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Vigilantism

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Thoughts? My personal opinion is that justice should be left up to the state, unless justice fails. If it fails, I think it is more than morally acceptable to take justice into your own hands, provided you don't cause anarchy in the process.

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Thoughts?  My personal opinion is that justice should be left up to the state, unless justice fails.  If it fails, I think it is more than morally acceptable to take justice into your own hands, provided you don't cause anarchy in the process.

My question would be whether Roark's actions in destroying the housing project in The Fountainhead, or even, for that matter, the creation of Galt's Gulch in Atlas Shrugged could be considered forms of vigilantism?

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Okay, here's a good way to explain my view. In A Time to Kill, the guy bursts into a courtroom and kills the two guys who brutally raped his daughter and left her for dead. What he did was justified and was not immoral. However, if the system is to maintain any legitimacy it should convict him. So, while I believe that vigiliantism is morally permissible, the criminal justice system should treat vigilantes like any other criminal because, unless they are treated as criminals, society would break down into social anarchy.

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Okay, here's a good way to explain my view.  In A Time to Kill, the guy bursts into a courtroom and kills the two guys who brutally raped his daughter and left her for dead.  What he did was justified and was not immoral.  However, if the system is to maintain any legitimacy it should convict him.  So, while I believe that vigiliantism is morally permissible, the criminal justice system should treat vigilantes like any other criminal because, unless they are treated as criminals, society would break down into social anarchy.

I know what you are saying when you say the man was justified, but I think you have to choose between vigilantism and and the state. To support vigilantism is to undermine the authority of the state and to be "against" the state, and that means both cannot be morally permissible at the same time; the premises contradict each other.

Your last sentence is a utilitarian justification; that is, supporting the state because it "works" to achieve some concrete goal (order), not because it is the right thing to do, so Objectivism would not use that argument. That's not to say that Objectivism doesn't work, but only that the primary defense of the state should not be utilitarian, it should be moral, i.e. do it because it is right to defend individual rights.

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Thoughts?  My personal opinion is that justice should be left up to the state, unless justice fails.  If it fails, I think it is more than morally acceptable to take justice into your own hands, provided you don't cause anarchy in the process.

You are contradicting yourself. To "take justice into your own hands" is to admit and further anarchy.

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You are contradicting yourself. To "take justice into your own hands" is to admit and further anarchy.

So, is it immoral? If I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a certain man has killed my wife, but he is acquitted on a technicality, is it morally wrong for me to hunt him down and kill him? I'm not being confrontational; I'm asking a serious question about the Objectivist stance on this issue.

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So, is it immoral?  If I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a certain man has killed my wife, but he is acquitted on a technicality, is it morally wrong for me to hunt him down and kill him?  I'm not being confrontational; I'm asking a serious question about the Objectivist stance on this issue.

In the context of being under a rational, objective law, which technicalities could possibly exist that would allow him to go free ?

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So, is it immoral? If I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a certain man has killed my wife, but he is acquitted on a technicality, is it morally wrong for me to hunt him down and kill him?

If the man really is a murderer, then it is certainly moral that his own life should be taken. But we do not want to live in anarchy, so in a proper society we establish objective laws and objective means to seek justice and retribution. If you think that justice has not been done, and if you have tried by all proper means to seek that justice, then the issue is closed in terms of legality and rights. You cannot claim the right to vigilante justice. If you are so devasted by the loss and you cannot live without the retribution, then you should turn yourself in to the authorities after taking the life of the murderer.

I'm not being confrontational; I'm asking a serious question about the Objectivist stance on this issue.

Okay.

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I notice the assumptions are:

1. The "guilty" party is known for certain to be guilty

2. The state is failing to properly punish the guilty party

So the question is whether it is right for the vigilante to do justice in place of some inefficient government.

The purpose of due process of law is to establish guilt through well-defined transparent means in a public forum so that everyone in society (in principle) can be satisfied that the party in question is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Vigilantism rests on a presumption of guilt. In America (and any right functioning legal system) there is a presumption of innocence. Guilt must be established through due process.

Innocent people do get accused of crimes and brought to trial. Due process exists to minimize the number of these innocent people that actually get punished wrongly.

Vigilantism is very likely to result in innocent people being wrongly punished, and as such is itself morally wrong.

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If the man is guilty and you live under a proper government or one that is a close approximation to it, then the answer is: no, you cannot be a vigilante. This is because you have chosen by living in that country to give up any claim to the power of punishing those who have initiated force against you. One of the fundamental ideas behind a government is that the people have given up any claim to retaliatory force to the government so that its use may be ruled by objective means (the laws and institutions of the government) rather than have it as the mere caprice of emotionally charged victims or by whoever has the most "might" (in which case they might not even be a victim in the first place).

A second point to mention is that under a proper government there would be very little chance, if any at all, for a guilty person to not be convicted. A government of that nature could only come about from the support of a culture of reason. So, a jury or judge is not likely to not be swayed by your arguments (you said that you KNOW that he is guilty and so you have implied that there is indeed a rational argument for his guilt). Also, there would be a sever lack of loopholes within the law itself. The law, being based on sound reason, would be very objective and set out strict criteria for what each crime was and the punishment for it.

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A second point to mention is that under a proper government there would be very little chance, if any at all, for a guilty person to not be convicted.

