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The President and the pear

May 21, 2016

Suppose that all legislative and executive authority in the United States were consolidated into the person of the President, so that he became in effect an absolute monarch.  And suppose that this particular President hated pears.  Hated them with a fanatical, unreasoning passion.  Naturally, one of his first acts would be to outlaw growing or eating pears.  He could even impose capital sentences on anyone caught eating a pear in public if he liked, lest they spread the contagion to the rest of the population.

But he would be disappointed by the results of his fiat.  People would go on eating and growing and selling and buying pears.  No one would be brought up before a judge or jury accused of public pear-eating, and no human rights advocates would spring up to defend the pear-eaters.  It wouldn’t be considered necessary.  Why would the President fail in his quest to stamp out the horrors of the pear from civilized society?

Because by the compression of the entire executive branch of government into himself, all those with the power to enforce the laws he made would have vanished.  He would have no PEA (Pear Enforcement Agency) agents to investigate or arrest pear-eaters, no prosecutors to present a case against them in court, no officers to shepherd them from the dock to the execution chair, no wardens or jailers to hold them in prison, no excisemen to extract fines from them, no soldiers to patrol the streets looking for them.  Without a civil service, no law he made could be executed unless he himself, as Chief Executive, put it into operation.  And so the pear-eaters would go free.

True, if he were walking down the street, and crossed paths with a man eating a pear, he would have the undeniable legal authority to arrest or shoot the pear-eater if he felt like it.  But he would have to do so himself.  He couldn’t merely beckon and have someone a thousand miles away do the dirty work, as if he were the central figure in Rousseau’s mandarin paradox.  Under those circumstances, he would have to weigh the possible results of his actions.  If he could kill the pear-eater, but the pear-eater’s wife was standing behind her husband and would immediately strangle the President in retaliation, would it be worth the satisfaction he would get from the pear-eater’s demise?  Remember that all the executive civil service was previously collapsed into himself.  He would have no Secret Service men to jump to his defense.  It would be his wits and strength against those of his fellow citizens if he chose to enrage the latter.

Given his situation, the President would most probably allow the pear-eater to go on his way with a glance of loathing.

The moral of the tale?  The most vicious law is harmless if the means to enforce it are lacking, and the man who is not shielded from the consequences of his actions is circumspect.

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