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In some ways, I’m one of the nuttier libertarians on Ricochet, always willing to put in a good word for David Friedman and his anarcho-capitalist theories. But I’m also a law-and-order gal: when people come together, it’s easy for me to see that they benefit from agreeing to some rules to guide their conduct (one of the reasons I sympathize with anarcho-capitalists: they, too, believe that rulemaking is such a ubiquitous feature of human behavior that there is a market for law). Moreover, I’m a lawyer’s kid, which means I grew up thinking of due process as a moral good.
For many reasons, I attempt to cooperate with the law. When our home was burgled, though nothing expensive was stolen, I took extensive notes, with accurate hand-drawn pictures of stolen items, and spent several days’ worth of time trying to expedite police action on my case. Not because I thought I’d ever get my stuff back, but in hopes that, if I cooperated with the police quickly, the burglar might actually be caught, and other residents spared the pain we had just been through. Despite my efforts, it took half a year for the police to follow up. The police refused to accept my notes and drawings at the time the case was fresh, and, months later, when a police detective finally took interest, my family had bigger problems to deal with, and we no longer could spare time to help. The material I prepared for the police still sits, collecting dust, on a shelf, a casualty of bad timing.
Even the bohemian crowd I ran with in college made efforts to help the police when we could. We were, for the most part, science and engineering students – the squarest kind of bohemian. When a pervert was roaming the village, half-climbing through women’s windows at night in order to cop a feel, we offered our ground-floor apartment in a rickety, easy-to-break-into house to the police for a stake-out. In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t a practical offer, but who am I to judge? All I know is we tried to assist them, but were told nonetheless that the police would take no action: it seemed that this fellow (and he was a fellow – I remember his knuckly, hairy hands hovering over me) would have to completely enter someone’s abode and do something even worse before the police would care. Or whatever “We can’t act until he escalates” means.
Even so, when we found a piping plover trapped in a water intake, we called the police again (animal control). The signage posted around the intake had warned of the dire consequences of entering without permission, after all. The police response – a piping plover is too small to shoot, “so it’s not our problem” – is one I almost sympathize with. Or would have, if the poor plover hadn’t gotten himself sucked into the water intake of a generally sleepy town. Moreover, when “Officer Friendly” visited our elementary school when we were kids, he assured us that policemen were friendly, the kind of guys who rescue kittens from trees, not cruelly mock citizens’ attempts to rescue injured birds. Well, the plover was rescued in the end, spirited away in the middle of the night by some college kids willing to break the law, climb into that intake, then transport an endangered species across state lines (undoubtedly a violation of the migratory bird act, too) to a shelter willing to care for the remainder of its natural life. In retrospect, a fine time was had by all (even the bird acquiesced to the long car trip with aplomb). Even so, it left our trust in the law just that much weaker.
I’ve reached the point where interacting with police – for any reason – unnerves me. As Theodore Dalrymple notes, the minor infractions of a basically law-abiding type like me offer bureaucratically-minded enforcers easy pickings. Nonetheless, my respect for the due process of law remains largely intact. Perhaps because I’m a lawyer’s kid. Or perhaps only because I’ve had the good fortune to avoid testifying in court.
When I read then, an account of someone blatantly lying to the court – and not to protect others’ reputations, either, but to defame them – it’s hard for me to sympathize. What reason could possibly be good enough to justify such behavior? According to many on this site, though – and people I assumed were even bigger sticklers for for the rules than I am – “keeping the baby I promised to someone else” may be one such reason. I realize I’m not a mother yet, but this surprised me. It leaves me wondering in what other ways the people who chide me for my “anarchic” libertarian ways might also believe that their own moral principles leave them above the law.
So I ask you, fellow Ricochetoise, what do you believe you owe the law? And what, specifically, do you believe that you don’t owe the law?
When you know you’re breaking the law, how do you justify it to yourself? How do you justify others’ contempt for the law, like that of the woman who allegedly lied to the court to keep her baby?
Do you draw a distinction between ignoring the law for expedience (“I can’t get this permit, but I need to keep working anyhow”) and high moral principle? If you do, how, and if you don’t, why?