Law and Order, part 1

In recent years, there has been a greater awareness of the dynamics of the police, especially in relation to race, but also in regards to the militarization of the police over time and perceived abuses of police authority.  Sites like CopBlock, FilmingCops, TheFreeThoughtProject and others routinely collect and display audio/video, news stories, and public records that document these incidents.  Others are a continuation of efforts going back decades, such as Radley Balko’s ‘The Agitator’ blog.  (Balko is also the author of ‘The Rise of the Warrior Cop’ (2014).)

Libertarians are not new to this discussion by any means, and there are other political groups that have weighed in on these issues for many decades, even centuries.

The response from liberals and conservatives tends to follow certain predictable patterns.  The liberal response is a familiar “more regulation, better demographic representation, federal oversight of state and local police abuses,” while the conservative response tends to either deny that a problem exists or to blame victims of abuse (either individually or collectively, or both, depending on the circumstance), or even to suggest that the police are actually too weak.  (One can easily see the parallels to attitudes towards military action, though that’s not the direct subject of this series.)

What I want to focus on in this series is the particular attitude expressed by many conservatives about the role of law, of authority, of obedience, and of order.  In brief, there are several core beliefs that can be loosely described as a ‘law and order’ mentality.

1. Without law, people would act as they saw fit.

2. This would lead to chaos.

3. We need laws. (Derived from 1 and 2)

4. Fortunately (or providentially), we are a nation of laws.

5. Law is meaningless without enforcement.

6. Enforcement requires enforcers (which means, people invested with enforcement authority).

7. Disputes of law must take place in courts.  (Derived from 1 and 2)

8. Therefore, every citizen has a duty to submit to the authority of enforcers, even in cases where the enforcers are not actually obeying the law.

There are some unstated assumptions in here, as will be obvious to most libertarians who have dealt with Hobbesian arguments.  For example, it’s assumed that having law requires having a single source of law, a single enforcer of law, and a single interpreter of law.

Note also that this argument makes no reference whatsoever to the content of the law.  It does not require that the law be just.  In fact, it is often difficult to understand the concept of an ‘unjust law’ in this view as it is almost reduced to a contradiction in terms.  Justice is viewed as that which promotes order, and since laws promote order (and are very nearly treated as the only source of order), an unjust law would be something that both promotes and detracts from order.  At best, one could talk about a ‘bad’ law or an ‘ineffective’ law.

Of course, the natural counter-examples to this idea would be familiar ones that even conservatives readily acknowledge: the Fugitive Slave Law and the Nazi Jewish regulations.  In both cases, it seems obvious that no one had a duty to obey (or enforce) those laws, and indeed, it’s easy to view those who resisted them as heroes.

This is not a very effective way of casting doubt on the ‘law and order’ mentality, though, as they tend to simply dismiss such examples as outliers that should not be used as a basis for critiquing laws in general but, rather, oppressive regimes.  Similarly, pointing to North Korea or the Stasi does not seem to cause any doubt in their minds.  Perhaps the specter of anarchy and chaos is so apparent, and the distance between present circumstances in the West and those in North Korea so great, that this does little to unsettle their position.

Alternately, one can try to defeat this approach by embracing it.  Specifically, one could argue that the way that the police operate is actually against the Constitution and not a faithful representation of its principles.  (For example:  Unfortunately, this approach requires convincing them of certain principles of Constitutional interpretation, and that may prove at least as difficult as any other approach.

Yet another method is the historical appeal, since conservatives are rhetorically wedded to the founding of the country and cannot easily dissociate themselves from the stated principles and actions of its founders.  Thus, one can show that many of the founders were, in fact, law breakers and saw no duty to comply with British law when it was deemed unjust.  In fact, it can easily be argued that the tradition of dissent and disobedience is far more American than that of compliance and obedience.  Most of the arguments listed at the beginning here are those that we see coming from the British officials at the time, not the American colonists.  And thus, the ‘law and order’ approach appears to be a Redcoat tradition, not a truly American one.

I think that can be a promising approach, but it can also be dismissed on various grounds.  Unfortunately, those grounds tend to be nativist, race-/culture-realist, or some other equally disturbing version.  The only good result of that response is that it exposes some of the underlying, unstated beliefs.  But ultimately, it tends to reduce to typical liberal-vs-conservative arguments over crime and race.

What I’m proposing to do instead of the approaches mentioned already is the following:

In Part 2, I will show that the ‘law and order’ argument is a subtle variation of the Divine Command Theory of ethics.

In Part 3, I will look at the broader category of Ethical Subjectivism, of which Divine Command Theory is an example, and what its key weaknesses are.

In Part 4, I will argue that most ‘law and order’ advocates would ordinarily reject Ethical Subjectivism and instead embrace some version of Moral Realism.

