Stopped by the cops – Freedom Feens 08/03/2014

Catholic libertarianFreedom Feens is a daily, liberty-related radio show with Michael W. Dean and a rotating cast of co-hosts.

I was co-host on a Feens broadcast this week. The 2-hour show is broadcast live at LRN.FM weeknights at Midnight Central time and at noon on weekends. A list of stations carrying the Freedom Feens is available here

Show notes for 08/03/2014: Feds collecting subversive internet memes — Nationalize the police? — FeenPhone Update — When the cops pull me over — Never, never, ever consent to a search — Do police have to read me my Miranda Rights? — I want to talk to a lawyer!

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If you imagine that you are not a criminal, think again:

Illegal milk crate

More Thick & Thin / Can prisons be totally abolished?

Anarcho-Ichthus-fav“Thick” libertarians are always talking about things besides liberty. They talk about unions, racism, patriarchy, hierarchy and sexism; and whether land rent, usury, wage labor or inequality of wealth are compatible with the maintenance of a stateless society. These libertarians want to graft their issues onto the tree of liberty because they believe these questions bear on the very viability of liberty. As near as I can tell, the seminal article on thick and thin libertarianism is Charles Johnson’s 2008 article, “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin: What Kind of Commitment Is Libertarianism?

If “thicks” see any institution as oppressive, they noisily oppose it. Some atheist “thicks” (but not all) want to be rid of organized religion because they believe that church members are hopeless statists, mindlessly following authority. They consider obedience to any authority to be erosive of freedom. Who knows, there may be religious thick libertarians who want to read atheists out of the movement, but I do not know any.

To the extent that the “thick” issues seem to reduce the square footage of the libertarian big tent, “thin” libertarians are wary of mixing these social issues with the political philosophy of libertarianism. There are (at least) a couple reasons for this: 1) “thins” are concerned that these issues can turn off potential converts to libertarianism; and 2) “thins” fear that the “thicks” may place their social issues ahead of libertarianism’s organizing principle: nonaggression. See Lew Rockwell’s The Future of Libertarianism.

We can hope that time will teach us which–if any–of the “thick” issues turn out to be important. To be fair, most “thicks” do not advocate physical aggression to implement their agenda. Instead these “thicks” urge education, advocacy, propaganda, encouragement, ridicule, ostracism, boycotts and all kinds of non-violent persuasion to change the societal consensus on “thick” issues.

gotojailPrisons in a free society

One of the topics all libertarians think about is our unjust criminal justice system. I recently ran across this Jeffrey Tucker interview of Cory Massimino, a writer for the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society.

I have to agree with much that Massimo says. In a free society, prisons will largely become a thing of the past, but perhaps not completely, as Massimo suggests. By the time we eliminate imprisonment for drug-related crime, the prisons will be getting empty; especially as the drug war violence comes to an end. [The idea that proprietors of legal marijuana shops will still be killing one another seems about as likely as the Budweiser and Miller Light drivers shooting it out in the grocery aisle.] A greater emphasis on restitution over retribution will empty more prison cells, but Massimo may underestimate the problem of individuals who are unremittingly violent and dangerous.

As a former prosecutor and now a criminal defense lawyer, I am personally familiar with murderers who CANNOT be dealt with by Massimo’s house-arrest solution, not unless the security is so prison-like that there is no real difference.

jail celljail cell-smThe bleeding hearts need to recognize that realistic options are more limited. The most obvious non-state solutions are: 1) securely imprison incorrigible murderers and make them work for their supper; or 2) execute them.

A possible–but perhaps unrealistic–solution, might be some sort of banishment, like to Mars or Australia. The problem is that there exist certain human beings that no one–not even a thick libertarian–is willing to have around. (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, etc). I am open to other ideas, but I cannot think what they would be.

BeFunky_Grunge_9

Criminal law in a libertarian society

BarsCriminal laws prohibit (or require) an assortment of activities. If caught disobeying the criminal law, the lawbreaker is punished by the government. Criminal laws are usually written by legislatures and contain two types of crimes: 1) crimes that harm victims (such as murder, assault and theft); and 2) crimes that harm the person or property of no one, except perhaps the criminals themselves.

