To Be Respected, Law Must Be Respectable.

Frédéric Bastiat wrote La Loi (The Law) in 1850, detailing how the law had been perverted from the protection of life, liberty, and property, to the practice of spoliation or legalized plunder.

No society can exist if respect for the law does not prevail to some degree, but the surest means of ensuring that laws are respected is for them to be worthy of respect.

Laws against rape, murder, and theft are not at all controversial; no degree in jurisprudence is required to understand why such things are prohibited. They are mala in se, wrong in themselves. But many other things are mala in prohibitum, wrong only because some legislature deemed these things to be wrong. For example, in New York City, it is illegal to sell more than 16 ounces of carbonated beverages.

Now, before declaring that some action is so heinous that “there ought to be a law,” we should ask an important question: is this action a capital offense? Are we willing to see people die for violations of this law? Bear in mind that Eric Garner died while protesting what many would call an unjust law, a silly law, a law which can not be respected: a law against selling single cigarettes.

If we wish the law to be respected, it should not lead to the death of people for such trivial reasons. One remedy to police brutality is to purge the legal system of all mala prohibitum; let the legal system focus on crimes against people – rape, murder, theft and the like – rather than made-up crimes “against the State,” such as selling loosies.

If our police forces were to focus their resources on violence rather than vice, I dare say we might have less violence. Recently, NYPD police went on a work stoppage, intervening only when they must – when life, liberty, and property are at stake. The courts are suddenly much less busy, and the rate of violent crime appears to be no worse, and possibly lower than it has been.


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