Libertarians often talk of the state as a perpetual enemy. Marxists have an attitude to the state summed up by Lenin’s promise to make the state vanish.
LI used to accept this as a basic principle. We don’t any longer. We have a new principle: all beasts are beasts of circumstance. The state, in itself, is neither good nor ill, and its existence does not reflect some terrible flaw in human nature or history.
This doesn’t mean that the state isn’t a beast, at times, and the worst of beasts – a pennyante beast, a heart picker, a bad faith bad conscience. Clyde Habersham’s article in the Times this morning is about the familiar breath of the American beast – the racism, revanchism, and willingness to lynch that is encoded in U.S. attitude towards crime. Habersham compares the prospects of Martha Stewart, getting out of jail proclaiming her innocence, and Marc La Cloche. LA Cloche, of course, is a nobody. No politician will be inviting a man on welfare in the Bronx to dine with him or her. But they are both convicts. La Cloche, convicted of armed robbery, did eleven years in prison. He turned himself around. He learned a trade – barbering. The state taught it to him.
Out of prison, he tried, naturally, to make a living with his new trade. Only to run into an inhuman bully with a title – New York’s secretary of state. Grinding the bones of an ex-con is probably considered good politics by this semi-human being, since nothing makes some faction of Americans happier than a little lynching in the morning. So the Secretary of State blocked La Cloche from getting a license to barber because he didn’t have the “moral character” for it – after all, he’d been in prison. He might just abscond with a few of your follicles.
The absurdity of this decision prompted a judge to overturn it – but, as is the fashion of petty tyrants, the Secretary of State appealed that decision.
“New York's secretary of state, who has jurisdiction in these matters, appealed the granting of the license and won. Mr. La Cloche's "criminal history," an administrative law judge ruled, "indicates a lack of good moral character and trustworthiness required for licensure."
In plain language, the fact that Mr. La Cloche had been in prison proved that he was unworthy for the trade that the state itself taught him in prison.
Where is Joseph Heller when we need him? That pretty much summed up the feelings of Justice Herman Cahn of State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Two years ago, he ordered the authorities to give Mr. La Cloche another look. They have every right to expect would-be barbers to prove their "good moral character," Justice Cahn said. But Mr. La Cloche never got the chance. His criminal record alone did him in, and that was unfair, the judge said.”
Do you think the Secretary of State of any state is going to set the bar so high for Martha Stewart? No way. She is, after all, white and rich.
The article refers to the Fortune society, which is an ex prisoner advocacy group. Go to their home page here.
Just another morning in Bush’s America.