Velvet Glove, Iron Fist


Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

The term “jurisdiction” has several similar meanings. It can simply mean control. Or it can mean the power to enforce the law. The latter definition is more significant, because the organization that enforces the law is also the one that writes the law. It is correct to say, therefore, that jurisdiction can mean the power to enforce one’s will, since the law is but the written will of the legislature. Both the law’s creators, and its enforcers, are summed up in the phrase: The State, which writes, administers, enforces, and adjudicates its wishes.

In the 19th Century, the plantation owner had jurisdiction over the slave. He was, in himself, the “law,” and he enforced that law--his own will--upon the slaves--for his own benefit, of course. Should a slave dare to question the jurisdiction of the master, that worthy could produce the bill of sale. “I own you; you do as I say.” Were the slave so insolent as to question how a piece of paper, written by others, without his participation or permission, could enslave him, the master would produce the REAL source of his jurisdiction: the whip.

Pieces of paper still bestow jurisdiction today. The words written upon them are called the “law,” or the “statutes,” and simply producing them generally accomplishes what the law's authors and enforcers desire: obedience.

There may be a “law” limiting your speed to 30 miles per hour in a certain neighborhood. Obviously, therefore, anyone apprehended driving thirty-ONE miles per hour in that neighborhood would be breaking the “law.” Since jurisdiction confers upon the source of the law the power to enforce it, exceeding the speed limit by one mile per hour could, at the discretion of the enforcers, subject the “speeder” to arrest and a significant monetary penalty. The purpose of this, without doubt, is to generate income, as the “offense” is of such insignificance as to merit no cause for concern. If the motorist were to ask why he was being forced to give the authorities money, they would not, of course, admit that it was because they wanted the income. They would refer him to those pieces of paper--the “law.” That would, in virtually all cases, bring about his acquiescence, even if he resented being its victim. It is, after all, the “law,” and therefore something solemn and not to be questioned.

Laws are always accompanied by sanctions. If not contained within the statute itself, there will be, nonetheless, somewhere in that mass of verbiage a penalty decreed for its violation. How could it be otherwise?

Parents have jurisdiction over their children. They make the rules, and, as is always the case, there are sanctions attached. Failure to return home at the time ordained by mom and dad may result in the child’s being grounded for a period of time set by the rule-makers. If the sanction did not exist, the child could stay out indefinitely. Why not?

If there was no punishment for exceeding the speed limit by so much as a single mile per hour, drivers might--the prospect is terrifying--exceed it by five, or even ten!!!--miles per hour. And if the slave could loll about in the shade all day, who would pick the cotton? Can anyone doubt that, absent sanctions, that is precisely what the slave would do?

Sanctions establish a hierarchy: the parent over the child, the policeman over the motorist, the master over the slave. In the latter two examples, the motive is monetary profit. In the case of the parent and child, the “profit” is, hopefully, the inculcation in the child of an awareness of his own value, and that of others. Once the child becomes an adult, however, the parents’ jurisdiction disappears, along with any sanctions that might have attended it.

The very existence of sanctions, therefore, is proof of an unequal relationship. When anonymous strangers claim jurisdiction over you, with its accompanying sanctions, they are telling you that you are the inferior, they are the superior. Maddeningly, these self-same strangers refer to themselves as our servants! And they place no sanctions upon themselves, or, if they do, they quite naturally attribute to themselves the power to enforce them as they see fit. So the overseer can whip the slave as much as he deems necessary and suitable, and the cop can scream at the motorist to lie on the ground, and tazer him if he’s not quick about it. And if he’s a law-abiding citizen, how can he object?

The law, after all, establishes a ruling class. So do as you’re told, and quit complaining!

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


Paul's picture

"Maddeningly, these self-same strangers refer to themselves as our servants!"

For a long time, I wondered how this obvious falsehood kept its staying power, why no one ever laughed when the phrase "public servant" was used. Then (I believe) I figured it out:

The notion remains accepted by most people because they want and need to look at it that way. The reality is too shameful to tolerate.

Sharon Secor's picture

"The reality is too shameful to tolerate." Well said, sir, well said.