Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Government: Continued (For now)

Andy: "[Given the same crime,]why in one society did the criminal forfeit the right to life, in another the right to property, and another the right to liberty (freedom from imprisonment)? The only way I can see to resolve this is either because the authority (reasonably and etc.) established it as such the society qua society determined it was such (quite similar, maybe the same). I would accept this."

Every society decides for itself who will be an officially-recognized authority with coercive power. It is not necessarily in the form of a government. God did not drop a government or an authority figure into each society as it formed. The individuals decided whose judgment they would respect. There is no need for it to be a taxation-based government. Is there?

In the case of a criminal who commits a crime, society (or the individual; not the government itself, which, as you know, may not have the best interest of the people in mind) perceives that a punishment is just. The punishment imposed is not just merely because someone who was chosen by a numerical majority has imposed it.

In the U.S., a jury can interpret not only the facts of the case, but make a practical decision on whether a law is just or unjust. In the U.S. Constitutional legal system, the individual juror is the ultimate judge of what is unjust. Hear me out on the individual being able to decide what is a just punishment. I will cover it in greater depth later on in this post.

I am all in favor of the individuals that comprise a society voting for laws that concern force, fraud and coercion. With such a foundation, cases could be heard in private courts. (As you may know, the American Arbitration Association handles billions of dollars in settlements every year outside the court system.)

Discussions of the merits and practicality of the free-market legal system have already been covered, and I'd rather not cover it right now. For those who are interested, here's a decent article that discusses the concept. http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe16.html

Andy: "However, you seemed to assert elsewhere that society/government have no rights that individuals do not have (which I deny). You must then hold for this proposition that individuals have the right to kill, to seize money from, or to imprison one who has committed a crime against someone or himself, as they find reasonable. Is this the case, or is their a way out of the predicament for you?"

Correct. The individual does have these rights. But the punishment he "finds reasonable" must be in accordance with reality. If someone has murdered someone, he has forfeited his own life. You would be morally and legally culpable if the person you killed was not, in fact, the murderer. Such risks, (not merely that it is against a statute to seek justice on your own) are what keep individual-justice-enforcing actions in check right now, are they not?

Likewise, you would be morally and legally culpable if you were to seek more restitution than that which had been taken from you in the first place.

Morally, an individual could imprison a criminal for a crime he had committed. The duration of the imprisonment is either just or unjust. It depends on whether the punishment objectively fits the crime, not on an established custom. A customary punishment is established because it is perceived and accepted as just, not because the custom makes it just.

Some checks to ensure the justice of individual prisons:

First, it would be cost-inefficient to keep your own prison for people who have committed crimes. You would likely have to find people who would donate to keep an individual incarcerated. If I went around with a hat collecting money to keep a rapist in a private prison, you can bet it would be full before I got down one city block, and I wouldn't have to do it at gunpoint, like the government does. Insofar as you must have the approval of others for the length of time and conditions of incarceration in order to receive donations, society would brought into it, and therefore, you would have more men with their own sense of justice agreeing with your own.

Second, if you were acting grossly out of accordance with reason, your prisoner would be swiftly liberated by those who had a higher degree of reason.

Third, there are few people who, when taken captive for a true crime, would not agree to arbitration in a private court, or face the just consequence of being put in a private prison. (I estimate both parties would agree to arbitration/restitution through a private court 90% of the time, compared to imprisoning someone on one's own.)

Fourth, it could not possibly be worse than the absolutely disgusting state of the Department of "Corrections" we have running now: rape pits run by means of your coerced tax dollars. Rape pits staffed by testosterone-pumped, power-drunk, hot-dog necked guards who are willing to abuse prisoners at the drop of a hat. In the D.O.C. there is an almost complete lack of accountability, due to the ignorance of the public as to what goes on in prisons, due to public choice theory, and because the government has force on its side: force limited only by how much money it can manage to squeeze out of the taxpayer.

If a libertarian private justice system would be "chaos," sign me up. It would be a breath of fresh air compared to the "justice" system we have now. It would also save tens of thousands from being imprisoned for breaking asininely-enacted malum prohibitum laws.

Geoff: "When a government becomes corrupt, like you said, they have forsaken their end, and therefore forfeited their 'right'...to rule."

Andy: "But there is a difference between the criminal and the corrupt government."

A corrupt government is a collective of individual criminals. They should be charged as such.

