Te whetu

Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.

– Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

Stalwarts and statesmen over the last few hundred years have written and spoken boldly of being a government of laws and not of men. Rings noble and true, but is hardly practical, nor is it put into practice. It is supposed to be a marketing gimmick.

The voting and non-voting public in most countries seem to care little, or care less, as long as they have food, shelter and clothing with zero or limited savings.

Survival is the name of the game, and government and laws mean nothing to these people whose food, shelter and clothing is the business of government and the laws made for all denizens, citizens and the unborn.

Some countries practise outright discrimination in the name of national unity despite diversity in its population. As usual, there is a law to wrap this up elegantly.

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object,” said Thomas Jefferson, third US President. In the United States, dissents and protests have assumed justifiably dangerous proportions soon after the murder of George Floyd who had pleaded that he could not breathe when a policeman stuck his knee on his throat.

Was the will of George Floyd justified when the policeman did his thing his way? Does “free expression” include George Floyd’s dying plea or the
policeman’s act of choking Floyd to death? The policeman is supposed to be a guardian, but here he decided to use his free expression to kill instead.

“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so,” said Mahatma Gandhi echoing Thomas Jefferson. Gandhi and his merry men of dissent and protest spent a long time in prison for their bold stand to disobey unjust British Raj laws. The British finally quit India, but their laws stayed put.

“There is a higher law than the law of government. That is the law of conscience,” said Stokely Carmichael (born Kwame Ture), a civil-rights activist whose focus was on “Black Power” despite the physical demise of slavery after the American Civil War. Carmichael awakened the sleeping giant of Black consciousness.

Today we debate whether government is waiting, wanting, wishing and willing to make laws with conscience as a guide and a guard — an interesting subject for law and political science students.

On the other side of the coin we have Alexander Hamilton one of the Founding Fathers of America who unabashedly declared that, “Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for
disobedience.”

That, right there, is the problem when government of men pretend to be government of laws in order to make and pass laws designed to oppress and depress accordingly.

“The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government,” said Tacitus, the Roman historian and politician. America qualifies as it has every conceivable act, commission or omission of human nature in its law books. It is well hidden under the trite phrase “rule of law.”

Henry David Thoreau, an American civil disobedience guru gave another twist to this ongoing saga: “If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”

Bertrand Russell, a British polymath offered the argument that “government can easily exist without law, but law cannot exist without government.”

Must have been inebriated when he decided to say this. Ancient “primitive” societies had only the Law of Nature to live by. That was the only “law” that
mattered.

“Where law ends, tyranny begins,” said John Locke, the author of the some of the earliest essays on law and government. He must have meant where good laws end for tyranny to begin? But, “laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught,” said Honore de Balzac, the French novelist.

He was spot on as we witness today how the rich, powerful, well-connected and influential slip though the web and net only to be caught by the same web they spun.

Ultimately, after being in the business and practice of the law for almost fifty years, I seem totally unable to get rid of the image of law and government as two drunks holding on to each other so that neither falls down.

Conscience, good sense, and good governance seem not to matter in the equation where government and law become politicized at the expense of the voting public.

As elections are brewing in and around our realms of consciousness and wakefulness, let us remind ourselves to respect and honour, not waste our
precious votes.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.