Monday, November 05, 2007

In Praise of Lawyers

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Although lots of people know that line, from act four of Shakespeare's Henry VI (Part 2), few seem to understand what it really means. The line is spoken by a henchman, Dick, of one of the play's villains, Jack Cade, who led an unsuccessful rebellion against the crown. Cade is making a series of boasts about what will happen when his plot is successful:

CADE
Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows
reformation. There shall be in England seven
halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped
pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony
to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in
common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,--

ALL
God save your majesty!

CADE
I thank you, good people: there shall be no money;
all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will
apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree
like brothers and worship me their lord.

DICK
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

CADE
Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should
be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled
o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings:
but I say, 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal
once to a thing, and I was never mine own man
since.
Cade and his Cheney are evil doers talking about eliminating rivals for power - those who wield paper and official seals as weapons. The rule of law was Cade's enemy and Dick's giving voice to the danger lawyers proposed to their new world order is pretty clearly a statement about what needed to be swept away to win control of the state.

I'm not sure if Pakinstani strong man Pervez Musharraf is much of Shakespeare fan, but he seems to be giving life to Dick's jest. With his declaration of martial law over the weekend, the counter protests are being led by lawyers - taking to the streets in uniform in a way that calls to mind the protests of Burma's Buddhist monks against that country's military junta.

Lawyers take a lot of shit from the rest of society, and sometimes rightfully so. But at our best moments, we stand up for the rule of law and serve as a breaker against arbitrary assertions of state power.

Or at least we should. One of the reasons Duhbya's been able to get away with so much is that smart attorneys too often played the roll of willing enablers to the administrations accumulation of power instead of being breaker that said "no" as the War on Terra train barrelled down the tracks.

That being said, I admire my "brothers in law" in Pakistan trying to stand up to a dictator (granted, he's better than the alternative, but that's not saying much). Putting their lives at risk for something as nebulous - and critical to a peaceful society - as the rule of law.

3 comments:

Rebecca Burch said...

That is a pretty awesome story, JDB. People whine a lot about lawyers, but I think it's easier to make generalizations about lawyers because of the dorks who chase ambulances and enable people to abuse power than it is to really look at the good lawyers do for our society, too. For any society. Bless those lawyers in Pakistan!

jedijawa said...

Well said.

Dallas website design said...

I never had the idea of this before. Well, this was a good article. We must be proud of the lawyers and lawyers must be proud of themselves also. Entrusting yourself might add self confidence.