Let’s say you were living your life, and your local town council or county commissioner board or zoning board or some other random gathering of self-important people penned an ordinance that decreed that all houses should have low-flow eco-friendly toilets. Laying aside the fact that somebody on the committee probably has a brother in law that makes low-flow toilets, hence the real reason for it, you don’t hear about this. There are a number of reasons why you might not hear about it. Most of those reasons have to do with the fact that you are quite busy doing things that really matter rather than passing obscure legislation regulating other people’s toilets. Whatever the reason, you have just become, by your non-compliance, a criminal. Or have you?
I maintain that there is a world of difference between a lawbreaker and a criminal. While it is virtually impossible to not be a ‘lawbreaker’ given the complex jungle of silly paperwork that entangles our every move, it is possible to live your entire life and not be a criminal. And the difference is so elementary, to wit; criminals have victims.
If I accost you in a dark alley and relieve you of your wallet, I have violated your right to your own property. That right exists independent of any legislation. In fact, I don’t think it’s coincidental that the term ‘right’ also means ‘correct’ or ‘true’, for all true rights have their basis in morality. It’s wrong to steal, everyone knows this. Even little children will claim with vehemence when someone tries to take their favorite toy, “Mine!”. Even children understand that a person naturally has exclusive rights to certain physical objects, and that to rob someone is a great affront to these natural rights. What’s yours is yours simply because it is. By being yours, it is, after all, not mine. If I take it, I am a thief. By my thievery, I have committed a crime and, whether I am ever caught or not, am now a criminal. Would anyone even try to make the case that low-flow toilets are a moral issue? If you fail to swap out your toilet, you have broken a law, but not committed a crime.
Laws may also cover crimes, but crimes exist whether or not there are any laws against them. Most laws however extend beyond the boundaries of delineating criminal behavior and sail right past common sense into pure silliness. Laws, by and large exist to grant power to the ruling elite, and not only are divorced from morality, but appear to be divorced from reality. A great many things that aren’t immoral are illegal, and a great many things that are legal are, as a matter of course, immoral. If no one’s rights have been violated, then it isn’t a crime, and shouldn’t even be a law.
There is of course, a great body of thought on this, and the great American experiment has deep roots in this. After all, in our Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --.” So government, according to the founding documents of our country, exists to protect rights, not to enforce laws. The Bible also draws the line on proper governmental powers in the oft-misapplied Romans 13 “ For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid ; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” A man doing right ought not fear the government. The fact that so many do can be taken as a sign that something has gone horribly wrong.
I will of course make some applications here by way of examples, some of which may be disagreeable to some, but I stand by my standard on this; and by applying this standard that I came to rethink a lot of my positions on different issues, and I invite the reader to examine themselves in a like manner.
I have the right to apply my talents and skills and seek compensation for those talents and skills via employment. Along with that comes the right to enjoy the fruit of my labor. But there is a law that says the state can remove a portion of that fruit ( a portion decided by them) before I get it and that same body of law dictates that I can be fined or imprisoned for withholding that portion from them. It seems obvious to me that their law has caused a crime to be committed against me, that crime being thievery. It matters not that a body of legislation somewhere has decreed it; nobody can make plunder a moral activity simply by decree.
I have the right to associate with whoever I want. It is, literally, nobody’s business but mine. I have the right to associate with that person in public, or in private. If I want them on my property, then that is within my jurisdiction, and not anyone else’s. But what if that person violated a law that didn’t even exist 100 years ago, and crossed an arbitrary geographical line to come and associate with me? Proponents of tougher immigration laws would say that their law trumps my right to associate and that my ‘illegal alien’ friend cannot visit with me. Why? Because there’s a law after all, and no other reason need be offered.
By extension, my ‘illegal alien’ friend offers to sell me his labor to me for a rate agreeable to both of us. The labor is his to sell, and mine to buy if I so choose, but their precious law feels the need to step in between the peaceful transaction and decree that it shall not be so. By what logic or rational is this intervention justified? There is a law, after all, and people in costumes with guns will make sure the law is enforced, no matter how silly.
I have the right to dispense my property in the manner that I see fit. That is the very foundational idea of property. The idea of rights and property are so interlinked as to be inseparable. Let’s say you have a cow, and you need to sell the milk. I want the milk, so I exchange my money (which is mine) for your milk (which is yours). We both get what we want, and nobody’s rights have been violated, hence no crime. Oh, but what manifold of laws we have broken! Our rights predate the law, and in a moral universe, trump the law, but you will make that case from a jail cell because even if no crime has been committed, the powers that be must enforce the law.
By extension, I have the right to purchase a piece of cloth and write on it, shred it, cut it into hearts, do whatever I choose to, because after all, it’s mine. It is nobody’s business but mine. Most people wouldn’t argue that point unless the piece of cloth has thirteen strips and fifty stars on it. Then, for some unfathomable reason, what happens to that particular piece of property becomes everybody’s business.
I have the right to my own life. That right doesn’t suddenly materialize when I’m 18, or 12 or 5. It extends back as far as my humanity, but under current law, it is not illegal to take that life from me, as long as you meet certain conditions, also dictated by law. Some laws say it can be taken from me before I exit my mother’s womb, some laws say that it can be taken from me when a man in a White House somewhere north of me decrees so. Legal? Sure. But moral? God forbid.
The law can be a terrible tyrant. Unhitched from any sense of morality it will always become overreaching and oppressive and will cast its power-hungry gaze in all directions. Arbitrary issues become matters of life and death under the law, and morality is cast aside in pursuit of compliance to senseless decrees. If you cannot associate with whom you want, if you cannot do what you wish with what you own, if you cannot enter into peaceful voluntary transactions of whatever nature, if you exist under the threat of legalized murder at any point in your humanity, then your freedom is simply an illusion and you exist under the worst sort of criminality; crimes committed against you by the ones entrusted with their protection.