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The Rule of Law

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Bamcei
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@Eiuol

I'm not clear what you are arguing. Is using your personal standards to judge the law and decide your actions accordingly right or wrong? Or that you only ought to break the law under exceptional circumstances in the context of a living in a liberal democratic society? Certainly the contexts in which vigilante justice in the traditional sense would be limited. What about defending yourself when it is unlawful to do so?

I also see exploiting invalid laws as essentially the same as using force yourself. The only difference is that you are co-opting the state and eliminating the legal risk.

@icosohedron

I was not claiming that, only that force is the means to defending values.

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I'm not clear what you are arguing. Is using your personal standards to judge the law and decide your actions accordingly right or wrong? Or that you only ought to break the law under exceptional circumstances in the context of a living in a liberal democratic society? Certainly the contexts in which vigilante justice in the traditional sense would be limited. What about defending yourself when it is unlawful to do so?

I think Jake Ellison's first post addresses all that well. I'm basically saying that if a law is improper, there's nothing wrong with violating that law. When it comes to vigilantism, that's a little different, but the idea is still that one must make an evaluation of the laws. All evaluations involve personal standards, though personal standards can still be objective. If a particular law is severely harming your life, it would be necessary to ignore that law, and in rare circumstances, ignore the legal system entirely.

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That is not always true for reasons which have been presented numerous times on this board. For those interested - please use search function.

I guess I should have said "not necessarily anything wrong", but I can't think of a concrete example where it is wrong to violate an improper law. It's context-heavy enough of an issue that I don't want to generalize too much.

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I guess I should have said "not necessarily anything wrong", but I can't think of a concrete example where it is wrong to violate an improper law. It's context-heavy enough of an issue that I don't want to generalize too much.

There are many such examples (for example, when the negative consequences of breaking it outweigh the benefit of violation). If you still can not think of any such cases - there were many examples presented here with explanations as to why (in fact, in my opinion, it is hardly ever beneficial in today's context living in America when you objectively evaluate all of the context)

There are at least two relevant threads I am familiar with:

Immigration Law in Arizona

Tax Avoidance

--------------------------

"Is the rule of law of greater value than justice?"

Part of the context when answering this question is the fact that: Justice in a society can not exist without the rule of law. The rule of law does not guarantee justice but it makes justice possible.

When laws are moral there is no value conflict between the two and no problem to solve. When laws deviate from justice - the answer overall, on a large scale of things, depends on the degree of this deviation and only temporarily. By temporarily, I mean only for short period of time while maintaining the intent of establishing the rule of law (proper law this time) again.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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  • 4 months later...

*** Mod's note: Merged with an existing topic. - sN ***

I've heard Objectivists argue that one should never break the law even if the law is not objective, because in doing so one communicates to others that it's OK to break laws that one doesn't agree with, and if everybody follows this example we'll end up with anarchy. What do you think of this reasoning?

Edited by softwareNerd
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I've heard Objectivists argue that one should never break the law even if the law is not objective, because in doing so one communicates to others that it's OK to break laws that one doesn't agree with, and if everybody follows this example we'll end up with anarchy. What do you think of this reasoning?

That reasoning is terrible and borders on kantianism. The "if everybody did it all the time" logic is flawed in that it has nothing to do with reality and is non contextual. If people didn't break the law, the law wouldn't exist in fact, because someone had to rebel to establish the current law. So a moral prohibition against legal activity would make all law based in immorality.

There really isn't any reason to follow the law outside of the consequences of getting caught. You are really only obligated to follow reasonable laws, but not because someone said so, but because they are reasonable.

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I must say that I agree with you. However, it is the position of the classical liberal party in Norway (which is based on Objectivism) that one should never break the law. They have said something in the lines of "As a political party we are working to change the laws, and then we cannot encourage people to break them.

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Based on what you quoted, I would point out that saying "one should never break the law" is not the same thing as saying "as a political party, we work inside the law and cannot advocate its violation." The latter is certainly a reasonable policy for an organization that publicly promotes a set of principles.

