We’ve heard this before

by Henry Farrell on September 4, 2009

“David Broder 2009”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/02/AR2009090202857_pf.html

Looming beyond the publicized cases of these relatively low-level operatives is the fundamental accountability question: What about those who approved of their actions? If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock? I think it is that kind of prospect that led President Obama to state that he was opposed to invoking the criminal justice system, even as he gave Holder the authority to decide the question for himself. Obama’s argument has been that he has made the decision to change policy and bring the practices clearly within constitutional bounds — and that should be sufficient. In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

Lord Justice Denning, on the “Birmingham Six”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Six stitch up

Just consider the course of events if their [the Six’s] action were to proceed to trial … If the six men failed it would mean that much time and money and worry would have been expended by many people to no good purpose. If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean that the Home Secretary would have either to recommend that they be pardoned or to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, ‘It cannot be right that these actions should go any further.’ They should be struck out either on the ground that the men are estopped from challenging the decision of Mr. Justice Bridge, or alternatively that it is an abuse of the process of the court. Whichever it is, the actions should be stopped.

Funnily enough, not only did the British political and justice system manage to keep stumbling on after the Birmingham Six were released, but most reasonable observers would agree that it was the better for finally admitting that it had locked up six men for sixteen years on trumped-up evidence. Similarly, one might imagine that the US justice system would be the better for examining the _prima facie_ evidence that the Vice President of this country engaged in illegal acts, rather than pretending that it didn’t because of the risk of partisan upheaval. But not if one were David Broder.

Civil Society and Empire

by Kieran Healy on September 4, 2009

Civil Society and Empire From Jim Livesey comes an interesting-looking book on the origins of civil society. If I were Tyler Cowen I would say it was self-recommending, but in fact Jim recommended it to me directly. (Although we’ve never met, Jim represents the vanguard of the Blackrock Road school of history, philosophy, social science, science, and public policy — an admittedly hazy entity constituted mostly by him and his brothers.) The concept of “civil society” was in the ascendancy after 1989 and was everywhere in the social sciences and political talk by the late 1990s. Livesey’s book argues that the idea has roots in the defeated provincial elites of Scotland and Ireland, as a way for them “to enjoy liberty without directly participating in the empire’s governance”. I could probably have done with reading this two weeks ago, before I kicked off my social theory seminar with a quick and cheery survey of the situation of social theory prior to the nineteenth century, the sort of thing that gives real historians heart failure.