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*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Case Against Lawyers

by Catherine Crier

Reviewed March 14, 2003.
Broadway Books, New York, 2002.  244 pages.

A few years ago, at an amusement park in Germany, I had one of those moments of insight into American society.

I had already noticed that there were far fewer workers than there would be at a similar amusement park in America.  Then my family and I discovered a ride with no staff monitors at all.  The ride consisted of a single-seat swing.  It started by lifing you high over the heads of your friends.  Then it swung out high over a lake while your legs dangled, and you went back and forth a few times before it let you down.  Not only did the rider have to get himself in the seat and fastened in, but the rider had to push the button to start the ride!

Now, I’m not saying that that German amusement park shouldn’t have had someone standing there to monitor that ride.  However, I do like the way Germans have not given up on the idea of personal responsibility.  In America, such a thing would never, ever occur, as the amusement park owners would be sure to get sued if some stupid teen pushed the start button when his brother was only part way in the seat.

The same idea is behind the stretches of Autobahn without speed limits.  The driver is given the responsibility of figuring out how fast he can safely go.  That’s not seen as the government’s responsibility.

The Case Against Lawyers talks about this aspect of American life.  We’ve given up personal responsibility.  If we get hurt, we look for someone to sue.

We’ve all heard famously ridiculous examples.  She mentions several more.  This morning, I heard a new example on the radio:  A man sued a driver for driving over his foot while he was stealing a hubcap from the car.

This is a philosophical book.  Catherine Crier goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, written over a century ago, to point out some problems we face today.  “He said, in summary, that our real power as a people came through voluntary associations.  Our personal freedoms would be protected if we could voluntarily resolve the problems of society rather than permit the heavy hand of government to do it for us.  But he recognized our greatest weakness--the willingness to live ‘as strangers apart from the rest.’  If we lost our communal bond, then authority and social control would arise elsewhere.  ‘Man would yield his sovereignty to an immense power,’ he predicted, ‘one that does not destroy, or even tyrannize, but one that serves to stupefy a people, reducing them to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious sheep.’”

The author goes on to look at several specific examples of problems with our government, most related to our laws and the greedy, self-serving lawyers making them.  Beyond looking at the problems, she also discusses the philosophy behind them.  This is the great strength of the book.

“Beyond the destruction of the American character, we have been suckered into extraordinary trade-offs for an allegedly risk-free world.  Do you really prefer a padded room to the open range?  A free society necessarily has dangers that more autocratic systems do not.  The more liberties people have, the more varied the choices and the chancier the environment.  However, the reverse is not true.  More rules do not guarantee our security.  They may afford a legal venue for redress, but they won’t save our skins or our souls.  Words on a page will not prevent babies from drowning in the bath or some hiker from diving in your pond.  We must understand the false exchange as we seek more protection from unpredictable or dangerous behavior.”

“Freedom is a messy thing.  It permits the development of an elite society, albeit one defined by merit, ability, intellect, even craft and cunning.  We profess to love liberty yet rebel against natural differences by passing laws that pretend to eliminate them.  Having abdicated personal responsibility to the law, we now expect it to homogenize the world.  Our legislatures and courts are manufacturing new rights by the bushel, ostensibly in pursuit of human equality.  However, just as all the rules in the world cannot insure our survival, neither can they create the impossible.”

“The Bill of Rights was designed to protect people against intrusion by the government.  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, ‘Rights mark the limits of interference with individual freedom.’  In barely a generation, this definition has been turned on its head.  Instead of political rights that belong to the people, we have created affirmative obligations that are imposed on government, businesses, and individuals.  These two concepts couldn’t be more different.  Said simply, we now assert a ‘right to’ rather than a ‘freedom from.’  This notion has become a national mantra.”

Catherine Crier shows abuses coming from both political parties.   I like that in a political book, as it shows that she is not just giving a party line, but genuinely examining a problem in American government.

This is not a book of despair.  The author believes that the problems she presents in this book have arisen in the last eighty years or so, and that the citizens of America can change them.  “Actually, because this discussion is a bit philosophical, it may not matter to most people.  If few people care about the kind of government or the quality of our citizenry, then all my words are for naught.  If we think that pouring more money into schools simply to turn out mediocre consumers is a valid goal, then I should be quiet.  If equality is the end all for this society, such that talent, ambition, and excellence are no longer valued, then my ideals are sorely out of step.”  By writing the book, she demonstrates her great hope that the people of America do care and are willing to make changes.

“This destructive evolution can be changed but not by rules or laws.  Only a change of heart will do.  We must see where all this nonsense has taken us.  We must first recognize that a collection of words on a page alone will not abolish crime, improve reading scores, or better the life of one impoverished inner-city mom or child.  Regulations alone do not prevent corporate pollution or ensure workers’ safety.  Problems require people for solutions, people who actually do their jobs, help others, and care about the quality of their work.  Police who walk their beats and know their communities will do more to reduce crime than all the laws on the books.  Teachers who personalize their instruction and are valued for their excellence will do more for students than standardized testing.”

I hope that Catherine Crier’s cry will be heard by many Americans.  An important book with a powerful message that rings true.

Here are links to two websites that Catherine Crier recommends: and

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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