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  • 3 weeks later...
"Is it always wrong to break the law?"

This seems to suggest that right/wrong and good/evil are determined by law. Are they?

Of course, good and evil are not determined by law. Scarcely anybody would make that claim.

What is really being suggested is that there is value in adhering to the law even when it is not perfect, and in using legal means to change it, rather than breaking it. I'm not supporting the "rule of law" position here, but merely stating it. Those who advocate the "rule-of-law" will usually happily admit that their argument does not apply to North Korea, or even some less-totalitarian dictatorship. Their context is the typical Western democracy where it is possible to complain against the law, to protest against the law, and to change the law by peaceful means. In this context -- the argument goes -- there is value in adhering to the law, while objecting to it and trying to change it peacefully, rather than have everyone do whatever he likes.

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"In this context -- the argument goes -- there is value in adhering to the law, while objecting to it and trying to change it peacefully, rather than have everyone do whatever he likes. " - sN

To clarify on softwareNerd's explanation, the value of abiding by an improper or unjust law is usually determined by the consequences of not following it. According to Objectivism, any law regarding taxation is inherently immoral; however, many (if not all) Objectivists pay taxes anyways because they value NOT going to jail OVER the value of the money they save by not paying taxes.

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"In this context -- the argument goes -- there is value in adhering to the law, while objecting to it and trying to change it peacefully, rather than have everyone do whatever he likes. " - sN

To clarify on softwareNerd's explanation, the value of abiding by an improper or unjust law is usually determined by the consequences of not following it. According to Objectivism, any law regarding taxation is inherently immoral; however, many (if not all) Objectivists pay taxes anyways because they value NOT going to jail OVER the value of the money they save by not paying taxes.

The argument that is made is broader than just the consequences flowing from the penalties. Of course it is sensible to consider the penalties. However, the "rule of law" argument goes more along these lines: even though the penalties may not be stiff, we should follow the law ...

  • Otherwise there will be anarchy of everyone deciding what he should or should not do. This is essentially a variant of saying that one should stand on principle, not on case-by-case reaction; and, in the legal sphere, not on each person's own personal understanding of what ought to be legally right and wrong.
  • Another argument that is often put forward addresses a practical issue. Violating the law breeds disrespect of the law. It encourages other law-breakers to break laws they ought not to break.

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The argument that is made is broader than just the consequences flowing from the penalties. Of course it is sensible to consider the penalties. However, the "rule of law" argument goes more along these lines: even though the penalties may not be stiff, we should follow the law ...

  • Otherwise there will be anarchy of everyone deciding what he should or should not do. This is essentially a variant of saying that one should stand on principle, not on case-by-case reaction; and, in the legal sphere, not on each person's own personal understanding of what ought to be legally right and wrong.
  • Another argument that is often put forward addresses a practical issue. Violating the law breeds disrespect of the law. It encourages other law-breakers to break laws they ought not to break.

In one of the threads I was begrudgingly defending the rule of law and I would say that the above is a fairly accurate summation of it.

Since the conclusions that rule of law lead to, seemed personally distasteful to me and lead to a number of inconsistencies(In particular, too many and too varied of exceptions in execution) I had to reconsider the assumptive foundation. I think the mistake lies, essentially, in holding the rule as equivalent to the actuality.

As with all ethical rules, if reality is the final arbiter of morality, then punishments and rewards will accrue regardless of whatever label we assign it. Causes have effects(and sometimes affects) and saying that something is good or bad is really no more than a conceptual shortcut for us to label and categorize people and acts.

Specifically in this case, to say that one should follow the law is to say that if one does not, some consequences will occur. There is no additional meaning than that, other than to say specifically what consequences will follow what breach.

