Submitted by James Miller of The Ludwig von Mises Institute Of Canada
There is much casual talk about law and order among all classes of people. It is not considered awkward when discussing the peculiarities of life to declare something is “against the law.” It easily slides off the tongue and applies to all sorts of minor transgressions such as traveling above a posted speed limit and consuming a beverage on public transit. When pestered by some holy do-gooder to toss your cigarette butt in the trash rather than the street curb, the enthused reasoning is invariably “it’s the law!” No actual thought is given to the nature of jurisprudence. The mechanical understanding of most men places authority in the state, and nothing but the state. There is a widespread inability, or straight out refusal, to recognize justice independent of democracy, monarchy, socialism, or whatever flavor of compulsory government happens to reign.
Blame can be placed partially on the fact that the concept of law has no universally accepted definition. The informally acknowledged description is a system of rules that adjudicate behavior and are enforceable. A hallmark of Western civilization, the advent of law has acted as a means for encouraging cooperation amidst human society. The Thomistic view of these behavior rules, as described by Murray Rothbard, holds “that man’s reason” is necessary to “understand and arrive at the laws, physical and ethical, of the natural order.” The modern conception of law no longer holds true to this standard. The result has been societal impoverishment as well as moral decay. If law is not conducive to mankind’s nature, then flourishment becomes an impossible feat.
The ability to distinguish between “right” and “wrong,” both intuitively and by deduction, is what gives law legitimacy in the human realm. It follows that because man owns his body, and thus the fruits of his labor, that property can be defended – by force if necessary. The law, in Bastiat’s phrase, becomes “the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense” in practice. The orthodox view promulgated in public civic class is that the people – from commoners to the aristocracy – banded together to form a state so as to ensure communal harmony. This is no more than a fairy tale that still enchants the minds of even the most inflated of intellects.
With today’s nation-state, the monopoly on law enforcement has eroded the traditional notion of justice. Certainly various levels of government still prosecute those who commit malum in se wrongs. But the granting of sole discretion over societal function to the state has brought about a litany of prohibitions on otherwise harmless actions. The most widespread and destructive example of this gross perversion of law has been the American drug war. In major metropolitan areas, large numbers of users of substances designated harmful to public tranquility are fined, detained, and imprisoned. The very act of ingesting mentally-altering narcotics constitutes no harm absent the self-imposed kind. The outlawing of drug use superimposes control of the individual, and makes him beholden to the political class. As Will Grigg posits, the malum prohibitum on narcotics is a subset of human slavery as the premise denies complete self-ownership.
In an act of supposed moral revelation, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced the federal government would begin relaxing indictments of low-level, nonviolent possessors of drugs. In a speech before the sleazebag of litigating opportunists known as the American Bar Association, the nation’s top mob enforcer declared “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason.” The mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed by Congress will simply go ignored.
The gullible reader might assume the odious basis for the war on drugs may finally be visible to the heavily armed buffoons who raid private homes and the sloth-resembling chief law enforcer, but that would be a naive supposition. The wind down has little to do with morality and everything to do with cost. Imprisoning thousands of junkies takes a great deal of resources. With a corpulent debt financing military adventurism and welfare pocket-padding, Holder and the rest of the federal government racket are feeling the squeeze.
The very same penalty relaxation occurred at the height of the Great Depression. While Franklin Roosevelt busied himself with turning American business into a quasi-fascist state, he was intelligent enough to recognize the civil demolition wrought by alcohol prohibition. As the black market for booze paved the way for organized crime during the roaring 1920s, the stock market crash left state and local governments hamstrung by a lack of tax revenue. If action was not taken, thousands of wealth-sucking bureaucrats would be thrown to the streets. So the Democratic Party endorsed making America wet again, while nominating the craze-minded Roosevelt in 1932. After the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, excise taxes were levied on wine and spirits. As economists Mark Thornton and Chetley Weise document, the resulting tax receipts staved off what would have been shriveling bankruptcy.
Rarely does the state cede authority when it comes to corralling the citizenry. The only barrier that stands between government domineering is always the cost of its behemoth, sluggish operation. The relaxation of penalties for drug ingestion is demonstrative of this rule. At the same time, it is a mockery of the concept of reasoned law. If using narcotics were truly an affront to the natural order, there would be no leniency. The immoral act would be opposed root and branch, similar to rape or murder. Current legal prohibitions on various forms of opiates are not grounded in justice but are merely a form of societal control. In the classic bootleggers and baptists sense, these restrictions enrich those who profit from sale, distribution, and incarceration while satisfying the warped psyche of taskmaster puritans.
John Adams famously described the American government as being “of laws and not men.” The managerial state has wiped clean that wisdom in favor of countless and arbitrary dictates enforced by worthless bodies. The narcolepsy-inducing USA Today recently reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation granted informants immunity to break government law in certain circumstances. Newly disclosed documents reveal that thousands of so-dubbed “crimes” were committed in 2011 by the FBI’s pet players. The misdeeds include drug trafficking, plotting robberies, and bribery. Last year, the New York Times published a damning report on how the good-natured agents of Washington’s infamous law investigator work tirelessly at foiling terrorist plots they go to great lengths at concocting. These faux plots of destruction are used to beef up the reputation of the agency so as to solidify its monopoly of police power.
The selective enforcement of law negates the very purpose of social order. How can there be a universally recognized limits to mankind’s behavior if a minority are permitted to disregard governing laws? The result is a contradiction – either the law applies everywhere or it does not. State officials regularly turn superseding their own diktats into a duty. For a parasitical institution that thrives on plundered wealth, undermining natural ethics comes easy. But adherents to real, moral law understand the score. The paper decrees of the state are law in name only.