Wingnut dictionary: “Jacobin”

n. One who believes in the rule of law.
(Per Volokh Conspirator Kenneth Anderson.)

n. One who believes in the rule of law.

[Per Kenneth Anderson of American University’s Washington School of Law and the Volokh Conspiracy.]

Anderson writes, of Attorney General Holder’s decision (clearly required by the provisions of the Conventi0n Against Torture, a treaty to which the United States is signatory and whose provisions are therefore the law of the land unless explicitly repudiated) to open an investigation into torture:

I think that, described as Stuart suggests – i.e., purely as a strategic political assessment – it amounts to believing one can throw a few scraps to the Jacobins without igniting the Terror.

“Stuart” is Stuart Taylor, whose column more or less approves of Holder’s decision on the grounds that it’s not likely to lead to prosecutions of officials who carried out what Taylor considers (properly) acts of torture, including threatening to kill a detainee’s children.   Taylor points out that those actions are in some ways no more appalling than other actions authorized by the torture memos, which seems to me an excellent reason to prosecute the authors of those memos rather than to abstain from prosecuting people who went even beyond what the memos purported to permit.

Taylor goes on to compare civilian casualties incurred as collateral damage from bombing with deliberate acts of torture, as if you couldn’t possibly endorse the one and not the other.   Yes, horrible stuff goes on in battle, but there’s a different level of horror involved in deliberately tormenting someone who is, at the moment, completely at your mercy.  In any case, the law makes a distinction, and, in a shocking departure from the past eight years, we now have an Attorney General willing to carry out his plain duty under the law.

Footnote I’m somewhat surprised, and  very pleased, to see that even the VC commentariat – which consists generally of War on Terror fans – overwhelmingly disagrees with Anderson’s post.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Wingnut dictionary: “Jacobin””

  1. Ken Anderson is one of the most recent additions to the Volokh Conspiracy blog and, so far, has distinguished himself with mostly bizarre and baseless posts that may rival some of the worst drivel put out by his most zealous co-conspirators. There is a clear hierarchy among VC bloggers, in terms of their tolerance for opposition and it generally coincides with their nuttiness. Not so for Anderson. He is all over the place. Early on, there was a totally baseless ad hominem attack on Ezra Klein, basically for being a young know-nothing ignoramus on health policy issues (baseless because it lacked any support for the claim other than Ezra's age). And it hasn't got any better since. Although the commentariat at VC is not entirely sane, they do tend to prefer at least formal historical accuracy. They may twist the interpretation of trends and patterns, but they are sticklers for definitions.

  2. Perhaps Anderson is an even better historian than us all, using "Jacobian" to the French order of Dominican friars because the Dominicans produced several noted scholars, including Aquinas. Maybe he's noting that those of us who think that torture ought to be against the law have philosophical, moral, and legal roots that run as far back as Aquinas. I'd contest that we go at least as far as Augustine if not further, but who needs to be picky?

    I suppose he could also be comparing us to green and blue hummingbirds from Central and South America.

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