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Law

Voluntaryism is based on the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle states that self-defense is fine, but you should never aggress, never commit any act of violence, including threats and destruction or theft of property, to someone who has not done the same. All initiation of force is illegitimate. In our last post, we saw how the science of human nature refutes the argument that we need to be forced. Governments initiate the use of force in two ways. One is through taxation, which we will cover in more detail in a later post. The other is through law. Law is a directive you must follow or you are fined or sent to jail. If you resist the fine, you go to jail. If you resist jail, you are attacked. They can be as severe as the government’s arbitrary decisions make them. Laws are what give the government is veneer of legitimacy. If something is legal, it must be moral, right?

Why must things be done by force? That is the question every statist must answer for every issue they think only government can handle. Why does it have to be done by force? Why can people not be allowed to think about it and decide for themselves? Why is government morality superior to that of the individual? I just don’t understand why freedom is less important than the basic result of law, conformity. And yet, many democrats think their system is best precisely because it affords the most freedom. Wanting to pass restrictive laws and then claiming to love freedom is hypocrisy. It seems to be the natural impulse of most people living under a government to avocate passing a law to solve any problem that arises. We will address a few of the countless reasons why laws do not solve problems in later posts. For now, we should bear in mind that laws are not the same as morality. For instance, do you think the reason we are not killing each other is because it is illegal? Well, would you kill anyone? Do you know anyone who would?

Law creates a kind of double standard. The powerful do what they want and the powerless do what they are told. In the words of Stefan Molyneux,

I can’t go next door and threaten my neighbour with force in order to get him to pay for my child’s education, but the government can through property rights and the educational system. I can’t find some guy in my neighbourhood who’s smoking some herb that I find objectionable, lock him up in some basement and then call myself an armed warrior for justice through the War on Drugs. I can’t print money based on nothing and use it as legitimate currency; the government can. And I can’t create debt that other people have to pay without any choice in the matter. That’s called fraud. But for the government it’s called deficit financing and it goes to future generations. So government, by definition, is that social entity which legalises whatever is criminal for everyone else in the population…. Law is an opinion with a gun.

(Stefan forgot to mention that invasion and occupation are called democracy promotion and nation building, but he was in an interview, so we can forgive him!)

Law is thus separate from culture. If something is truly culture or religion, there is no reason to legislate it. Legislation would only entrench a custom or practice that lawmakers or interested parties deem desirable rather than letting it evolve, as cultures and religions do.

Do you believe that the purpose of law is to defend people against the arbitrary exercise of state power? Because that is demonstrably false. Who is it that makes these laws? Self-interested politicians. They hardly ever do anything to curb their own power, although sometimes they use the law to curb the power of future governments; for example, Israeli settlement policy has made it harder (some say impossible) for future Israeli governments to withdraw from the West Bank.

The rule of law is held us as the standard all nations should aspire to. But we have natural laws that govern us, without the need for force. Why is a government considered ideal? Why do we need to be ruled by others at all? How about the rule of freedom? When Winston Churchill heard about the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 and the equally bloody crackdown in Iraq in 1920, he was appalled by what he saw as abuses. And yet, because he was an ethnocentrist like most people, he continued to believe in the superiority of British civilisation because it was characterised by the rule of law. The rule of law didn’t do the Indians and the Iraqis much good, did it?

And why would it? Law has nothing to do with morality. That is why I have no problem with people on juries who vote to acquit people of crimes they do not believe should be crimes, like drug possession or beating up Donald Rumsfeld, even in the face of overwhelming evidence they are “guilty”. (More on this subject here.) If there is no crime, there is no guilt.

Neither is law an agreement of all the people. When friends tell me that the reason we have certain laws and social programs is that we as a society have agreed on them, I have trouble believing their naivety. Laws are created by parliamentarians, whom, if you are in the majority, you did not vote for. They are part of a small clique that decides what is right for people they believe cannot decide those things for themselves. As such, they cannot claim to represent you and the diverse district or country you live in. And you can try to change the law, if you really want. But I do not know how you expect to win. Two reasons more people do not work harder to repeal all the ridiculous laws out there are the enormous time and effort it would take, and the low odds of success. Neither does it help that governments often enact a new law down the road, which while different in appearance, their spirit mimics that of the law that was abrogated. If lobbyists truly want something, it would take an enormous tide of popular opposition to prevent its becoming law.

Law is not good for society. Milton Friedman once said,

calling on the government to solve problems strains that social fabric of agreement on basic values that is necessary to maintain a stable society. In order to have any kind of a stable society, you have to have people agree with one another. You have to have a certain minimum common set of values and beliefs. And you want to avoid straining that set of beliefs. Now, the great virtue of the market is that people who hate one another in other respects can cooperate with each other on the market without any difficulty…. Political mechanisms have the opposite arrangement. You have to enforce conformity on people.