This is simply not true. The only way for this to be true is to implement a "guilty until proven innocent" philosophy. There's a reason why we have reasonable doubt in this country. Guilty people are acquitted all the time, and that's exactly how it should be, because the flipside would be infinitely worse.

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If the man is guilty and you live under a proper government or one that is a close approximation to it, then the answer is: no, you cannot be a vigilante. This is because you have chosen by living in that country to give up any claim to the power of punishing those who have initiated force against you.

By this rationale it was immoral for northerners to help runaway slaves because they chose to live in a country that allowed slavery. The law should reflect ethics, it does not create it.

That said, if I were judge and a man came before me who was accused of killing someone who had murdered and was acquitted, I would say he was guilty but the situation is a mitigating factor. Five dollar fine!

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By this rationale it was immoral for northerners to help runaway slaves because they chose to live in a country that allowed slavery.  The law should reflect ethics, it does not create it. 

That said, if I were judge and a man came before me who was accused of killing someone who had murdered and was acquitted, I would say he was guilty but the situation is a mitigating factor.  Five dollar fine!

:santa:

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By this rationale it was immoral for northerners to help runaway slaves because they chose to live in a country that allowed slavery.  The law should reflect ethics, it does not create it.

So are you saying that it a government which has laws supporting slavery is a proper govenrment or close approximation thereof? That's the only way your retort holds water.

Nemethnm gave the distinction that under a proper government (or close approximatin thereof) it would be wrong. A proper government would not support slavery.

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Guilty people are acquitted all the time, and that's exactly how it should be,

This appears to be a contradiction, or at least somewhat confused. Unless you are playing devil's advocate, you seem to be unsure whether its immoral to resort to vigilantism on one hand and on the other you recognize that guilty people are set free under a proper system based on innocence until proven guilty.

So what it appears you are asking is this: is it immoral to seek retribution on someone who has been found not guilty by a system that works as it should? Is this truly what you are asking in this thread?

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How does one actually *know* someone is guilty if it couldn't even be established in a court of law?

One point of due process is to get at this epistemic question of *knowing* someone is guilty.

By assuming you really *know* guilt outside of a process of legal investigation is to drop half the issue.

The point is the vigilante never really *knows* in any reasonably good way that the person they are killing is guilty. They might think the person is guilty but it hasn't been established in any sort of way that the general public can recognize that what the vigilante does is legitimate.

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The "innocent until proven guilty" phrase is not in response to making sure that innocent people are not punished. The idea that men are innocent until proven guilty is an adaptation of epistemology to how a court should operate. It means merely that the plaintiff in a court case has the burden of proof. It is up to him to prove that his assertion of guilt is true.

Think about the opposite case in which guilt was assumed and the burden of proof was placed upon the convicted to "prove" that he were innocent. The same epistemological error is committed by people who say, "You cannot disprove God, so He must exist."

As for the slavery issue I would have to say that in the context of pre-emancipation US that yes it would be immoral to help runaway slaves. The government at that time was a close approximation to Capitalism. The way one would “fight” such an issue would be to do so intellectually by voicing one’s opinion.

In the context of an actual slave state (such as the USSR) it is impossible to say what is moral or immoral. One of the preconditions of morality is that life is possible when one acts rationally. When rational action no longer guarantees the successful obtainment of values then morality is not possible. This is why in the case of an actual slave state disobeying a law is not immoral… no action is immoral.

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As for the slavery issue I would have to say that in the context of pre-emancipation US that yes it would be immoral to help runaway slaves. The government at that time was a close approximation to Capitalism. The way one would “fight” such an issue would be to do so intellectually by voicing one’s opinion.

I'm going to have to disagree. When people are denied the right to the very basest of property rights (right to the self) I hold that the law is unjust and must be disobeyed. In this case I would be a vigilante capitalist. I would help hide runaway slaves on their way up north. But if they offered me thanks I would be like don't give me accolades, I'm not helping you out of charity. Now bring me some pancakes and Cream of Wheat!

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A second point to mention is that under a proper government there would be very little chance, if any at all, for a guilty person to not be convicted. 

I have to agree with Zoso's response to this and add that there is still plenty of room for error which can still get a guilty man off. There can be error of procedure, illegal search, seizure, entrapment. Beyond a reasonable doubt would still stand, and that means that it is still up to the state to prove its case within the confines of a citizen's rights. That citizen being an innocent man, guilty of no crime until the state convinces a jury of his peers beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt.

So, I do not see how this would be true.

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Adding that even a proper government is composed of individuals acting under the rule of law. That doesn't make every member in that government act infallibly, or even morally, or even lawfully. Which means that guilty men will get off.

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As for the slavery issue I would have to say that in the context of pre-emancipation US that yes it would be immoral to help runaway slaves. The government at that time was a close approximation to Capitalism. The way one would “fight” such an issue would be to do so intellectually by voicing one’s opinion.

You are saying that it would be immoral to help runaway slaves????

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You are saying that it would be immoral to help runaway slaves????

When I said:

Nemethnm gave the distinction that under a proper government (or close approximatin thereof) it would be wrong. A proper government would not support slavery.

I was thinking nemethnm was talking about a proper government. Apparently, he was referring to something else. Apparently, nemethnm thinks that during that time a government that supported slavery was a proper government (or a close proximation thereof).

That being the case, I withdraw my erroneous attempt to expound on his statement, and note my disagreement as to his idea of a proper government.

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