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When Law Becomes The Tyrant - By Joel Aaron Foster

June 30, 2014

In honor of the Dog Days of Summer, we are releasing a series of thought provoking essays from AFP Georgia staff on the philosophical underpinnings that drive free market ideas and individual liberty.

Liberty is preserved in a delicate balance. If Liberty is truly the gift of Divine Providence to all Mankind then why do we seek to own and distribute that which is only ours to manage? If it does not stand alone, if it is wielded by man, it becomes a product rather than an ideal. Th social engineer seeks to maneuver out of a false sense of his own benevolence; in fact, he naturally becomes a benevolent dictator, at best, though he will never recognize this in himself. Frederic Bastiat gives an incredible discourse on the power of law as force in his phenomenal book, The Law. I will add my own thoughts to his assertions.

Mankind’s urge to form others in his own image is an unnatural outgrowth of his depravity, built from an insufficient belief in the potential of and respect for his fellow man. An Omniscient Being is capable of a full appreciation of a human being based on his full understanding of the capacity of man; consequently a man who holds faith (for he must hold it in faith, he cannot hold it in actuality) in keeping that perspective sees and believes in his unlimited capacity. The social engineer, in his own finitude, sees his fellow man for what is demonstrable, namely, his accomplishments and shortcomings, not for who he can be, his inherent potential. Operating from this limitation, the social engineer seeks to limit his fellow man for his perceived liability to the whole. The engineer’s own self righteous argument is that he is simply working to limit the risk of another on society. There is an implied omniscience in this assumption, a complete absurdity. But who are the finite to determine risk? Life, liberty, property, all existed before him and will exist after he is gone; these things are not ours to control, only to manage. They do not exist BECAUSE man created laws. Man created laws BECAUSE they exist. Law only has the power of preservation or destruction, never creation.

Law, as defined by Bastiat, is the “collective organization of lawful defense.” Therefore, law is a defensive posture. It is negative force. If it were ever to become positive force it would become destructive of its own purpose; it would take on an entirely opposite dimension, that of aggressor rather than defender of man. Law is meant to restrain, not initiate us. The very existence of law is a testament to our own human incapacities and weaknesses. We are declaring our need for order and the boundaries to maintain it. This, in essence, is the reason why many misguided souls seek to defy law or make law a tool of arbitrary power. An arbitrary tool can never stand in conviction of anyone. It is malleable. It is also unreliable.

Many will never see the need for fixed law because they will never acknowledge their own incapacities and weaknesses. It grows from the most rudimentary vice of human nature. Pride. Acknowledging these things is part of true humanity though many have gone the opposite route. The regressive thinking that now dominates post-modern society began with a lack of understanding. It became a lack of acknowledgement of a need for understanding and it has blossomed into a full-scale hostility toward any acknowledgement of a need for understanding. Willful ignorance. The open hostility has a calcifying effect. We have moved beyond ambivalence to a defensiveness toward even questioning our own assumptions. How can we find truth when our most honest efforts begin with an aversion to truth as a category? We can hardly say the word truth without using quotation marks!

The paradox of freedom is found in the necessity of order which is secured by law. Freedom itself cannot exist without boundaries, because the boundaries give us the assurances we need in order to take risk. The seeds of anarchy develop from a vacuum of lawlessness. They destroy the equilibrium, they render us slaves to the unreliable environments of our own making. We become incapacitated by our own distrust of self and others, disillusioned by the lack of order; the lack of boundaries provide a lack of measurable context.

What does the difference between fixed law and arbitrary law look like? In a world where law is merely used as defense and no respecter of persons (meaning an advocate for no one arbitrarily determined group) we would never have reason to petition the State for a redress of grievances. The grievances, to whatever extent they exist, would not emanate from the State. The focus would be on our own personal development unencumbered by the fear of that which we feel indebted to or abused by. The present focus on government stems from it’s law-as-the-aggressor posture. We vacillate between extremes; a feeling of indebtedness to or bitterness toward government. In either camp, we consume valuable resources that are better spent in a creative capacity.

When law is restricted to a defensive posture, a negative force, WE are freed to create as a positive force. When law becomes the aggressor, we are reduced to a defense of our persons, liberties and property. Our energy is diverted and distracted from creation because our incentives shift. We become wall builders rather than window dressers. Law in the hands of the lawless is a destructive, not a restrictive force. It no longer defends man. It is his worst oppressor.

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