The law and loss of moral authority

To put our current legal situation into context you have to ask one basic question; what is law? Is law as we have been lead to believe, the codification of statutes defining what is illegal or not? Or is there some inherent property of moral righteousness that must exist for that law to have force?

I will argue that there is a moral component of law that must be present to make the system of law work. I am, of course, aware that there are many places that laws are passed that have no moral basis at all. There are dictatorships around the world that oppress their peoples and use their codified statutes to imprison and kill any who dissent.

The ultimate example of this is was the Nazi Germany government who made it legal to kill Jews. It was not only legal, but a system of laws was implemented to guide their extermination. But those laws, even though written out with penalties for those who did not follow them by the legislature, were illegal.

It is a basic component of the human being to know right from wrong. It is the reason that human beings set up laws in the first place. They are set up to make sure that innocents are not victimized by the predacious in our societies. In virtually every place that a human society exists, whether on a group, tribal or civilization level, there are always laws that govern behavior. Even those that break the laws have a sense of righteousness. In prison populations, if the prisoners feel that they are being treated in a fair and just manner they will comply with the rules and follow the system. Take away that feeling of just and fair treatment and prison riots and mayhem ensues. The prisoners realize that they have broken the law and when treated humanely will accept their punishment for the most part. The prisoners know that they have committed a wrong and they knew the possible penalty beforehand and knew what they risked. If torture, mal-treatment and other injuries are added to the punishment then a situation of self-righteousness is set up. The only way to control a prison population under those circumstances is with solitary confinement and complete isolation; if left to exist within prison society it would quickly conflagrate into confrontation.

In places where law exists without any moral authority there is always rebellion brewing just under the surface of society. The dictators and bureaucracies of these societies must rule with an iron fist because they know that one moment of slackness will have them swept from power and executed or exiled. Every single individual who is subject to these laws knows that they are illegal. How can they be illegal if they are written into law you might ask; Is that not the definition of law?

My argument is that it is the moral component of the law that is essential for it to work. It has nothing to with writing a statute and everything to do with human nature. We are after all the ones who create the laws, then write them and in the end follow them. It is at the very core of our nature to organize and codify law because we are innately social by nature and always end up forming some type of society that must have rules. It is also our own feeling of self-righteousness that makes us create the laws.

Certain things are innately wrong and one person should not be able to do this or that to another, and that is the basic creator of law. Laws don’t start out as regulations to govern society. They start out as basic rules of moral behavior; don’t steal from those in our community, don’t kill anyone and don’t try to take my wife. It is this same sense of self-righteousness that drives us to rebel when we know that a law is being applied without any righteous basis.

Take traffic laws for an example. Someone is driving down the highway when they suddenly see blue lights in the rearview. They were oblivious to their speed, lost in thought, and look down at the speedometer and see that they are doing 70 M.P.H. When the cop walks up and gives them a speeding ticket for doing 70 M.P.H. in a 50 M.P.H zone, there is little room for self-righteousness. Most people knowing that they broke the law, and one enacted for public safety, will accept the ticket and pay it without even showing up in court. The next example is the opposite.

Someone is rolling down the highway and the only difference in the scenario is that when they look down they see that they are only doing 45 M.P.H. They continue on for a while, waiting for the cop to go around them. When they eventually pull over, part of it is curiosity as to why he would be stopping them. In this case when a 70 M.P.H. ticket is handed out the reaction is going to be entirely different. That person will go to court. In addition to going to court, if not resolved there, they will spend large amounts of time and money to right the injustice. They will actually spend time and money far out of proportion to the actual injustice that happened because they are self-righteous.

Now imagine that the law was written like this: If you are driving down the highway you can be pulled over and issued a speeding ticket at any time no matter what your speed was. That is the point where the law goes against human nature. People would naturally begin to rebel against it because of its inherent injustice. In the second case it is not only that person’s right to rebel against the law, but also their moral obligation. They have a moral obligation to rebel because they should be seeking to re-establish moral law. If they live in human society then moral law, compatible with human nature should be the rule. If this is not the case, then they are being set up to have very bad things happen.

The Jews in Nazi Germany also had a moral obligation to fight and for the most part they did not (With the notable and heroic exception of the Warsaw ghetto and a few others) and were led to their slaughter. They had a moral obligation not just to themselves, but to their fellow Jews and compatriots. They were obligated to save their children, their mothers and fathers and other humans and in the end, for the most part did not.

