Fake Edmund Burke Was Wrong

Some folks like to “quote” Edmund Burke on evil:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Aside from the fact that the quote is quite bogus (see the link), it’s wrong. In order for evil to triumph, it is not sufficient that good people not act; they must must cooperate. There aren’t enough evil people in the world to overcome the good people without their active help. No evil was ever more than transitory without the positive involvment of good people. The Third Reich would, without the participation of ordinary non-evil folks, have gone no further than beer-hall ranting; Stalin, without the help of misguided people of good will, might have killed hundreds, or maybe tens, instead of millions.

Prosecutors love to pull out the tired fake quote in closing argument, but even when they are dealing with evil (99% of the time they are not) it’s a stupid thing to say.

Which brings us to Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s henchman, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, has filed a criminal information against Judge Gary Donahoe and where:

The criminal “case” against Donahoe seems to many insiders—including, privately, several prosecutors in Thomas’ own office—a pathetically thin, a politically motivated hit job.

Phoenix New Times, h/t Jeff Gamso.

The County Attorney of neighboring Yavapai County, Sheila Polk, sees Thomas’s prosecution of his and the sheriff’s perceived political enemies as “spreading totalitarianism.” She’s not the only one—listen to my interview of Jim Belanger and read my other posts on the topic, as well as Scott Greenfield’s and Jeff Gamso’s.

For tyranny to succeed, good people must cooperate. The abuse of power to intimidate and punish judges for not toeing the executive’s line is a tool of totalitarians. Those prosecutors in Thomas’s office who privately revealed their feelings about this abuse to the Phoenix New Times are not just doing nothing. By continuing to work for Andy Thomas, and speaking out only privately, they are actively helping evil to propagate.

I’ve had local prosecutors tell me that they would speak out against our local D.A., Pat Lykos, if it weren’t for their family obligations, mortgages, and health insurance. Pat Lykos is very little like Andy Thomas. Requiring employees’ presence at one’s coronation is a far cry from using the power of one’s office to attack one’s political enemies; even when she engages in prosecutions that might be politically motivated, Lykos is not so damn obvious about it, and no prosecutor I know thinks she has done so. Cooperating in the subversion of democracy by undermining the rule of law might well be indefensible in a way that cooperating in one’s own debasement as a human and a professional is not.

Aside from the ethical question, there are practical considerations. These Maricopa County Assistant County Attorneys, casting their lot with Andrew Thomas, are lying down with dogs. If Arpaio and Thomas’s fantastical castle in the sky comes crashing to the ground, those lawyers are going to be remembered as having helped Arpaio and Thomas try to destroy the American system of government in Maricopa County. If Arpaio and Thomas’s delusions of grandeur are proven true—if the judiciary in Maricopa County becomes a lapdog or a nullity—those lawyers will be remembered as having helped Arpaio and Thomas succeed. Neither is a cheerful prognosis for their future outside of a totalitarian future; either way, Maricopa County’s Assistant County Attorneys wake up with fleas.

Speaking of lawyers speaking out against Arpaio and Thomas, today Phoenix independent newsman Nick Martin (Heat City) revealed that Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas “just announced he wants two other prosecutors to be investigated for publicly criticizing him.” Conspiracies are convenient: when you believe in a conspiracy against you, everyone who opposes you becomes a conspirator.

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0 responses to “Fake Edmund Burke Was Wrong”

  1. When did everybody start drawing lines in the sand? Isn’t anybody entitled to oppose a political figure anymore? Not everything is conspiracy. Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinion.

  2. I’m not sure I understand. You have stated that good people must do something of an affirmative nature (aside from just doing nothing) in order for evil to succeed, yet you chastise some prosecutors for continuing in their employment. These two ideals are not congruent logically (at least so far as I can tell). Continuing (as it were) status quo ante would require remaining employed (as to leave employment would be an affirmative action and to remain employed would be to do nothing).

    I do agree with you that to work for a despot is to condone and promulgate the despot’s agenda – in that it assists the despot in attaining his/her goal.

    Doing nothing… well that would allow the continuation of whatever programs or policies were being carried out. And THAT would assist evil in its nefarious plot. As the German people who sat idly by and watched the Brownshirts grow in both power and despotism, knowing that their policies were hideously out o touch with rightness, yet making no move to stop it – all the while saying that they are not promulgating those policies because their only affirmative action was not acting.

    To stand by and watch an injustice when one has some ability to stop that injustice, is to allow that injustice.

      • But that does not agree with your statement about requiring some affirmative action. “Clocking in” as you put is, is merely going to work and doing nothing different. Quitting work (refusing to clock in to your job) is an affirmative action…

        Again, I agree that to “work for the man, is to support the (policies of) the man. But you are asking that these folks jeopardize their careers and families in order to make an affirmative statement against those policies.

        • I’m not asking anyone to do anything. But continuing to go to work is active cooperation (should we walk, cross-examination style, through the thousand steps that every DCA in that office has to go through to get through a day of work? “You woke up. You sat up. You put your left foot on the floor. You put your right foot on the floor. . . “); not setting the alarm the night before would be inaction; if enough people did it, Thomas might be hamstrung.

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