The latter type outlaws conduct such as drunkenness, gambling, prostitution, drug use, or anything that requires a license when such license has not been granted. Ultimately, a crime is whatever the government says it is.

See somethingA recent and popular trend is to make it a crime for anyone to fail to inform the government if they believe someone else is breaking the law. This trend, now firmly established regarding a few especially despicable crimes such as child sexual abuse, may spread to cover other crimes—and eventually all crimes.

In a nation where informing for the government is mandatory, when you “see something,” you “say something” . . . or else. Such a society would see the full blossoming of the police state and, like the 20th-century residents of fascist and communist states, a healthy fear of one’s neighbors, friends and even family could become a valuable survival skill.

In a libertarian society, the maximum role of the state would be to protect life, liberty and property. The use of defensive force is always legitimate, but the non-aggression principle limits the criminal law to things like assault, murder, theft, fraud, trespass and the like; that is, crimes against persons or their property. As Saints Thomas and Augustine taught, [here, here, and here] the law should not criminalize moral vices or other disapproved conduct, where such conduct does not directly harm others.

Stop fightingA libertarian criminal code would be compact and intuitive. Its function is to ensure peace and tranquility, not to make virtuous people. Instead of needing a lawyer to explain it, children would understand it by the time they were two years old.

[excerpted from Chapter 8 of Free is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be libertarian]

What would we do without the state?

The most unreasonable objection to libertarianism is the claim that liberty will not fix problem “x” or problem “y.” This objection is made while ignoring the fact that government is not doing such a great job with “x” or “y” either.

A good example is the “drug war” where government prohibition has nurtured a massive black market run by organized, violent criminals. Then the government created a police state to catch, prosecute and house the same criminal gangs that their laws coaxed into existence, all of which is paid for (involuntarily) by the taxpayers; and after which, the problem is worse than when the “war” started.

When we look at it that way, it seems clear that giving liberty a try might no be so bad. After all, could anything be worse than the current situation?

The same question must be asked about other problems. How can we have a peaceful society without government police, courts and prisons? Won’t criminal gangs take over and turn the whole world into Somalia. Many smart people have given reasonable solutions for these problems, but sometimes these are just guesses, because we cannot be sure how a free society will solve every problem.

The worrying question seems to be, if we get rid of the state what will we replace it with? Perhaps we worry too much. As in the drug war, we need to step back and look at what government does and ask: If they weren’t doing this stuff would the world be better or worse? So–for the moment–forget drugs. Forget homosexual unions, gambling, prostitution and animal cruelty. Let’s cut straight to the gold standard of evil: Murder.

Individuals can be shockingly evil, and the harm they do to each other is in the news every day. The notoriety of serial killers lives long after them.

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 victims; John Wayne Gacy killed 23; Ted Bundy, 35; and there were the Columbine and Colorado movie theater killers. History records many such monsters, some believed to have killed hundreds. Such horrors could seem insignificant, however, when set against the death toll when governments go to war.

In the 20th century, governments exceeded all previous wars by destroying more than 60 million human beings in World War II. In World War I, there were 10 million dead, not counting civilians. Dozens of wars have killed a million or more people. Even history’s most infamous serial killer, Soviet Major General Vasili Blokhin, in shooting 7,000 Polish officers in the space of 28 days in 1940, reached that record only with the aid of his government. Thirty of Stalin’s NKVD agents were needed to bring the victims before Blokhin and then remove their bodies.

Finally, even war cannot match the most prolific murderers of history: government against its own citizens. R.J. Rummel, in Death by Government, estimated that in the 20th century, mass murder, genocide and political murder by government caused the death of 169 million souls, not including war dead.

Compared to the state, mankind’s most accomplished serial killers have been embarrassingly ineffective.

So back to our question: If we get rid of the state what can we replace it with?