In Part 5, I will conclude by adapting the conclusions of Parts 3 and 4 to show that ‘law and order’ arguments put their advocates in a difficult position where embracing ‘order’ as an ultimate societal value is a genuine threat to the realization of other core values and beliefs that they hold and have even greater desire for society to embrace and reflect.

I Call, Show Your Hand

From Beck:

[Howard Dean] — and all like him — have been playing a game of studied ignorance ever since about three days after 9/11, in order to not grasp the facts and implications of a stridently anti-American Saddam’s Iraq in the wake of everything that made up 9/11. The fact that George Bush made a bloody hash out of the problem in his pre-war arguments as well as in having anything to do with post-Saddam Iraq politics does not relieve Howard Dean — or anybody else — of the responsibility to grasp the facts that added up to nothing but the imperative to destroy Saddam.

(emphasis his)

Let’s see those facts that made it an imperative for me to be compelled to assist in attacking Iraq.

A Quick Example

I work in a small town, where the municipal building and the post office are connected. I ran to the post office today for the second time, and, just like the first time, it felt really strange.

This time, though, I figured it out: the number of signs. I quickly counted the number of signs in the parking lot, which was 17. Then I counted the number of parking spaces, which was 49. That’s right, there was a sign for every three parking spaces: yield signs, stop signs, no parking signs, handicapped parking signs, and street signs (in a fucking parking lot). Worse yet, I was there on the lunch hour, and there were maybe a dozen cars in the lot, three signs for every two cars.

They don’t trust that you can figure your way around a parking lot the size of a small backyard. Do you think they’re going to trust you with your life, citizen?

Bastiat on Tabarrok on Cost-Benefit

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok writes:

Tyler asks, following philosopher Alastair Norcross, whether it could ever satisfy a cost-benefit test for one person to die a terrible and tortured death in order to alleviate the headaches of billions of others by one second. Tyler begs off with “a mushy mish-mash of philosophic pluralism, quasi-lexical values” and moral conceit. I will have none of this. The answer, is yes.

Bastiat presciently commented:

The plans differ; the planners are all alike.

Ditto for “libertarian” planners.

Reed on Statemanship

In Peeing on Hydrants, Fred Reed writes:

What we call statesmanship is, emotionally and morally, indistinguishable from gang war in South Chicago. The scale is more imposing and, under some administrations, the grammar better. Aggressive males rise to power in heavily armed countries of many millions. Then they push and shove, bark and bow-wow at others like themselves in other countries. The tribal trappings remain, particularly among the warriors: Baubles and medals and patches and different hats, talk of honor and duty and valor. Nah. Males dogs in an alley.

Who Knew We’d Still be Alive?

The protection racket gets a seal of approval over at BitsBlog.

On Monday he offered,

The right to life itself, simply to live, has been upheld to a greater extent than anyone thought possible five years ago this morning… Think back to your thoughts and feelings on the middle of September, 2001. How did you envision your immediate future? Did you even dare to conjecture a long-term future?

I dared, Bithead.

On the morning of 9/11/01, I was a passenger on American Airlines flying from Connecticut to Los Angeles. My travel plans were disrupted at the halfway point, but I was not in the least bit pessimistic about my future on that day or in the weeks that followed. My biggest concern was – and is – that the Government’s reaction to 9-11, and the inevitable hysteria about it, would amplify the State’s invasion into my life. I was right.

Government seeks to disarm me, confiscates my property, and invades my privacy. The Terrorists represent less a threat to me than the DEA, ATF, or FBI. That was so five years ago and it’s doubly so now.

Beck On Immigration

Billy Beck writes:

Milton Friedman (getting a lot of play here today) was entirely, simply, correct when he said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

Following Beck’s link to VDARE we find the full quote:

Q: Dr. Friedman should the U.S.A. open its borders to all immigrants? What is your opinion on that?

A: Unfortunately no. You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.

Friedman is saying that as long as welfare state exists in America, as it clearly does today, individuals should be restrained from freely crossing the borders.


As a general principle, I say, “The more, the merrier.” The thing that I insist on is that they come here to be Americans, like my great-grandfather did.

But what right does Beck have to insist anything of an individual for crossing a line on a map unless that line marks his personal property?

And what does it mean to “be Americans” anyway? Are Du Toit and McPhillips being Americans when they champion collective politics, or does Beck insist they leave?

Libertarian Conspiracy in Full Swing

Liberal meathead Alan Wolfe writes in “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern”:

[R]ight-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as conservatives prescribe, but has grown. Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have become–well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq.

All of which is true. But why is it that conservatives can’t govern? Simply, because they’re all nihilist libertarians:

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut–especially in ways benefiting the rich–the better.

