political history that are actually positive and encouraging and from which you can draw a sort of inspiration. And so there are all kinds of instances of the abuses that you're talking about that still persist in all kinds of pervasive ways that have been improved or in some cases more or less overcome. And part of what I try and do when I think about the injustices or corruption that we face in a contemporary way is to look back at those historical lessons. And I think you can draw historical lessons not only on an intellectual level but also in terms of political strategizing and political communications and you can use those values that animated that advancement, to try and do that now.

And so I think you know the history of African-Americans in the United States, the history of women in the United States, all have this kind of principle at its core which is the principle that i am appealing to when i talk about the rule of law or the fact that were all bound by the same set of rules and conventions. Not because I have this pollyannish view about the rule of law is...I'm well aware of the fact that law has always been an instrument...of tyranny, right? If you enact unjust laws then law becomes a weapon of oppression and not of bringing about justice but this kind of framework that has been embraced about what America is and what it means and what has driven it, whether it's accurate or not is something that is a kind of political value that is embedded in all of us.
And so, I think, by appealing to that value even if you don't really think that it's been embraced sincerely, at all or usually, is a really important tactic for getting people to see that what you're advocating isn't something exotic or foreign to them but something that's very familiar to them.
At the 73:35 mark:
I spoke at Brooklyn College earlier this week and I talked about civil liberties in the United States and the Constitution and what these civil liberties are. And several of the questions, in fact, probably like almost half of the students afterwards asked me something along the lines of, "Look, you know you write about the need to restrict and confine state power all the time and like the Constitution and the way the role it plays in this. But there's also this private sector abuse and corporate power that's becoming increasingly central in our lives that the Constitution doesn't deal with at all. So why do you defend this document or praise it or hail it or talk about the need to enforce it or the rule of law when it only constricts state power when increasingly corporate power in the lake is becoming as threatening, if not more so?"

And, I mean, of course it's true, that the Constitution doesn't constrain corporate power, financial wealth, private power for exactly the reason that I said that the founders were really people who liked inequality in the private sector because that was where their power was for. What they were really worried about was confining and restricting the democratic process about majoritarian mobs, as they saw it, couldn't threaten their supremacy in that private realm.

So the document itself, even the Constitution, sort of like the rule of law, was not only violated sometimes but it can only be used for bad ends but in some sense was created to serve the purposes exactly the opposite of the ones that it claims they serve but it's still worthwhile, strategically, to invoke the mythology surrounding it to say, "This is what you constantly insist are the values that are being served the way in which this is functioning" and then demand adherence to it even if that mythology has been insincerely created and then disseminated for all sorts of cynical ends. It's a way, it's a tactic more than it is anything else of demanding adherence to these values that at least ostensibly that are supposed to govern what we do.

Update: Pertinent articles on the lack of rule of law