A Nation of Men, Not Laws

Rusty Shackleford argues that, Constitution be damned, Jeb Bush should just do what he thinks is right.

We have a name for this: Tyranny.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fersboo says:

    It would only be tryanny if he wasn’t held accountable for his actions.

  2. James Joyner says:

    So, Hitler wasn’t a tyrant?

  3. Fersboo says:

    You are invoking Hilter? I’m sorry for you then.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Uh, I’m not “invoking” Hitler except as the archtype of the concept under discussion, a “tyrant.”

    You say one isn’t a tyrant if he’s held accountable. I’d argue that Hitler was held accountable in the form of a world war. Or, if you don’t count that, then we can use Saddam Hussein, who’s facing a trial. Is his tyrant status retroactively revoked?

  5. James,
    I suppose this means Jefferson was a ‘tyrant’ for the Louisiana Purchase?

    Must ‘the law’ be followed even when ‘the law’ is grossly immoral?

    But the Hitler case and the Hussein case are actually cases in point for my side of the argument. That is, by German and Iraqi standards, their actions were perfectly legal.

    It is only by externally imposed standards–what are really natural law standards–that they can be said to have ‘broken the law’ and tried.

  6. Jay says:

    Next time you’ll know to say “Stalin” instead. There’s no “law” against that. :>

  7. James Joyner says:

    Rusty: I’d argue that Hitler and Hussein were only not breaking their native law because they WERE their native law. Germany long had laws prohibiting murder, mass or otherwise. Presumably, that’s true of Iraq as well.

    Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory was a gross overreach of presidential authority. My historical knowledge on it is otherwise rather rusty (no pun intended) but I don’t recall his having done so after years of opposition by the coordinate branches. If Congress had specifically denied him the authority to do this and been backed by the courts, then, yes, Jefferson’s purchase would have been an act of tyranny.

    The problem with saying that one man’s view of what is right should trump the law is, of course, that that individual may well be wrong.

    What if, for example, the federal judges had ordered Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube re-inserted. Outraged by this, Michael Schiavo strangled her to death, reasoning it was the only way to do what he legitimately thought was right, honoring her wish not to live in this state any longer. Would you argue that was a good thing or a bad thing?

  8. Fersboo says:

    I highly doubt that there is a reasonable correlation between a duly elected official of a democratic government and those whom rise to power otherwise. If Governor Bush were to defy the courts and step in on the Schiavo case, would not the legislature and courts of that state have the authority and power to remove him in the event of a crime? Do you believe that the Mayor of San Francisco was a ‘tyrant’ because he used his position of ‘absolute power’ to grant same-sex marriage in defiance to the laws and regulations of the state of California?

  9. anon says:


    Help me with another example since I am not a history expert:

    1. The original Constitution made slavery legal. It even went so far as assign fractional counting to slaves for headcount purposes.

    2. Lincoln outlawed slavery in the Gettysburg Address without the niceties of going through the legislature or courts

    Ergo, Lincoln was a tyrant?

    In addition, when the Constitution was finally amended after the fact to outlaw slavery, a large portion of the congressmen (all the ones from the South) were not democratically elected, but put in place by the occupying Union army.

    Ergo, Reconstruction was an excersize in tyranny?

  10. James Joyner says:

    Fersboo: My point, above, is the fact that one can be held accountable after the fact does not alter the act. A murderer is still a murderer even if he’s tried and convicted. A tyrant is a tyrant even if he’s deposed.

    Yes, Newsome was acting as a tryant in direct defiance of the laws, not to mention the overwhelming majority of Californians (although not of San Franciscans).

    Anon: Yes and Yes.

  11. Jay says:

    Lincoln was a tyrant. But he was trying to do the right thing as he perceived it.

  12. dw says:

    2. Lincoln outlawed slavery in the Gettysburg Address without the niceties of going through the legislature or courts

    Uh, no. No, no, no, no, no.

    Do they even teach history in schools anymore?

  13. James Joyner says:

    DW: Heh. I just presumed he meant the Emancipation Proclamation, which did more or less what he claimed. There’s little doubt that Lincoln assumed quasi-dictatorial powers to fight the war.

  14. Iceman 1955 says:

    Its interesting how when both liberals and conservatives diagree with a law or a ruling demand that people defy the law. This is an issue that has been going on for 15 years now. Some are making it seem like this is a rush decision and are now claiming new evidence. Who better to make these decisions then the judges and people who have been involved for a long time now. Her husband is the legal guardian. If her request was to not live in a condition like this, its the responablity of the guardian to see that happens. We have these laws and provisions for just these reasons. This is not an issue for the TV talking heads or Congress. They have no business in a personal and states rights issue.