The controversy between anarcho-capitalists & advocates of limited government, concerning private protective agencies vs. government police & courts, has tended to blow up the whole issue of maintaining order, far beyond its true importance. One gets the impression of a Hobbesian society, with a war of all against all, where maybe half the population is employed as guards, whether government or private, to keep the other half from killing one another. I'd like to point out that this image is totally unlike reality.
Many of us, perhaps, have lost sight of how really moral most ordinary people are most of the time. Forget for a moment the screaming about law & order, & instead think about the real people that you know. Think about your neighbors, acquaintances, & business associates. Are they about to assault you, murder you, steal from you, defraud you? Do you go about armed to protect yourself against daily threats to your life & property? Unless the society you know at first hand is very different from the one I know, you must realize that you live among people who are, on the whole, peaceful & law abiding.
I am sure that the great majority of people do obey objective laws most of the time. They go about their daily business, dealing with one another in very complex ways. Some may be less cordial than others, but hardly anyone spends any time planning to use force against another, or thinking about how to defend himself against the possible use of force by one of his associates. And these are not exceptionally moral people; they are quite ordinary.
Some will say that people are law abiding because they know the police will get them if they break the law. I don't believe that this has much to do with it, altho, I admit, I can't prove it, since I can't set up a controlled experiment to demonstrate what would happen without police. But I ask you to try a little introspection. Why is it that you don't murder your neighbor or steal his property? Is it fear of the police? Or do you simply refuse to do what you know is immoral? Then ask yourself if you are so very different from most people in this respect.
Actually, most people will behave lawfully most of the time whether we have police or not. They behave lawfully because they realize it is in their long range self interest do do so. They don't want to live in a world where they have to go around fighting other people all the time, so they act morally, maybe even in a friendly way, & hope most other people will, too. And most other people do.
But we do need police or private guards. We need them to deal with rare situations: (1) the rare individual who violates objective law as a policy, & (2) the rare instance when an ordinarily moral person makes an exception & violates an objective law. This puts the matter into its proper perspective. Protection against criminals is important, just like fire insurance is important, but how often do you think about fire insurance? It's something way in the background, seldom needed, seldom thought about, but very nice to have in the rare instance when you might need it. In a free society defensive force would be much the same.
Of course, at present, the high morality of most of society is obscured by the vast number of non-objective statutory laws we have on the books. These laws violate the rights of individuals & make technical lawbreakers of almost all of us. In support of this, consider that, at present, the four highest numbers of Federal criminal cases are in these categories: auto theft, unlawful immigration, drug offenses, & draft violations. Notice that only one of these categories, auto theft, is a violation of objective law.
In addition, non-objective statutory law encourages disrespect for all law & confuses morally weak persons, which leads them to violate objective laws as well as other statutory laws. Thus statutory law is itself the chief cause of the rising crime rate in two ways: directly—be setting up more & more nonobjective prohibitions which people will morally violate, & indirectly—by encouraging persons who don't distinguish between objective & non-objective law into thinking that since they do violate the one, there is no reason why they shouldn't violate the other.
The point I am trying to make is this: due to the existing high morality of most people, in a free society, without non-objective prohibitions, the maintenance of law & order would be only a minor problem, not the earth-shaking concern all this discussion seems to imply.
James A. Stumm
Buffalo, New York
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".