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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Imprisonment by stealth

The problem is, they will outlaw almost everything while enforcing very little. Imprisonment by stealth. People will not know they are encircled until it is too late – like putting in all these very deep, robust fence-posts with no fence panels. All seems open. One day you will wake up and the panels are in, you are trapped and they can decide what law they wish to impose to nail whomsoever they desire.

– Regular commenter TimC in this thread.

24 comments to Imprisonment by stealth

  • I have noticed it, too – very well put.

  • “Show me the man and I’ll show you his crime.”

    Lavrenty Beria said it I think.

  • Beria also said “Better that 10 innocent be executed than one guilty go unpunished.

  • OCBill

    This reminds me of the story, “The Price of Free Corn”, a cautionary tale for all time (readily available via any web search engine).

  • marilyn

    What do you mean? What is being outlawed? I don’t get it. What are the fenceposts?

  • What do you mean? What is being outlawed? I don’t get it.

    Did you not follow the link? That is all that is required to “get it”

    What are the fenceposts?

    I assume that not only is English not your first language but for some reason your computer does not have access to Google? Fenceposts yields 90,000 hits and fence posts give me 3.9 million. I am sure you can figure it out if you try.

  • This is not a new problem.

    [The government] after having [. . . ] taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will. . . extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd.

    The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent and guided;

    Men are seldom forced by [the government] to act, but they are constantly constrained from acting.

    Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people; until each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.

    De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Part II, Book IV, chap. vi.

  • With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.

  • RAB

    They already tried that one on Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP. Backfired rather badly on them.
    We must fight tooth and claw to retain Jury trial in all criminal cases.
    The jury is the only weapon we have against this tide of insane legislation.

  • Alex K

    “Wherever the law is, crime can be found.”

    — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  • Cato1

    “Namque pauci libertatem, pars magna iustos dominos volunt”

    Only a few prefer liberty, the majority seek nothing more than fair masters. – Sallust, Histories (iv.69.18)

  • Les Nessman

    With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone.

    Scooter Libbey would agree with that. So would I.

  • “There’s a grand text in Galatians,
    Once you trip on it, entails
    Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
    One sure, if another fails!”
    Robert Browning, I believe. Covers the same ground, though.

  • Jack Olson

    Making every citizen a criminal carries the side benefit of making every citizen a potential informant. Hitler’s Gestapo, like Honecker’s Stasi, only detected one-fifth of the cases they investigated. The rest were brought to their attention by informants. Some of these informants had themselves been informed upon and were trying to gain a lighter punishment or escape prosecution by informing on others. Some of them were paid for their services, which was one of the few ways to increase your income in the perpetually depressed East German economy.

    Here in the Land of the Free, of course, things are different. Our government no longer pays a bounty on most criminals, only special ones like Osama bin Laden. Most of the bounties our government pays private citizens–sorry, I meant “honoraria”–are for reporting violations of any of our 166,000 federal tax laws.

    When it comes to criminal law, it is the citizens who pay tribute to the police. In 1998, the federal government confiscated more than 42,000 cars, boats, amounts of cash, and other personal property. The total confiscation was $605 million, so the average was $15,000. The G-men did this on the claim that these properties were used in crime even though they never charged most of the owners with anything. Nine out of ten owners never got their property back. Most of them never even try. To do that, they would have to sue the federal government with its vast resources. Since it can easily cost over $15,000 to sue the government, the cost of litigation virtually forces the robbed citizen to accept the robbery. They have an even stronger reason to do so, since if a judge decides that the citizen’s lawsuit to recover his property is frivolous, he can be imprisoned for up to three years merely for filing it.

  • ken

    I clicked on every link I could find on this page and none of them told me what you guys are talking about. Are you trying to communicate, or just play inside baseball.

  • Midwesterner

    It is an allegory, Ken. The swarms of laws being perpetually passed are the posts in the allegory. The enforcement of those laws are the panels.

    We have countless tens of thousands of laws passed. But they are not being enforced. The point of the allegory is that we can only ignore those laws (most of which we know nothing about) until the word comes down to enforce them. At that point, anyone the enforcers choose to make an example becomes a criminal.

    Does it really matter which particular one of the myriad laws perpetually being proposed prompted TimC to make this observation?

  • Snide

    The post the comment was attached to was about regulation… in this case a call for outlawing parents giving alcohol to their own children in their own homes. To be blunt, how hard is it to figure that out? All you had to do was click the fucking article link thoughtfully provided by the original poster of this *article*. I figured it out in about 5 seconds. Jesus.

  • Midwesterner

    The hundreds of demonstrators the Kremlin has had beaten and arrested in the last few weeks alone, we are told, were not pro-democracy activists but common criminals — like world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Demonstrating without a permit is a serious crime and, luckily for the Kremlin, it turns out that pro-government youth groups seem always to have permits for rallies at the exact times and places that anti-government protesters gather.

    From this article by Fred Thompson in the National Review Online.

  • Dr. T

    To Snide and Perry de Havilland who rudely responded to Ken and and Marilyn:

    I am neither stupid nor ignorant of how web sites work. There is no functioning link pointing to a story about a government making it illegal for parents to serve alcohol to their non-adult children. Perhaps you should have double-checked before insulting other readers.

    I came here directly from an Instapundit link (which was supposed to go to the Mark Twain quote of the day), and I also did not have a clue about what Midwesterner’s post referred to. Perhaps you folks could write comments that are more polite and less snide and snarky.

  • What, nobody remembers Ayn Rand from “Atlas Shrugged”?

    There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on the guilt. Now that’s the system!

  • Marilyn

    Thanks Dr. T for your kind defense. I too read many websites and I was honestly baffled by this post and the response from Mr. de Havilland. If I’d seen a link, I would have clicked on it. And Googling “fenceposts” doesn’t really help me understand your metaphor.

  • Midwesterner

    Dr. T,

    The Mark Twain quote was Johnathan Pearce’s choice for Samizdata Tuesday Quote of the Day.

    The Imprisonment by stealth quote was Glenn Reynold’s choice for Instapundit Monday Quote of the Day.

    I chose not to feature the specific proposed absurd law that prompted TimC to make the allegorical comparison as my point was to address the over arching context. Sometimes it is important to back up from the details and look at the wider picture.

  • I am neither stupid nor ignorant of how web sites work. There is no functioning link pointing to a story about a government making it illegal for parents to serve alcohol to their non-adult children.

    Except there was… and still is, precisely such a link in this very short article. This one. It was the second of the two provided links. I am rather surprised to have to point this out. All you had to do was read that and all would have been revealed. Yet for some reason you felt the need to comment as if the link was not there. Odd.

  • LW

    Hi Tim, Take a look at the degeneration of Singapore’s democratic/policy situation and one will get the idea of the long-term effects of “outlaw almost everything while enforcing very little”. Your friend, LW.