The "rule of law" is a legal construct and not a personal one so to use it outside of its context is to eliminate its meaning. If we were writing a constitution, than it would be widely agreed that people should be held accountable under the law regardless of whether or not the particular transgressors agree with it and that it should absolutely be enforced regardless of whether or not the enforcing agents agree with it.

As individuals, we can do whatever we choose, including breaking any and all laws, and we will simply suffer the consequences.

The problem left then is that when the rule of law is not upheld by the government, then a privileged class or race is created to the extent that laws are not enforced. So non-enforcement of immigration laws, jim crow laws, affirmative action, ridiculously low sentences for white collar crime, legal exemptions for the king, nobility, or members of congress, tax breaks for large corporations or churches, and that sort of thing all create inequalities in the application of law. In short, the demand should be for an objective system of law that enforces its rules with consequences strong enough to deter the behavior until those rules are changed, rather than demanding or hoping that individuals follow them when consequences are weak or unlikely.

Edited by aequalsa
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It is fine for a political party, engaged in an effort to achieve a specific purpose, to act in a way that will best help them achieve it. In this case, a pro-Capitalist party would have to obey the law, and ask everyone affiliated with it to obey the law, if they are to do anything. I'm sure they are under far greater scrutiny than anyone else in a socialist country like Norway, and would be in trouble if they didn't do that.

But that is different from advocating always obeying immoral laws, as a moral principle. Even if you are only advocating it in mixed countries, not dictatorships. The principles (of altruism) Norway's laws are based on are often antithetical to Objectivism. Putting forth the principle "obey them" would be the logical equivalent of just putting forth the altruist principles themselves. It's the same set of principles, phrased two different ways.

So in terms of moral principles it's either the principle of obeying bad laws, or Objectivism. It can't be both. But, in practice, one must acknowledge the existence of the guns pointed at one's head, and obey the people holding them there. Not on principle - at gunpoint. The difference is huge. There is no need for principles when guns are involved. Principles are meant to guide the choices of free men, not help them better obey thuggery.

If I was a politician in Norway, my advice to the people would be this: When dealing with your fellow citizens and with proper laws, you should use principles; when dealing with unjust laws, you should be pragmatic. I cannot advocate you breaking any laws (because I'm being pragmatic too), but I also don't have any moral principles to help you deal with them. "Moral principles to help you deal with immorality" is a contradiction.

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Of course, good and evil are not determined by law. Scarcely anybody would make that claim.

What is really being suggested is that there is value in adhering to the law even when it is not perfect, and in using legal means to change it, rather than breaking it. I'm not supporting the "rule of law" position here, but merely stating it. Those who advocate the "rule-of-law" will usually happily admit that their argument does not apply to North Korea, or even some less-totalitarian dictatorship. Their context is the typical Western democracy where it is possible to complain against the law, to protest against the law, and to change the law by peaceful means. In this context -- the argument goes -- there is value in adhering to the law, while objecting to it and trying to change it peacefully, rather than have everyone do whatever he likes.

I see. Maybe I’m getting this wrong, but there isn’t value when no choices exist. Value judgments presupposes a choice; what to value and how to acquire it. What choices exist when laws enforce “choices”? Doesn’t the law replace a muzzle of a gun with what used to be a choice?

Obey the law or be fined; pay the fine or go to jail; go to jail or we will force you; resist and we will match your resistance up to deadly force... obey or go out of existence... some choice. I guess if you can escape the eyes of the law, then a choice may exist (with risk). Then cooperation with the law is matter of each individual's threshold and what they value more. I speed all the time; so mine is relatively low, but I will pay the fine if caught.

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  • 11 months later...

Replying a year later...but I see the OP is still somewhat active.

I see. Maybe I’m getting this wrong, but there isn’t value when no choices exist. Value judgments presupposes a choice; what to value and how to acquire it. What choices exist when laws enforce “choices”? Doesn’t the law replace a muzzle of a gun with what used to be a choice?

Obey the law or be fined; pay the fine or go to jail; go to jail or we will force you; ... ...