The court system is part of the enforcement mechanism. You have to be pretty patient and rich to take your grievances to court. But private mediators exist who will spare you the hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of “justice” you will find in the dispute-resolution mechanism of the state. Private mediators solve union grievances and divorce proceedings very well, without having to beg a judge for a decision. It is also not necessary to take most debt claims to court. If people or businesses do not pay off their debts, they get bad credit ratings from private companies, and cannot take out loans. (The government has a habit of ignoring credit ratings and encouraging lending to bad credit risks because it is politically popular to do so, but it is not conducive to much lasting good, just subprime mortgage crises.) People sign countless contracts in their daily lives and stick to them: mortgages, loans, car rental agreements, apartments, and so on. If there were some kind of dispute resolution organisation with a database (which could operate for a profit), anyone wanting to enter into an agreement with you would check it. If people violate their contracts, they go into the database as welchers, and if they do what they promise, they get positive ratings. That is what eBay and Amazon do already, and they have shown it works. If they did not fulfill the terms of their contracts, they would have no chance of flourishing in the free market, because no one would do business with them anymore. Insurance companies will want to know both how credit-worthy a person is, how risky the people he or she associates with are, and charge them accordingly for insurance. (If you still have objections, find a more complete discussion here) So do we really need courts for interpersonal dispute resolution? Ah, but perhaps dispute resolution is not justice. Perhaps justice is revenge. I like to think we can find a more peaceful solution.

The only real laws we need are the natural laws of property, which includes our bodies, that which we create, and that which we acquire in voluntary, reciprocal transactions. The sanctity of property is embodied in the non-aggression principle: no initiating violence, no stealing, no threats. (See further discussion here.) The law, the gun that forces us to comply with everything the elites want, runs contrary to the non-aggression principle, and is therefore immoral.

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  1. May 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm
  2. August 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I certainly agree that government “is an opinion with a gun.” This is obvious from simple analysis- it irritates me (even to an undue extent) to deal with other statists who fail to acknowledge this. The irritation is for several reasons, including that, ultimately, I see this truth (“law [government] is an opinion with a gun”) as being crucial to a rational, consistent, realistic statist arrangement. To put it another way, this observation (when taken together with other foundational observations) is actually helpful to the statist’s argument. I will address that more properly in a comment here, however: https://theruleoffreedom.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/we-need-to-be-forced-human-nature-and-the-leviathan/

    Continuing on, I think that the fatal flaw with the picture you present specifically in this post is your discounting of government as a “background infrastructure.” (A term I made up on the spot, because I don’t know a proper term.) I would argue that the organizations and structures you reference- private labor dispute mediation, a credit rating system, reliable contracts etc. can only exist in a society with the basic assurance that the more powerful employer will not be able to hire mercenaries and enslave his employees, or that such a complex feedback system as Ebay, Amazon, or a modern credit rating system could even exist in a society where things we take for granted-
    things like electric and data lines covering the world (and not being substantially removed, tapped, or rerouted without the providers authorization); cell phone networks dependent on that same reliability, or at least an additional wired telephone system as most places in America still have, the accessibility of fuel supply for easy transportation, the [necessarily authoritarian and monopolistic] IP address system the internet is based on, the metal production industry and electronic components industries, both depended on by an dependent upon all of the above structures-
    In a stateless society, all of this would be unstable. In other words, whatever else the government does, it “makes the trains run on time,” and I would argue that any society with infrastructure so necessarily complex as a technologically modern society cannot be sustained as a stateless society.
    The reason for this is, that while certainly many individual components of infrastructure can, in most situations, be accomplished by self-interested personal business endeavors, the more complex a social system becomes, the more vulnerable to unbalancing and destruction it becomes. Unbalance can come by the cumulative action of unscrupulous leeches who only want to gain a profit, and then vanish into the woodwork; by monopolies turned empires; by people who, for whatever reason, “just want to watch the world burn,” or any number and combination of destabilizing influences. All of these possibilities are vastly reduced (not eliminated) by a strong, authoritarian presence to interfere with (and strike fear into) the men responsible for all those destabilizing influences.

    In short, I would argue statism is necessary to “make the trains run on time,” which translates into preventing city-wide starvation, mass-rioting, and general survival of a society.

    My argument would be completely undercut if the inherent “basic good” of humanity in general, whether from selflessness or productive self-interest could be demonstrated. That subject is what I intend to address in my comment on the Leviathan post, the link to which I included here.

    • August 6, 2012 at 8:56 am

      Thank you for your comment. I honestly do not buy the idea that the state is necessary to maintain all this infrastructure. I do not see any reason why people who are not forced cannot do so through business and other voluntary arrangements. After all, that’s what they do now. Businesses provide jobs and insurance, and a free market would eliminate the danger of monopolies from which one could not leave. They provide electricity and data lines, cell phone networks, industry, and so on. The government has, in fact, threatened to take it all down. So they are willing to tear down private sector infrastructure for their own purposes. If power were decentralised that would never be possible.

      The fact is, when people want something, the private sector, which just means people working together to give each other what they want, provides it. If they want internet infrastructure, they will pay for it or they will build it together. If they want food, people will make food; which is why the government has nothing to do with preventing starvation. If people want defense, they will provide it collectively or they will hire businesses to provide it. Again, power would be decentralised, meaning anyone would be able to defend themselves; instead of in today’s world, where people are at the mercy of the police.

      And I’m sorry but your claim that the more complex society is, the more vulnerable it is has it backwards. The more complex, the more built from the bottom up, the more decentralised power is, the harder it is to attack one point in a hierarchy and bring the whole thing down. In a place where the infrastructure or whatever depends on only one link in a chain, you destroy that link and everything collapses. The point of decentralisation is that a wide variety of backups could exist or be created, and no one would be powerful enough to seize or attack them all.

  1. November 19, 2011 at 11:58 am
  2. December 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm
  3. December 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm
  4. March 22, 2012 at 7:14 pm
  5. May 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm
  6. July 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm
  7. August 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm
  8. May 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

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