THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Speranza is on her way
Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013

Law vs Morality

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law -
The linked article expresses something important, but I don't agree with the author that a defiant approach is necessarily what makes libertarians tick. I certainly hope I would be brave enough to break a law as vile as the Fugitive Slave Act, but I know that I am generally law-abiding. In fact, I think it is my desire to comply with the law that made me a libertarian.

For example, I took my name off the roll of solicitors partly because I would not risk being obliged - as I could be under current law - to breach a client's trust by denouncing him secretly to the authorities. When I was on the management committee of a big law firm, I was horrified to discover just how many such denunciations its lawyers made each year. Solicitors (just like accountants and bankers) have effectively been conscripted into the secret police. I think the profession's job is to explain the law to clients and help them achieve their goals in compliance with it. I don't think it exists to "shop" clients they suspect may not be complying. I was lucky enough, having practised abroad for 20 years; advising clients who were mostly not British, never to be in a position where I should have called the cops. If I returned to the practice of law in England, however, I could not be sure my luck would hold.

I discussed this with a friend who remains a solicitor and he told me he shared my disgust at these laws, but had decided simply never to comply. This, even though that would make him a criminal and expose him to the risk of severe penalties. I have thought about that conversation a lot and concluded that I may be the more law-abiding, but he is the more moral. In practical terms, his approach also means that good people remain in the profession, rather than being driven out. It means that there is a chance clients may encounter a lawyer who will help them back to compliance, rather than into gaol. I may be a better citizen, from the point of view of the law-enforcers, but he is a braver and better man. He is also not a libertarian, perhaps because he doesn't need to be?

My libertarianism is not that of a maverick with contempt for the law. It is driven by a desire to have a set of laws with which I can honourably comply. I think there would be far more libertarians if more people understood the complexity - and essential immorality - of many of our laws. New Labour created more than 3000 new crimes in Britain. If you don't know what they are, how do you know you are not a criminal? For that matter, if you don't know what they are, how do you know they are moral? Do you really trust politicians that much?

So, gentle readers, what do you think? Are laws there to be obeyed, or to be broken? And where is the line to be drawn?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I think I agree with Navigator.


But neither is lawful.


And both should be.


One is illegal.


I don't press the "START" button in the car until 29th April, James. I fly to the States on 24th April but will spend a few days in New York City first.


A police force.

james higham

How's the trip going?


Dear Mr Paine

What is the difference between government and organised crime?



Thank you. I do try to do the right thing, but I also try to stay compliant if I possibly can. I suspect you are the braver man when it comes to matters of principle. To my knowledge you have taken severe personal damage to live by your principles, whereas I have often failed to live by mine.

I have, fortunately, never been tested in any serious way. My life has been blessed in that respect. I am not at all confident that I would pass the test, particularly if standing up for my principles would endanger the welfare of my family. It's easy to be brave in theory, but history shows us most of us are - to be polite - pragmatic in practice.


None, as far as I know. Just as my grandfather respected Labour for nationalising his business in 1946 in (as he saw it) the honest belief that it would make a better world but was angry with the Conservatives for privatising it without sharing the proceeds with him, I am probably more angry with the Tories for doing nothing to correct things than I am with the openly authoritarian socialists for acting on their (albeit wicked) principles.


I think the grave error is for anyone to consider in determining their own actions "What is legal?' rather than "What is right?'. On many occasions the answer is the same, but that is co-incidence in this perverted system we have.

The only way to live a just life is to ask the latter.

This is what I strive to do, and having the good fortune to know you personally, I know you do too, and it should also be said a large number of people do, albeit, it seems to me, many fewer than used to even two generations ago.

Suboptimal Planet

Great post.

"New Labour created more than 3000 new crimes in Britain"

... and how many of those has the Coalition abolished?

Of all the dangerous steps taken under 13 years of Blair and Brown, which you've been blogging about since 2005, how many have been reversed?


I think all laws should have a sunset clause so that politicians are constantly occupied re-enacting those they think most important. But that's cloud-cuckoo land too...


So in the case of my learned friend, if he finds himself in a position where he *should* denounce a client, but doesn't, he should turn himself in? He might as well comply, because the effect would be the same.

barnacle bill

We shouldn't need to have to draw a line in the sand, instead we should have elected representatives who will only draw up good legislation, but that's cloud-cuckoo land unfortunately.
Instead I choose to look upon a law and ask myself if it will do good for society on the whole if I obey it or, if it will do harm then it's a case of the old blind eye.
But perhaps we should have a six year term for parliaments, in where the first year is spent tidying up the mess left by the previous tennants?


I think you can be morally right to break the law at times. That's because the law is never moral. However you should also be prepared to take the consequences. So if you do break the law on principle, you should also stand up for your principles and go to jail.

The comments to this entry are closed.