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The Nightwatchman Is the Problem

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This remarkable book is the most comprehensive, sweeping, compelling, and unsettling case ever penned against what is laughingly called the criminal-justice system. It is a classic — devastating at its core — made newly available to speak to us in our times.

Clarence Darrow is best known today as the Chicago lawyer who defended John T. Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. But that case actually played a minor role in his life. He was an attorney by training who, from experience, learned that the entire state apparatus of courts, trials, and prisons was the single worst feature of the state. He saw the entire machinery as a gigantic fraud, a purveyor of injustice, a producer of criminality itself.

Why? Because "the state furnishes no machinery for arriving at justice." He proves the point. It taxes people more rather than bringing about compensation. It kills rather than rights wrongs. It ruins lives instead of righting them. It cares nothing about victims and instead makes more of them. Darrow even argues that the state attempts to make more criminals rather than to stop crime.

For this reason, and after seeing these truths play themselves out in his work, he became a radical, and Resist Not Evil is his manifesto. What strikes you as you read this book is that certain points that you have noticed are not just periodic accidents. They aren’t mistakes. They aren’t exceptions. Darrow explains that the injustice of the system is intrinsic to the system itself. Far from being the proper agency to adjudicate and administer justice, the state is actually the worst agency for this purpose.

In his view, every real crime is made far worse when the state gets involved. Moreover, the state has every interest in expanding criminality into ever more spheres of life — making peaceful behavior illegal and doing nothing about actual crime. This is not incompetence or bad policy at work. Darrow says that this is intrinsic to the game of state-administered justice itself.

In many ways, his conclusions are the same ones that Murray Rothbard came to so many decades later. The remarkable fact is that Darrow’s book was published in 1902, when the state was much smaller and had not built its present-day empire of prisons and courts.

Fair warning: this book is extremely unsettling. It will shake you fundamentally. You will never look at judges, police, courts, and jails the same way. It could change your whole outlook on politics — permanently.

Doug French writes the introduction.

Jeffrey Tucker is Editorial Director of the American Institute for Economic Research. He is author of It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes and Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo. Send him mail.

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