Most readers have heard of The Liar’s Paradox: “This sentence is false.” For most of us, it is a kind of linguistic game — a curiousity demonstrating the flexibility of language. For philosophers and logicians, however, it has sparked centuries of debate and reflection — one upshot of which is to point out the sentence’s primary purpose is to confuse us.
We must try to make sense of the world we live in. We cannot always depend on clear language to be clear – and the Liar’s Paradox teaches us to be wary of those who manipulate our desire for clarity to mislead and confuse us.
Consider, then, this version of the Liar’s Paradox: “The rule of law is that there are no rules.”
Or, if you prefer, read any number of memoranda and books by John Yoo, the lawyer whose devotion to executive branch ‘flexibility’ eviscerates the plain meaning of constitutional law in favor of confusion. Yoo’s writings about ‘flexibility’ are now policy in an executive branch who — in the name of The United States of America, in our name — apply them to “lock up human beings indefinitely without charges or hearings, to subject them to brutally coercive interrogation tactics, to send them to other countries with a record of doing worse, to assassinate persons it describes as the enemy without trial, and to keep the courts from interfering with all such actions.”
Yoo claims that September 11th demanded legal reasoning in the face of unprecedented challenges — challenges for which, he asserts, there were no books to look into. For a lawyer, this is an astonishing statement — among the most venerable aspects of lawyering is looking to the past for guidance. His assertion is a sham. That there are unprecedented aspects of today’s complex challenges (e.g. asymmetrical warfare) is not a logical corollary for the statement: there are no books to look into.
There are in fact zillions of books and other writings to look into (including The Constitution) for guidance about how to conduct an effective campaign against terrorism within the dictates of the rule of law and a constitutional form of government that separates powers into three branches and guarantees certain rights to its citizens.
John Yoo is described by professional colleagues as brilliant. He is undoubtedly clever. But cleverness and wisdom are no more identical than the rule of law is with the rule of lawyers.
Posted by Doug Smith on December 27, 2005 01:05 PM | Permalink
I’m taking a graduate course in the foundations of mathematical thought. We are reading and trying to make sense of Kurt Godel’s refutation of Russell and Whitehead’s book ‘Mathematica Principia’ and the paradoxes spawned. This article provides a basis for the shenanigans of the Bush administration and will go to all ends to make their case appear valid and viable. Smith’s analysis helps to debunk and deconstruct their Machiavelian and arrogant political agenda. Thanks
Posted by: Davis Kieff | April 10, 2006 10:19 PM