Submitted by Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Last week during a long road trip, I was listening to a CD from the band The Eagles. A song came on written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey the group’s songwriters and leaders. The song is called “Get Over It”. As the autumn beautiful Shenandoah Valley landscape was passing by, a line from the song jarred me from my motoring reverie and made me think of this blog. The line was:
“The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight.”
I have always felt positive about the Constitution, lawyers and the legal profession. To have a democratic society one needs a system of laws and legal technicians to judge, uphold and defend those laws. Ostensibly, most people would view a society without laws as frightening and dangerous. Yet ever since our country’s founding an undercurrent of distrust and dislike of has existed towards those in the legal profession. What is the basis of this dichotomy and why is a dislike and distrust of lawyers so prevalent today in America? As a part of my answer to this we must go back to the first line of the quote from the song. What was meant by “old Billy” was William Shakespeare, where the original quote came from. Is this hatred of lawyers an old theme going back to Elizabethan England?
“Dick the butcher: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
Cade: Nay, that I mean to do.
Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78.”
This is actually a case of artistic license on Don Henley’s part. In the context of the play the line was spoken and replied to by rebels, who wanted to overthrow the government and institute tyranny. To kill all the lawyers was to ensure that no one could challenge the legitimacy and rule of the rebels. This is discussed in detail in the link below:
I believe that the hatred of the Law and Lawyers stems from a persistent strain of thought running through American politics, that predates the Revolution. The American Revolution was not an uprising that included all colonists. A sizable minority called “Lobsterbacks” remained loyal to England and King George. After the revolution this large minority did not disappear, but manifested itself in a distrust of the Constitutional freedoms and a longing for a more authoritarian form of government. As we can remember from American History classes many urged George Washington to accept the title of King. What is a yearning for Kingship, if not the yearning for an authoritarian “father figure” providing order to our lives?
This yearning for authoritarian rule is one that I think is somewhat universal in humanity and if so explains why many nations choose a ruling father figure, even by electoral vote. My thought is that there are two distinct strains of motivation comprising the individuals that yearn for authoritarian rule. The first is by those who are economically advantaged and see themselves as the “kingmakers” and the aristocracy around the king. Authoritarian rule benefits them because it reduces threats to their status, wealth and power, by ensuring that the majority of people are kept in their place in the societal pecking order. This engenders a need for an authoritarian legal system, with draconian punishments to keep people in line. Even in such a system a legally trained mind, with a highly developed conscience, will try to find exceptions within the law to represent a client. It is a sad truth of history that many times these elite authoritarians find that once they’ve installed their “Leader”, he turns on them and they too find themselves laid low. This happened in NAZI Germany where many industrialists gave financial support for Hitler’s rise to power. One of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen “The Damned” by Luchino Visconti, 1969: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Damned_(1969_film)
The second, far larger group enamored of authoritarian rule, are people who I think are emotionally attracted to being told what to do. In essence their psychological makeup is one of conformity to strictly enforced norms. My notion is that this could be genetically influenced and there have been studies with infants at Harvard that find that as early as six months children show predispositions to certain behaviors affecting perceived risks. The studies involved whether an infant would trust its own inclination, or merely respond to its mothers call. Given my own wilfulness as a child and the dangers it put me in, perhaps the ability to listen to authority was initially a genetic advantage. It is my observation that many of us humans are averse to thinking for ourselves and would prefer having decisions made for us. Other studies have shown that people perceive the President as a father figure and are attracted to those candidates that at least outwardly conform to the stereotype. Ronald Reagan anyone?
What has this to do with distrust and hatred of lawyers? I believe that it has everything to do with it. Courageous lawyers upset the status quo and disappoint the majority’s wishes. When I was about twelve I read “Clarence Darrow for the Defense” a biography by Irving Stone. Darrow then became one of my lifelong heroes and I think among the greatest of American lawyers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Darrow . There are other heroes I’ve had who were also lawyers. Joseph Welsch, from the Army/McCarthy Hearings; Thurgood Marshall; Benjamin Hooks; Daniel Webster; Abe Lincoln; John Adams; William Kuntzler; Paul Robeson; and Jonathan Turley to name just a few. The common theme among uniting these lawyers were they spoke truth to power, despite government authority and the majority‘s will. The lawyer can be one of the bastions of maintaining freedom in our society and defending unpopular causes.
It is in defense of unpopular, though just, causes where they draw the most animus. The battles fought are usually against the wealthy and/or entrenched power bases, who have stirred up the peoples wrath through propaganda and appeals to our baser selves. Civil Rights, the Labor Movement, Abortion Rights, Gay Rights, to mention a few issues were (and still are) all unpopular causes fought in the courtroom by lawyers reviled for their success. If you come from an authoritarian mindset, or if your oxen are being gored, of course you despise the people who champion a cause and think them base..
Then we have cases like OJ, Casey Anthony, Phil Spector and Sam Sheppard. The public overwhelmingly believed these people guilty and when their defense attorney’s got them off, the public’s anger vented on these attorney’s who “suborned” justice. Overlooked is that we have a legal system that goes back essentially to the Magna Carta. It is a system that has evolved into the belief that a person’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. While it can never guarantee that the outcome will satisfy public demand, weren’t all of these people entitled to a fair trial? If they weren’t than what stops government officials from arbitrarily punishing whoever draws their wrath?
Without our system of law we have no freedom. All of us are subject to the arbitrary whims of those with might, or wealth. Our lives become a lot more frightening and our economic status more insecure. A good legal system balances and adds stability to a society and we weaken it at our peril. I write this with full knowledge of the problems that our legal system has and the understanding that only a minority of the legal profession actually defend our rights selflessly. Indeed, the majority of lawyers are less than noble in their professional aims, but most with a love of the law and the desire to practice it ethically. Rather than kill all the lawyers from my perspective I think we should do all we can to praise, foster and uplift this profession because its proper practice protects us all from tyranny and exploitation.
My view of course is not the only view and this article linked below has a different, yet meritorious take on the reasoning why people feel this way: http://randazza.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/why-people-hate-lawyers-an-overview/
I wrote this as a personal perspective and as such some may find fault with the evidence I’ve presented. My intent, however, was personal, not evidentiary and I seek to merely explain my personal respect for lawyers, the Law and the Constitution. I hope to elicit your critiques and opinions about my perception that lawyers are generally now held in low esteem by many of the people. Do you think this is so and if you do, do you think this low esteem is merited and why?