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?