Sure, but I think two different ways of reasoning are being combined here.

Take two employers.

One says "I won't hire an illegal alien because I want to avoid the risk of prosecution"

The other says "I won't hire them despite no risk of prosecution, because I think it is right to follow the law"

When I label something a rule-of-law argument, I mean the latter, not the former. The former belongs in the general category of how one acts when threatened by force: whether by a mugger or by the law.

The starting point is the assumption that the law is unjust. Anyone making a rule-of-law argument, accepts that the law is unjust, but says we should follow it. Typically, the argument goes something like this: if we do not follow the law, on principle, it breeds disrespect for the law, and a breakdown of law. In other words, the reasoning is: if I refuse to obey unjust laws, bad guys will refuse to obey just laws.

If one agrees that such a contagion is possible, then what to do? Well, if one lives under a dictatorship where there is a preponderance of unjust laws, it makes sense to simply do what you can get away with. Since the political system is preponderantly evil, what is there to lose? However, if you do not wish to undermine the whole system of law (i.e. the rule of law as such), then it can make sense to follow an unjust law, if you truly believe (which premise I'd question) that not doing so will end up resulting in a breakdown of the system itself.

Typically, people who make this "break-down of law" argument are avoiding the real issue: changing unjust laws. Someone who says one ought to comply with Arizona's immigration law because of the threat, makes a lot of sense. However, someone who says one should comply with that law because otherwise it will lead to a break-down in respect for the law is probably a fraud who wants to pull wool over your eyes to the fact that he supports the underlying unjust law. (Added: If someone says we should support a law like that until some other unjust law is rolled back, that is a completely different argument, and could well make sense.)

Edited by softwareNerd
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I've heard Objectivists argue that one should never break the law even if the law is not objective, because in doing so one communicates to others that it's OK to break laws that one doesn't agree with, and if everybody follows this example we'll end up with anarchy. What do you think of this reasoning?

Are you sure you're accurately conveying their argument? If you are, then they would be implying that it's not OK to break any law, ever. It's not OK to break laws in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Iran, etc.

I really doubt any Objectivist would argue for that.

The argument I heard is that in the context of a relatively free country like the United States, one should follow all laws on principle. I disagree with that too (because the US has lots and lots of laws that aren't just wrong by honest error, but are in fact purposefully abusive of my rights - and following them would add only to those fascist tendencies, not to a free republic), but it's not as absurd an argument as what you are talking about.

What I would argue for is the notion that in a capitalist country (which will inevitably also have errors in its legislation and certainly in the implementation of the legislation) one should indeed follow the law on principle. And in general (even in other contexts, not just in politics and law), honest errors should be met with positive attention (helpful suggestions, attempts to fix them, etc), not resistance and rejection.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Around this time each year, a few million Americans break the law by betting money on filling out a basketball "bracket". Gambling is illegal in most jurisdictions. I wonder how many of these people, who are breaking the law in this way, then turn around and say they like immigrants but think those immigrants should obey the law.

Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 4 weeks later...

Jack B. Palmer worked for a company that he believed was violating immigration law, by bringing in people on a B-1 visa instead of an H1-B visa. Essentially, he claims they were bringing people in falsely saying they were coming for short visits, not to be employed here. (New York Times story here.)

He says he worries that the company "... will be slapped on the wrist and will continue to thwart our laws".

What other laws this guy is reporting. Does he know anybody who plays brackets? Has he reported them? Does he know anyone who does drugs? What about them? Does he report every neighbor who violates some minor city code?

People who claim they are against immigration because it is the law are simply liars. They ought to be honest and say they are in favor of immigration laws. It is the same lie about immigration-law repeated by Republicans all the time. The truth is that they support government force being used to keep out honest people who simply want to earn a living. Republicans will say "let's first protect the border and uphold the law, and then we can talk about reforming the law", but this makes no sense. If they really think the law is wrong, they would campaign to change it.

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