Andy: "In the case of the criminal, the rights he would forfeit are life, liberty, and/or property.
In the case of the authority, the "right" is the power to create to civil laws and such binding in conscience."

If I say to society, "You may not steal from someone," it is binding in conscience. They must obey. Not because I said, it, though! Only because God said it. The same goes for a collection of individuals who say something in accord with divine law. Am I wrong? Is there something missing in my logic? Does the mere fact that a statute of conduct in accord with justice between men is written down suddenly make it morally binding? If there were no statutes at all, would it suddenly be all right to steal from my neighbor? "Morally binding" isn't the issue here. Coercion to back up the morally binding statement is the issue. I believe that anyone is only able to use force to protect, reclaim, or do justice concerning that which people have a claim to by the fact that they were born: life, liberty, property. It is inconvenient for individual men to enforce law (whether written on a piece of paper and/or in our hearts.) The present government is able to do so (sometimes), but only through immoral, forced property confiscation. That's a problem.


An individual, society or a government does not make a particular punishment just, it merely perceives that it is, and decides whether a punishment will be carried out. A punishment is intrinsically just or unjust, depending on the nature of the crime and whether the punishment fits the crime. A society, or an individual, can mete out a punishment. Whether it is just does not depend on any law except the divine law.

Where does anyone get an a priori right to play Robin Hood, taking money from people in order to do "good things?" Are you trying to say there is some social contract we all signed by having the misfortune to be born into a particular system? Kind of like how a child that was born to a slave mother and slave father actually "belonged" to the slaves' master? Because I sure don't vote for anyone to take my money. Are other people out there signing some contract on my behalf? Who gave them that right? Where does the buck stop, Andy? Does God will someone to take my property against my will? Is that what it comes down to? Because I sure think I have a "reasonable claim" to keep my money. Especially when my money could, certainly, do far more good in private enterprises that will eventually usurp and outshine all the "duties" and "services" that government claims to have and offer, respectively.


Andy: [speaking about non-standardized punishments] "One must demonstrate how this specific criminal act can legitimately permit the variety of punishments at the discretion of a non-authority."

There is no such thing as an objective, standardized "justice" for a crime committed on this earth. There's only a reasonable ballpark we can hit into. Perfect justice is for God to enact. You're making it sound as though a collection of individuals, chosen by some people (not all), and not very accountable to anyone, is somehow able to mete out a more perfect justice by the special guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is not the case.

Anyone has the authority to make a statement that is in accordance with divine law. Such a statement is, obviously, morally binding. What I do not understand is why you seem to imply that a government somehow precedes human social interaction. That there can morally be no justice in society without a government. Government is not a divine institution. It's a human institution. God gives no proprietary, special morality to a group of governing individuals. The criminal does not cede his permission to be punished by the government, or by any other individual, and it doesn't matter. Punishment and restitution goes beyond government, which is a human institution: it has its roots in natural law. If something is stolen, justice mandates that it be returned. Natural law doesn't say how. It just says it has to happen.

3 comments:

Andy Bodoh said...

I don't have time to write all of my comments, so here are a few.

"Every society decides for itself who will be an officially-recognized authority with coercive power. It is not necessarily in the form of a government."

While our discussion has brought up "government", we have not yet defined the term, and so I am not sure what you mean by government and I am not sure what you think I mean by government (especially when you seem to suggest that it is not necessarily an officially-recognized authority with coercive power). Do you think that I think the only government can be a taxed-based beauracracy?

"In the case of a criminal who commits a crime, society (or the individual; not the government itself, which, as you know, may not have the best interest of the people in mind) perceives that a punishment is just."

It is important to be precise on this point. Does an individual, apart from society, have the right punish a criminal, and if so, on what basis?

Your example of the jury is not entirely convincing, if only because it is within the justice system of this society that the individual is working. I would say that that individal is sharing the authority of the justice system, and so has the right and duty to do what he does.

"If a libertarian private justice system would be "chaos," sign me up."

I am not arguing for or against a libertarian private justice system. I was specifically trying to ask whether an individual has the right to punish a criminal, (i.e. as a non-authority--that is without respect to his obligations to care for the interests of others), or is it only within the context of a society that one may have the authority to punish a criminal.

"A corrupt government is a collective of individual criminals. They should be charged as such."

Is government nothing more than a "collective of individual[s]"? To understand government, we will need to discuss societies (which was next in my plan after we discussed rights).

