I guess that would be a too-short essay on an important topic with special contemporary relevance, so I am bound to say more. Nonetheless, I would be more comfortable with my fellow society members and more confident of the future of the the nation if the answer to the title query was universally accepted in absolute terms. For the acceptance of the principle of pre-crime is dangerous. It places less than a spiked mountain-climber’s boot on a slippery slope to totalitarianism, which is the real-life equivalent of the Devil in the scene above from “A Man For All Seasons,” both the play and the movie, based on the writings of Sir Thomas More, in which More emotionally refuses to arrest a man because of the evil he might do, before he has actually broken any laws:
More’s Wife: Arrest him!
Sir Thomas More: For what?
Wife: He’s dangerous!
William Roper (More’s Son in Law): He’s a spy.
Margaret (More’s daughter): Father, that man’s bad.
More: There’s no law against that.
Roper: There is – God’s law.
More: Then God can arrest him.
Wife: While you talk, he’s gone.
More: And go he should, were he the Devil himself, until he broke the law.
Roper: So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law?
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s. And if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Few more profound and important thoughts have been so eloquently and powerfully presented in a motion picture as this scene from “A Man For All Seasons,” to which I will note (again) in passing, “Rotten Tomatoes” gives a lower score than “Birdman,”a fact that provides a disturbing snapshot of the state of our education, culture and priorities in 2019.
Both political parties have placed their feet on this slippery slope in the past. The essence of pre-crime is punishing a citizen for what he or she is, rather than for what he or she has done, on the theory that what an individual is makes that person “dangerous,” in the words of Mrs. More, for what they might do. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the Supreme Court that backed him) was responsible for probably the worst example of pre-crime in our history, when the United States, in full panic mode after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, imprisoned loyal Japanese-American citizens as a precautionary measure. Another panic, also not entirely groundless, led to a pre-crime mentality during the Red Scare and McCarthy episodes, seeking to punish Americans who belonged to the dreaded Communist Party, a nonetheless legal organization.
To be abundantly clear, I will define pre-crime as when the government removes a civil right, a Constitutional right, from a citizen, not as punishment for breaking a law, but based on what that individual believes, says, is or is understood to be. Continue reading