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?

Thomas Aquinas: Should all vices be crimes?

Should all vices be crimes? This a question St. Thomas addresses explicitly in his Summa, wherein he objects to the criminalization of most vices on the ground that it would make criminals of most people. St. Thomas argues that “human law rightly allows some vices, by not repressing them” and with good reason:

[Virtuous conduct] is not possible to one who has not a virtuous habit, as is possible to one who has. Thus the same is not possible to a child as to a full-grown man: for which reason the law for children is not the same as for adults, since many things are permitted to children, which in an adult are punished by law or at any rate are open to blame. In like manner many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man.

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of oth-ers, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

What St. Thomas is teaching is nothing less than the non-aggression principle: that human law should limit its punishments to acts that hurt other people or their prop-erty. He goes on to assert that criminal punishment “belongs to those sins chiefly whereby one’s neighbor is injured.”

St. Thomas also cites God’s own unwillingness to prevent earthly evils, often times because the cure would be worse than the disease:

Human government is derived from the Divine gov-ernment, and should imitate it. Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He al-lows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue. Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says (De Ordine ii, 4): “If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.”

Elsewhere, St. Thomas repeats this truth that suppressing vices can lead to greater evils: “[Human law] does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous . . . Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils.

As St. Thomas foresaw (along with St. Augustine), the criminalization of other moral evils–drunkenness, drug abuse, sexual immorality and other vices which are not directly harmful to others or their propertyis unjust and results in greater sins.