"If I say to society, 'You may not steal from someone,' it is binding in conscience. . . . .(and etc.)"

Either you are suggesting in this passage and following that the only thing one is obliged in conscience to do are those which are specified in the natural law, or that that is the only thing that laws are about. I know that we have talked at length about homosexuality and such, but I am not relegated law to that area.

Consider this--Are you morally free to drive on the left side of the road whenever you want to in the United States? Or go through any red light? The obvious (and correct) answer is "no". I suspect that you would insist that the reason the answer is "no" is because it endangers the lives and property of others (in some cases), and when it does, doing so would be a violation of natural law precepts. Granted. But my question is why does every drive on right and stop at red? Because the government/society made a law to say that red lights mean stop and cars drive on the right, and punishes those who do otherwise, leading people to drive on the right and stop at the red so that the highways can be safe. Now there is nothing in natural law that specifies that cars are to stop on red and drive on right. There is a general provision, perhaps, that when order helps to minimize personal damages, order ought to be sought. Some laws help bring order to society. Now this may lead you to again bring forth your libertarianism and say that the free market can do such, I grant it. However, my point is that when I say--

"In the case of the authority, the 'right' is the power to create to civil laws and such binding in conscience."

--I am not merely refering to laws that punish the most explicit violations of the natural law, but also to laws that help order society. These laws are morally binding in so far as they are reasonable within the specific situation and practices of society. From my reading of your post, you have not considered this kind of civil law.

"Where does anyone get an a priori right to play Robin Hood, taking money from people in order to do 'good things?'"

That is the question of a good government that we have been discussing, isn't it? If you would like me to answer, I will need more posts.

Let me also make myself clear. I am not attempting to defend this government. I am not trying to defend any specific government. I am not trying to assert that a libertarian society is not a good government. I am merely trying to examine the nature of a good government. So far we have agreed on many things. My question to you (which may not have been especially clear) was precisely this: How does a "specific criminal act[ ] legitimately permit the variety of punishments at the discretion of a non-authority."

You have argued well that a specific criminal act legitimately permits a variety of punishments, but I am not conviced taht you have entirely considered the second part of the question: "at the discretion [i.e. the judgment and enforcement of] a non-authority [which, based on definitions I beleive that we have both agreed to, is "one who is not acting qua a person charged with caring for the interests of others."]".

Parents punish because they are concerned with the interests of other. I believe (as I hope to examine later) that societies qua societies can do so. You may assert no government can do it, I don't know. I do not believe that individuals without authority (as laid out above) can punish (that is, judge a specific act to be a general sort of act that is prohibited, and then enforce a penalty for the commission of said act).

This may well be where we part. If so I would like to know.

Geoff said...

Geoff: "Every society decides for itself who will be an officially-recognized authority with coercive power. It is not necessarily in the form of a government."

Andy: "While our discussion has brought up "government", we have not yet defined the term, and so I am not sure what you mean by government and I am not sure what you think I mean by government (especially when you seem to suggest that it is not necessarily an officially-recognized authority with coercive power). Do you think that I think the only government can be a taxed-based beauracracy?"

I don't think you think the only government can be tax-based. I do get the impression that you believe a tax-based government is a moral system. Do I read you right?

I said it is not necessarily in the form of a taxation-based government (That may have been a later edit than when you started posting, but it was an edit I made.) I believe a government is merely someone, or some people, who have effective (and usually popularly-assented) power to correct violations of humans, concerning force, fraud and coercion. That is what pure government seems to me.

Andy: "It is important to be precise on this point. Does an individual, apart from society, have the right punish a criminal, and if so, on what basis?"

Yes, an individual, apart from society, has the right to punish a criminal, on the basis of the natural law. If a wrong has been done, it can be righted. The natural law does not prescribe a particular method of discerning a punishment, it merely mandates that it can happen.

Andy: "Your example of the jury is not entirely convincing, if only because it is within the justice system of this society that the individual is working. I would say that that individal is sharing the authority of the justice system, and so has the right and duty to do what he does."

I used it only as an example of one man overriding what one usually considers as "government" and its "right" to enforce laws. The natural law does not require a jury to decide to punish a man who is, in fact, guilty. The jury exists to find out :if: he is guilty.

Andy: "I am not merely refering to laws that punish the most explicit violations of the natural law, but also to laws that help order society. These laws are morally binding in so far as they are reasonable within the specific situation and practices of society. From my reading of your post, you have not considered this kind of civil law."

