In Shakespeare's Henry VI, this famous line is spoken:
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
There has long been a debate about how that line should be interpreted. Is it a half-serious jibe about how much better off the world would be without members of the bar? Those who think so argue that this line is
offered as the best feature imagined of yet for utopia. It's hilarious. A very rough and simplistic modern translation would be, "When I'm the King, there'll be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in every pot, AND NO LAWYERS." It's a clearly lawyer-bashing joke.
For example, one legal firm states:
"The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers." Contrary to popular belief, the proposal was not designed to restore sanity to commercial life. Rather, it was intended to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution -- thus underscoring the important role that lawyers can play in society.
(from Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky LLP Firm Profile)
As the famous remark by the plotter of treachery in Shakespeare's King Henry VI shows - "The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers," - the surest way to chaos and tyranny even then was to remove the guardians of independent thinking.
(from "Thinking Like a Lawyer")
This dispute, however, is actually a false dichotomy. Shakespeare seldom wrote two-dimensional characters. The reason he is revered as the greatest playwright in the English language is precisely because so many of his lines are plausibly open to multiple interpretations. As my old friend Mike Manheim used to say, the nature of ambiguity is that it's ambiguous.
Still . . . the validity of the pro-lawyer interpretation got an unexpected boost this week from Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf:
Baton-wielding police fought with lawyers outside courthouses in Islamabad and Lahore again Tuesday, arresting dozens more as they enforced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on judicial activism.
With one in four lawyers now jailed and many judges detained in their homes, surrounded by soldiers, Pakistan's judicial system is in lockdown three days after Musharraf suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency.
* * *
About 3,000 Pakistani lawyers, rounded up since Saturday, sit in jails across the country with no courts operating to which they can seek release. Pakistan has an estimated 12,000 lawyers.
Police earned cash bonuses for beating and arresting hundreds of lawyers Monday who had gathered outside of Lahore's courthouse, police sources said.
Any lawyer who attempts to enter the Lahore or Islamabad courthouse Tuesday was immediately arrested, witnesses said. Some were grabbed by police as they walked toward the court, sources said.
Get rid of the people committed to the rule of law and tyranny is much more easily established.
And by the way, take note of the line in the CNN version of the story about a "crackdown on judicial activism." Judicial activism . . . judicial activism . . . sounds familiar; where have I heard that phrase before? Oh yeah, I remember now--from the GOP as it condemns judges who actually protect people's rights from government intrusion and prosecutorial overreach. They're the people who read Dick the Butcher's line as a prescription, not a caution.
Those Republicans have found their contemporary ideological mentor in the dictator of Pakistan. How envious they must be of his ability to solve "judicial activism" problem with a roundup of lawyers and judges. If only we could do that here.
UPDATE: I'm not the only one to think along these lines. Shanikka has an excellent post on this over at Daily Kos, which contains this frightening alternate history:
After all, you don't want to wake up and hear the following words over our tee-vees one morning, do you?
WHEREAS a situation has thus arisen where the Government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution and as the Constitution provides no solution for this situation, there is no way out except through emergent and extraordinary measures. . .
I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the
Islamic Republic of PakistanUnited States of America shall remain in abeyance.
What stands in the way of that? Well, I'd argue that for the past seven years, that has been in large measure lawyers. Sure, here in America lawyers not yet literally sitting in the streets before a phalanx of military thugs, or pushing back against barricades being propped up by jack-booted military thugs, as they were in Pakistan in March, 2007 and are again today. But for the past seven years, laywers have been in the courts, been in the blogs, and been in the forefront of fighting back, through the insistence on our Constitution and rule of law, against Bush's own campaign to weaken our country's Constitutional principles and our rights as citizens and non-citizens all in the name of his War on Terror.