Ooh, you liberals are so smart. You caught us! That’s right, we sneaked a full-throated, red-blooded libertarian into the White House while you guys were laughing it up about his language blunders. And now he’s implementing the libertarian agenda: tax cuts for the rich and pork for the rich!

Despite the fact that Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush the Younger have all presided over massive increases in federal spending, proposed and signed legislation expanding the welfare, warfare, and regulatory state, and played the Great Game in various regions of the world, the real problem is that they’re all closet libertarians. Call me crazy, but perhaps the problem is that conservatives don’t actually want smaller government, but want votes from those who do. You know, like the liberals who promise black people salvation through government while destroying their communities?

Conservatives have been walking and talking like big government people for a long time, with the occasional nod to tax cuts. Are liberals so dumb that they take conservative politicians at their (occasional) word?

Libertarian View of War Cleared Up, Let’s Have a Drink

Over at Catallarchy, debate begins anew about the justice of the Iraq War, sparked by a post about the libertarian split over the war at the Volokh Conspiracy. Fortunately, our esteemed senior editor cleared up this little spat a few years ago in “The Wrong Hill”:

It doesn’t matter if there is a right side in the war, neither side can have any right to require Charlie Anderson to participate in any way. This is the argument libertarians need to make, not that war is evil, but that it can never be moral to force others to participate. It will do no good to win the argument that a war is evil while implicitly accepting that it is legitimately a collective decision; that’s the wrong hill. The right hill is the one where we reject the collectivist premise first.

Pace the argument at Catallarchy, the war may or may not be moral (though I don’t think it is) and it may or may not be utility-maximizing (I think the idea is incoherent in itself), but what matters is that no one has the right to require my money or my body to fight it.

Interestingly enough, at the Volokh post, Rose Friedman says, “And we will!” in response to a quip from Milton Friedman about winning the war. There’s the wrong hill right there.

I’ll have a gin and tonic.

Legitimacy Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun

At The Liberty Papers, Brad Warbiany tries to make the case for the legitimacy of this government:

Whether or not a government is legitimate rests on one very simple basis: whether the overwhelming majority of people living under that government recognizes its legitimacy.

Brad goes on to say that this government is legitimate since most people seem to be in favor of it. But is that really true? If people had a free choice, would they support this government?

Consider this: let’s suppose that out of the goodness of their hearts and the confidence they have in their own popularity, this government decided to make taxes voluntary. No estimated payments, no withholding, no penalties. On April 15th, send them ten grand or ten dollars or send them a big fat middle finger – your choice, no questions asked.

How much money do you think this government would get via voluntary contributions?

The answer of course is that they’d get next to nothing, because it’d be a sucker deal for anyone to volunteer to fund this government. Given the choice, Brad’s “overwhelming majority” would opt out of taxation overnight, thus opting out of this government that he’s so sure they support.

The perception of legitimacy that Warbiany sees is really a combination of massive intimidation by the government and a lifetime of exposure to that same intimidation on the part of the populance. Warbiany’s legitimacy comes out of the barrel of a gun.

The Gulag Du Toit

The spectacle of hispanic protests winding through the streets of America has riled the ranks of cultural conservative freedom fighters, it’s given the straight-shooting Liberty Belles a case of the vapors, and it’s even got Kim du Toit laying in the framework for American labor camps.

Addressing the concern that immigrants might get over or under an American Wall constructed at the border, du Toit proposes:

And we catch them doing it, and either repatriate them (first offense), or imprison them in tented labor camps for five years (subsequent offenses). They wanna work here? Fine. Let them do it as convicts, earning $1 per hour.

Du Toit implies that his labor camp solution could be a joke, but it stands to reason that he’s at least half-serious about it in the face of the high stakes game that du Toit, himself, outlines below.

Jokes aside, here’s the thing.

Illegal immigration costs us an untold amount of money each year, in social services, law enforcement and unpaid taxes. That’s just pure currency we’re talking about.

Now add to that the harm done by drug smuggling, terrorist infiltration and increased gang violence.

Ask me again whether the cost of securing our southern border is too much.

Expense, drug crime, terror, and unpaid taxes inflicted on the country as a result of the unauthorized crossings of a line on a map. That’s du Toit’s justification for apprehending and detaining illegal immigrants at gunpoint, but if the consequences of illegal immigration in the form of drug smuggling and unpaid taxes are unacceptable, then why stop at throwing wetbacks into the labor camps when there’s plenty of tent space left for domestic drug dealers and tax evaders, as well? That’s the beauty of your gulag, Kim. It’ll not only keep Club America exclusive, it’ll also re-educate red-blooded American druggies and tax deadbeats.