Re: Political Crimes and Criminal Activity (fwd)

Wed, 3 Jan 1996 16:11:18 -0500 (EST)

Sender: (Jeffrey Apfel)
Subject: Re: Political Crimes and Criminal Activity

A proposed debate topic on the subject of political prisoners:

RESOLVED: Activities which are against the law but are undertaken by
individuals with primarily political motivations may be categorized as
"political" rather than "criminal" only if the the government enacting
the laws is not legitimate.


I know this is a Pandora's Box as statements go, but it's the only
valid way of thinking about this issue, in my book. Surely those who
think "criminal" equates 100% with "breaking the law" can conceive of
situations in which a transgressor of the law may be prosecuted on
fundamentally political grounds (say, opposition to a dictatorship in
which "the law" is inherently suspect). Surely those who maintain
motivation is primary will be given pause by categorizing as
"political" criminal acts committed by those with whom one
fundamentally disagrees (do leftists wish to give a break to Tim

The issue, I think, is simply this: if you view American government as
fundamentally illegitimate, you are more likely to argue on behalf of
those with whom you sympathize that their criminal acts should be
viewed as primarily political. If you view American government, warts
and all, as suffering from no fundamental crisis of legitimacy,
criminal acts must remain criminal.

I suppose I differ with Maggie Jaffe in that I view American government
as suffering from no fundamental crisis of legitimacy and I suspect her
view is the opposite. Activists in the sixties often conflated their
own views on the war, racism and other matters into the argument that
government simply lacked all legitimate authority. This was, I think,
a view born of the frustration that "the people" for whom one spoke
seemed more often than not to be on the other side of the issues.

Jeff Apfel