(originally launched into cyberspace on 05/21/2007)
Is it bad to break the law? Without thinking, almost everyone would
say "yes." (However, almost everyone could think of exceptions as
well.) Note that the question doesn't say what the "law" is--a
"law" against murder or a "law" requiring you to have that little
sticker on your license plate. The question is about "law" in
general: is it bad to disobey the official commands of "government"?
The terms "law-abiding citizen" and "lawbreaker"--the first with a
positive connotation and the second with a negative one--show how
much we revere "law," in and of itself. But what are we talking
about when we speak of obeying the "law"? In short, we're talking
about politician scribbles.
A bunch of politicians got together, wrote down some command--
either requiring us to do something or prohibiting us from doing
something--and threatened some punishment for failure to obey.
Every such "law" is a threat of violence: if you don't do as you're
told, your property will be taken, or you'll be locked up. It's not
a suggestion or a request; it's a command backed by a threat of
Whether we call something "law" does NOT depend upon the nature of
the command, or what it's about. As long as it was created via the
"legislative" process, we call it "law," and we treat is as
something which--except in rare situations--should be obeyed.
But why? How did I acquire an obligation to obey whatever command a
bunch of slimy politicians might happen to come up with this week?
How on earth can one say that it is good to obey the "law," without
knowing WHAT the "law" in question is? How can it be inherently
good to obey a command, ONLY BECAUSE OF WHO GAVE IT, and not
because the command itself is justified?
I've talked before about justified defensive force and the
unjustified initiation of violence. So-called "laws" are ALWAYS
threats of force, but they can be in either category: justified or
unjustified. For example, I consider a threat like "If you try to
steal my car, I'll punch you in the nose," to be justified. On the
other hand, "Give me your car or I'll punch you in the nose" is
unjustified. But either one can just as easily be "legislated" into
Again, the simple truth makes people uncomfortable: either
politicians somehow have the ability to ALERT morality, or their so-
called "laws" deserve no respect at all. Either they can, by
legislation, make an inherently unjustified threat into a justified
threat, or their "legislation" makes no difference to what is the
right thing to do. (In most religions, even God doesn't claim the
ability to CHANGE what is good and what is bad from day to day, so
apparently politicians outrank God.)
In short, respecting "law" is utterly insane. The fact that a
threat went through the "legislative" process has NO BEARING
WHATSOEVER upon whether the threat is justified, or whether anyone
has an obligation to comply with the command. None. Zero. Nada.
The morality of murder does not change depending upon whether it's
"legal" or not. The morality of theft does not change depending
upon whether it's "legal" or not. The morality of hiring a kid to
mow your lawn does not change depending upon whether it's "legal"
or not. The morality of having a beer, smoking a joint, eating a
cheeseburger, driving a car, opening a restaurant, singing a song,
building a deck, shooting a rabbit, buying a gun, selling someone a
hat, or killing and eating your neighbors, does not change
depending upon whether it's "legal" or not.
In other words, what almost everyone calls "law" deserves NO
respect at all. You should fear those commands, as they are backed
by the very real threat of violence, which will be carried out by
people who will "just follow orders" because of their belief in
"authority," but you have no MORAL obligation to obey. (Your moral
obligation to refrain from murder comes, NOT from the fact that
some "law" forbids it, but from such an act being an infringement
upon the rights of someone else.) In other words, breaking the law
is not bad (in and of itself), and obeying the law is not good (in
and of itself).
Such concepts, though based upon very simple, basic, self-evidence
lines of reasoning, make most peoples' heads explode. We are so
trained to bow to "authority" that when someone says we don't have
to, most of the indoctrinated peasants reflexively react with shock
and horror at the suggestion. Why, there would be CHAOS if we
didn't respect "law"! Why? If people respected individual rights,
but had no respect for politician scribbles, what would happen?
Think about it, and see if you can come up with a rational
justification for humanity's authority-worship and fear of freedom.
(Whether a threat via "law" is justified or not is also NOT
determined by whether the "law" is constitutional. Two pieces of
paper--a constitution and a piece of legislation--cannot make
immoral violence into justified force any more than ONE piece of