Such a civil law is entirely within my idea of a libertarian society. But then, nobody could be arrested if they drove on the left side of a straightaway when you could see for miles on the left. Because the law exists not merely to make everyone drive on the right, but to keep them safe, like you said. Nobody has a right to make any law concerning a highway unless they OWN the particular highway. The highways today are effectively (not actually) "owned" by the government, not the people who were robbed to build it. As such, this government has no right to make a law concerning anything except actually endangering another person. (I even doubt their "right" to use our tax dollars to have patrolmen enforce the law.) If there is no one else on the road for miles ahead, and you see that and know it, and you decide to drive on the left for a bit, you're putting no one at risk. But you will get pulled over. No one has the "right" to stop you from doing it, because you are not infringing anyone else's rights.

Men, collectively, have a right to come together, and unanimously decide something. They can live in their own community, and enforce the community rules. Consider, heh... the town of Ave Maria. I imagine everyone who wants to live there will have to sign a contract saying they will abide by certain rules. If they don't, they understand they will face certain penalties, including exile. But each and every adult member of that society must knowingly and willingly sign that contract. This is not the case in majoritarian government.

Andy: "Parents punish because they are concerned with the interests of other. I believe (as I hope to examine later) that societies qua societies can do so."

Parents punish because they have a :natural authority: over their children, AND because they are concerned with the interests of others. In a free society, no one has a natural authority over anyone else. Only when someone forfeits his rights by a crime can he be punished. A group of people has no natural authority over any other person. They cannot tell them what to do, where to go, etc. They (and any individual) can only tell them, "You may not do this, because everyone is born with this right which you may not violate, and natural law prescribes a punishment." Unlike parents, society, or an individual fellow man, cannot punish you if you refuse to eat your vegetables, despite the reasonable fact that they are good for you. Society or an individual can punish you if you harm another person.

Andy Bodoh said...

Well it is pretty clear that we disagree on this point, and I doubt either of us will accomplish much by arguing it. However, I would like to solidify a few issues about our difference, if you don't mind.

"Yes, an individual, apart from society, has the right to punish a criminal, on the basis of the natural law."

By this I take it you mean, for example, that a hermit has the right to track down and kill a murderer in the desert. However, I am not clear whether you think that this is a freedom (he can do it but he doesn't have to) or a duty (he is obligated to). Furthermore, is there any difference if the muderer committed the crime far, far away verses in the general vacinity of the hermit, versus in the hermits cave; is there any difference if the murdered one is a total stranger versus someone the hermit knows about versus someone the hermit interacts with versus a close friend of the hermit versus a family member of the hermit's; if the attempt to commit the crime equals the crime; and if there is anyway for the criminal to regain his right to life? Does the same hold true for other crimes and how so?

I have it easy. I don't believe the hermit has any right to directly intend the death of anyone because he has no authority over anyone.

"The highways today are effectively (not actually) "owned" by the government, not the people who were robbed to build it."

This raises and interesting question I was going to address later. What happens when one violates a right and gets away with it? For example, an illegitimate revolution (if a libertarian can admit such a thing, which I don't know), or in this case, the government abusing their power to seize or redistribute property. Does the actual government established or the actual holder of the property ever gain legitimate claim to rule or the property? Or, a hundred years from now, is that government or the heirs of the abuser still violating the tru rights of someone?

I would say (and the law does) that the claim to authroity and property rests with the abused unless they act (or fail to act) in such a way as to imply that they do not have the right, so long as that right is naturally transmutable (as property and governments, but not life for instance, are). Thus even if the government seized land for highways or the American War for Independence was illegitimate, the fact that the ones depossed of land have acknowledged the government's claim, and the fact that Britain signed a treaty yielidng the colonies, makes it so.

"Parents punish because they have a :natural authority: over their children, AND because they are concerned with the interests of others."

You are setting "natural authority" and "interests of others" up as distinct. I thought we said above that authority was the right and duties derived from being charged with the interests of others. If so, parents have a natural authority precisely because they have naturally have the obligation to care for the interests of their children. Thus natural authority (whence they derive their right to punish) is not discinct from their parental concern for the interests of their children. However, parental authority need not be and is not the only type of authority, nor the only type of authority that can punish.

What do you mean by natural authority as distinct from authority?

Andy