Does it matter?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

There is a legal principle that arose long ago: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This principle prevents those charged with violating the law from claiming they did not know about the law. If a person could escape liability by such excuse, wrongdoers could seldom be punished.

This maxim is not as unfair as it seems where the criminal law is only used to prevent and punish harm to other people. In those cases, it hardly matters whether a person knows exactly what the written law says. He already knows that if he is harming someone’s person or property, he must pay for the harm done.

At this basic level everyone “knows” the law, so ignorance is no excuse, but today we have the opposite situation. Ignorance of the law has never been more widespread because the criminal law now prohibits so much conduct that is not intuitively evil. The law punishes all sorts of conduct that doesn’t hurt anyone (except perhaps the defendant himself) and it is no longer obvious what conduct is criminal and what is not. Without the non-aggression principle operating as a standard by which all may measure their actions, ignorance of the law becomes common and inevitable.

This situation is only aggravated by the sheer enormity of the criminal code. The Federal Criminal Code and Sentencing Guidelines alone consume almost 2500 printed pages. This does not include the various state codes, county and municipal ordinances.

No one—not even criminal lawyers—ever read the whole code. When the police arrest someone, they may have only a rough idea as to what crime (if any) has been committed. They learn to look through simplified charging manuals to find a crime to fit the conduct. Often enough, the police get it wrong and prosecutors must dig into the big books to make the defendant’s conduct fit under some law. Since even police and prosecutors must consult the laws to charge crimes, what hope does anyone else have of obeying all the laws when so many have no apparent connection to the golden rule?

The “ignorance of the law” maxim has never been more unfair than it is today. At the same time, it has never been more essential to the operation of the criminal courts. If ignorance of the law were an excuse, the courts would be in chaos.

How many people know how easily their everyday actions can result in a criminal conviction? Here are a token few among the thousands of crimes we may unwittingly commit:

  • Possessing a baby raccoon.
  • Burying a deceased pet in one’s own yard.
  • Raising arms while riding a roller coaster.
  • Sending annoying internet messages without identifying oneself.
  • Releasing a swine

Since no one can escape them all, we all become unwitting criminals. Ignorance may be a universal given, but it is never permitted as an excuse.

[excerpted from Free is Beautiful]

Father Cummings and the Loyalty Oath

We must obey God rather than men!

This may be  the only possible response when government abuses its power.

Click below for my article at Lew Rockwell.com about one Catholic priest who stood against the government and suffered for the faith:

Saying No
to a Government
Loyalty Oath

Libertarian does not mean libertine

Why do so many think that libertarians are “anything goes” libertines? Many conservatives believe that libertarians are really just liberals. Many liberals insist that libertarians are really just conservatives. How can it be both? It is wrong to say–as some do–that libertarians are “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” These views stem from confusion about morality and criminality, such that our modern society has lost the ability to distinguish between vice and crime. Even worse, many so-called crimes are not vices at all.

Conservatives and liberals alike want to use government to force everyone to conform to their view of morality. And each would like to hold the whip against the other, and nobody is happy with the way things are.

This is because we have ignored what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wisely taught: that punishment for crime should be limited to conduct that harms others (i.e., “theft, murder and the like”). Beyond that, neither individuals, nor the government have the right to punish or force people to do whatever the state tells them.

As to what is moral conduct, libertarians are just as variable as the population as a whole. Libertarian Catholics do not dissent from Church teachings. They embrace them. They hope and pray that others do likewise, but they refuse to use force (whether individual or collective) to make others conform to Christian morals. Only defensive force is legitimate.

That does not mean, however, that a free society would be an “anything goes” society. If drug addiction or prostitution were treated as health and moral issues—rather than as criminal issues—most families would still not want to see them on their streets. People will rightly have their preferences as to church, society, friends and the neighborhoods they live and work in. In later posts, we will see that a libertarian society would be more conducive to a moral lifestyle, not less; more supportive in the raising of families according to our beliefs and our purpose in life.