It struck me just recently simply how often we utilize the word “law” in our conversations. I check out or hear, “That’s against the law” when somebody wants somebody else not to do something, and “There should be a law” when someone wants to further restrict others. I read arguments about what it actually indicates to state that the Constitution is the highest unwritten law. But couple of people appear to be believing more than a millimeter deep about law– exists any law beyond civil law? What do we mean when we say “law” in a particular context? What are the existing restrictions on law? What should the limitations on law be?
In particular, as Bruno Leoni composed in Freedom and the Law, “Private freedom … has actually been gradually reduced … [since] statutory law entitled officials to behave in manner ins which, according to the previous law, would have been judged as usurpations of power and infringements upon the individual liberty of the people.”
Leonard Read considered such problems in “Law versus Tyranny,” in his 1975 Castles in the Air. At a time when even muddy thinking on that topic is unusual, and clear thinking all but unprecedented in popular discourse, that subject deserves more careful attention, because if “eternal vigilance is the cost of liberty,” Americans have been insufficiently willing to pay the cost of vigilance, requiring us to pay a far higher rate in liberty as an outcome.
Moral law or legal edicts?
What is law? Is it a body of legal orders backed by force? Or a consciousness of ethical responsibilities? … Which takes precedence? … The latter … [not] an outpouring of legal orders … created to control the affairs of society.
All manufactured laws– legal orders– which surpass codifying and complementing the moral law serve not to bind guys together however to spread them asunder, wreaking havoc instead of consistency, tyranny instead of peaceful order.
Who is sovereign?
Fundamental to my faith is the rejection of government as the sovereign power. This puts me on the side of the writers of the Declaration … By declaring the Developer as the endower of men’s rights, they announced the Creator as sovereign, rejecting government that ancient and medieval role … We agree on being moralists … moral worths being the correct vantage point from which to try to find improvement, improvement.
What are the foundations of morality? … My foundations are the Principle and the 10 Rules. The Golden Rule, in my view, is the prime tenet of sound economics and, doubtless, the oldest ethical proposition of distinctly universal character. Let nobody do to others that which he would not have them do to him; that would be practically the perfect, financially, socially, morally, ethically.
What is the relationship between ethical law and man-made law?
There are moral values which are properly reinforced by man-made law, and other ethical values which do not provide themselves to legal execution … where man-made laws are appropriate … is where they are complementary to the moral law.
Man-made laws– legal edicts backed by force– are inappropriate when directed at what the private thinks or believes or does to himself. A man’s inner life can only be impaired, never improved, by coercive forces. Government is but an arm of society and its only appropriate role is to codify and inhibit injuries inflicted on society, that is, on aside from self. Self-injury is subject to self-correction– none other!
Take the Rule, “Thou shalt not long for.” Impose this by a manufactured law? The absurdity is apparent. Envy is the root of lots of evils– stealing, eliminating, and so on– yet it can not be eliminated by the weapon, billy club, fist, or any other physical force.
The moralist [claims] … there is a moral law by which one might distinguish the excellent from the evil. However he knows that he is powerless to alleviate any individual of the particular repercussions of that individual’s unethical actions … Such human enactments … would indeed be a type of tyranny, an invite to lawlessness in the misconception that a person might breach the moral law with impunity.
Plainly, the ethical law takes precedence over the legal edicts of civil law. The latter serves an useful purpose provided its minimal role is comprehended and heeded. When statutory law invades the domain of the moral law, it is itself inefficient and it immobilizes moral action.
Coercively implement an observation of the Principle when just self-enforcement is possible? Ridiculous! Can the federal government stop covetousness by making it illegal? Of course not! The function of civil law must be restricted solely to hindering such injuries as some inflict on others, never directed at injuries we cause on ourselves.
My moral code is founded on the Golden Rule and the Ten Rules, and I would hire the civil law to help enforce just these: “Thou shalt not eliminate,” “Thou shalt not take,” and “Thou shalt not bear incorrect witness” … each of these evils inflicts injuries on others … Such devastating habits ought to be prevented, insofar as possible, by the organized and legal arm of society– government.
Who does “Thou shalt not take” apply to?
Just those who reason plainly from cause to consequence stand foursquare in assistance of “Thou shalt not take.” True, not one in a thousand would take … another’s loaf of bread. Complete regard for private property at the you-and-me level! Yet, individuals by the millions will ask the federal government to do the considering them … Plunder at the impersonal level! Why? The same old factor: federal government out of bounds, that is, federal government as sovereign. “The king can do no incorrect; therefore, what he does for me at the cost of others is right.” Sound thinking? Hardly!
Those who treasure liberty are well advised to regard and defend the rightful claims of others … Observe that “Thou shalt not steal” presupposes personal ownership, the bedrock or foundation of individual liberty … To neglect this moral law is to deny being one’s own man; disobedience welcomes enslavement– being owned.
Observe how the fruits of individual effort are progressively expropriated by the collective, how our choices of ownership are being decreased … the method to reverse this terrible pattern is to heed the Commandment against theft. Government’s function here, as in the case of murder, is to prevent these infractions of the ethical law, not to promote them.
Leonard Read was currently swimming against the modern stream when he composed “Liberty versus Tyranny.” Since then, “Thou shalt not take” appears to have actually lost even more ground to government supremacy, making it even more important. In reading it, I am also struck by how much his argument echoes Frederic Bastiat’s classic The Law, composed 125 years earlier (which Read commissioned a modern-day English translation of on its centennial, a translation that has actually considering that offered over half a million copies).
Anyone who finds Read’s treatment of “Law versus Liberty” of interest must likewise check out Bastiat’s The Law, if they have not already, and reread it if they have. It is short, meaningful and insightful, and progressively so, as our government-dominated universe is quickly expanding far from it. Consider just a few of those words, so carefully aligned with Read’s analysis, as support:
Each people has a natural right– from God– to protect his individual, his liberty, and his property … the typical force that secures this cumulative right can not rationally have any other purpose … it can not lawfully be used to damage the individual, liberty, or property of people or groups.
Under the pretense of company, guideline, protection, or support, the law takes home from a single person and gives it to another … The law has happened an instrument of injustice.
See if the law takes from some individuals what belongs to them, and offers it to other individuals to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one person at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself can not do without devoting a criminal offense … this act that it is expected to suppress.
It is not true that the function of law is to control our consciences, our concepts, our wills, our education, our viewpoints, our work, our trade, our skills or our enjoyments. The function of law is to safeguard the totally free workout of these rights.
The law … is to protect individuals and residential or commercial property … if the law acts in any manner other than to safeguard them, its actions then always break the liberty of persons and their right to own residential or commercial property.
If government were limited to its correct functions, everyone would soon find out that [most] matters are not within the jurisdiction of the law.
Whether it concerns prosperity, morality, equality, right, justice, development, duty, cooperation, home, labor, trade, capital, incomes, taxes, population, finance, or government … [the] solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty.
All hope rests upon the free and voluntary actions of persons within the limitations of right; law or force is to be used for absolutely nothing other than the administration of universal justice.
Now that the legislators and do-gooders have actually so futilely caused numerous systems upon society, may they lastly end where they must have started … and attempt liberty.