The great thief

The legal blogs and twitter are full of concern about the threat that Trump poses to the rule of law. This is silliness.

‘If one is to guard and take precautions against thieves who rifle trunks, ransack bags, and break open boxes, then he must bind with cords and ropes and make fast with locks and hasps. This the ordinary world calls wisdom. But if a great thief comes along, he will shoulder the boxes, hoist up the trunks, sling the bags over his back, and dash off, only worrying that the cords and ropes, the locks and hasps are not fastened tightly enough. In that case, the man who earlier was called wise was in fact only piling up goods for the benefit of a great thief.’ (Zhuangzi 10, Watson translation)

The threat Trump poses is not to the ‘locks and hasps’ of the rule of law. The ‘Muslim ban’ is being enthusiastically enforced by state officials. The rule of law is only ever useful against a small thief, one who does not have the audacity to steal the whole state.

The threat Trump poses is to people. The endless, uncritical ‘rule of law’ rhetoric of the post-war era has magnified that threat by centralising power. Worrying about the rule of law now is like watching a robber take your bag and worrying that the handle might not be strong enough to carry all the things he is stealing from you.


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