Law is no longer — if it ever was — about the ostensible reason the law was passed. It is simply a toolkit for achieving the real objectives of the state. The state starts with those real objectives, then searches the full range of technical capabilities presented by the letter of existing law to find a useful weapon.
Take, for example, the way the state “overcharged” Bradley Manning, in an attempt to blackmail him into turning on Julian Assange. That’s just a more extreme version of the kinds of stuff local prosecutors do on a daily basis, through plea bargain blackmail and the coercion of perjured testimony from jailhouse snitches.
It’s routine for cops to trump up pretexts for warrants to conduct fishing expeditions on people they “know” are guilty — despite lacking any actual evidence of the main “crime” they suspect them of. So they search for unpaid parking tickets, expired car tags, zoning violations, etc., just so they can knock on your door — then claim they saw “probable cause” while innocently looking into your home. Cops are that way.
SLAPP lawsuits are directly analolgous to plea bargains. The giant corporation knows you’re not doing anything really libelous. But it also knows it can bankrupt you and destroy your life by accusing you. Likewise, big media copyright trolls know you’re not really in violation when they issue a DMCA takedown notice; but they also know you can’t afford to risk a $30,000 fine to find out.
Then there’s the U.S. government, and its use of extralegal influence on major institutions like ICANN, PayPal, and Amazon to shut down Wikileaks. It’s exactly the same as a rich local good ol’ boy making the rounds of everyone whose mortgages he holds, and explaining how he’d “be much obliged” if they avoided doing business with those “outside agitators.” Cause we know how to deal with them no-good pinko radicals ’round here, don’t we, boys? Heh heh.
All the above examples involve uses — deliberate, calculated, expert uses — of the letter of the law to destroy its ostensible spirit. But with the passage of provisions for indefinite civilian detention in the latest National Defense Authorization Act, we’ve reached the point where even the letter of the law simply no longer applies to the people in power. You think those “strict Constitutionalist” justices on the Supreme Court will overturn this on Fifth Amendment grounds? They’ll refuse to adjudicate it faster than you can say “political question.”
This should be a lesson for anarchists on how to use the law. I don’t believe there’s any need for anarchists to have scruples against using the courts and the law when they’re useful weapons against illegitimate power. One of the great things about the state is that, like all forms of authority, it is utterly irrational. That means sometimes we can use its own rules against it, just like workers using workplace rules against their employers in the work-to-rule strike.
The important thing is not to delude ourselves that, just because we use the law as a weapon sometimes, we respect its legitimacy. We use power against power because it’s a way to destroy power — period.
The law is useful to us to the extent, and only to the extent, that we use it in exactly the same way the state and the ruling class do. That is, not out of any respect for its authority, but as a weapon to pick up when it’s useful — and to replace with other weapons when it’s not.
By Kevin Carson at Center for a Stateless Society under Creative Commons