Instead they followed the laws of Nazi Germany. (Just as the German soldiers at the Nuremberg trials did) They agreed to be registered because to not do so would be breaking the law. They showed up in groups to be transported away because to not do so would be breaking the law. They gave up their goods and businesses and money because not to do so would be breaking the law. There were, of course, severe penalties for breaking the law such as being imprisoned or just disappearing into the night and that drove most to comply.

I know that faith also played a part for many and I am not judging their actions or inaction. I am simply stating the results of what happened by their following the law and putting forward the fact that we are all morally obligated to act when law becomes illegal or immoral.

When law has lost its moral authority and becomes nothing more than something punitive to arbitrarily punish enemies then it is not true law; or at least not true to human nature , by which we all act. In that case all the law becomes is a fear of retribution. No one cares if they break the law for they feel no guilt about doing so and we humans, for the most part, are moral beings. Personally I don’t rob people because it is against the law. I don’t rob people because of the fact that it is morally wrong and I have no desire to violently take from another to gain wealth. I will die before I take the sustenance of another to live.

Once the moral component of law is removed only fear of punishment remains. If someone follows the law it is only because they don’t want to be fined or imprisoned; It I not because they have a moral imperative. But fear only goes so far; when the law becomes illegal its moral authority is transferred to those against whom it is used. They now have righteousness on their side and righteousness has a way of cancelling out fear.

Counter-intuitively, the more injustice that is piled on the more it is met with resistance. The IRA is an excellent example. By the 1960’s their membership was flagging and their armed struggle against the British was at very low ebb. That all changed on bloody Sunday when British troops opened fire into a crowd of demonstrators and killed and wounded a number of them. Instead of being frightened by this, they were outraged and active resistance against them doubled. A vicious cycle was started as the British escalated their actions in response to the increase in attacks and therefore caused even more.

The result of the British crackdown was the highest membership in the IRA in history and the start of a real shooting war. The level of violence escalated to a point never seen before and eventually drove the Brits to sue for peace. The danger of enrolling in the outlawed organization was more than offset by the sense of self-righteous outrage that was generated by the deaths and military lock down of entire neighborhoods. When one joined the IRA it was not a matter of if you would die or be imprisoned, but rather when. Still, even knowing what the outcome would be the ranks of the IRA swelled to enormous numbers. When the British military began a covert assassination program to kill suspected IRA members and affiliates, instead of instilling fear it just added to the sense of outrage and drove more to join and fight.

It was the (Legal) injustice of what was being done that gave the moral righteousness to the IRA and drove them to war. I bring this all up because we are now, in our own society, entering an era of legal lawlessness. We will be forced to make choices about how we respond when confronted with these laws. From the patriot act to the NSA spying, the NDAA authorization of indefinite detention, the IRS and the DOJ it is becoming clear that we are living in an increasingly lawless society.

The lawlessness is not on the part of the people, but rather on the part of those writing the law. The irony is that as the laws become more illegitimate the numbers of them are increasing exponentially. There are already so many federal laws on the books that at any given time any given individual is guilty of a crime. We have now become beholden to the very institutions that are supposed to be serving us as a society. Instead of serving us, the people, they now serve the bureaucracy instead. The bureaucracy and the institutions thereof have become the center of law giving rather than we as citizens. The law, rather than protecting us has become an instrument to protect the bureaucracy and punish those who disagree with it.

We have come to the point where our laws are becoming as corrupt as any given banana republic and if we do not actually want to become one, then we need to make a stand and say enough is enough. I am sure that while I have been writing this that I have committed at least three crimes; either by what I have written or done or thought or possibly what type of lighting I used. Do I care? No not at all. My sense of self- righteous indignation has grown to the point that I have no fear. I have no fear of death or imprisonment. The level of outrage has grown in me to the point that I will go to war.

Will they put me in prison? Go ahead lock me up with a captive audience and let me speak the truth to them; I will leave with an army of self-righteous individuals. Of course the speaking of this truth is illegal in prison, but at this point what is law? We all have hard choices coming up in the future; choices that could affect the rest of our lives and need to decide how to act. In the end how we act is going to be influenced by how the legal system acts. Let me end this with a question: If you receive a letter from the IRS informing you that you are subject to an audit, is your hard drive going to crash? I know that mine is.

2 responses to “The law and loss of moral authority

  1. Reblogged this on The way I see things … and commented:
    “It is a basic component of the human being to know right from wrong.
    …. it is the moral component of the law that is essential for it to work. It has nothing to with writing a statute and everything to do with human nature.”

  2. I leave you with one of the all time great reads…..
    http://www.constitution.org/cmt/bastiat/the_law.html

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