300 Million Criminals

Chapter 4 of Robert LeFevre‘s book “The Nature of Man and His Government” is titled “The Law Factory”. In this chapter, LeFevre points out that one of the inevitable consequences of government is the explosion of rules, regulations, restrictions, etc. such that everyone unwittingly becomes a criminal. We are reduced to the condition of the plebeians of the early Roman Republic before the publication of the Twelve Tables. None of us really knows what the laws are and whether or not we are violating them as we go about our day-to-day lives. As LeFevre points out, this is not a bug, rather it is an inevitable feature of government.

LeFevre’s book was published in 1959. Fast forward to 2009, when Harvey Silverglate publishes “Three Felonies A Day” (which I have not read, but it is on my list) which updates and expands LeFevre’s insights. Here is a description of Silverglate’s book:

Three Felonies a Day is the story of how citizens from all walks of life—doctors, accountants, businessmen, political activists, and others—have found themselves the targets of federal prosecutions, despite sensibly believing that they did nothing wrong, broke no laws, and harmed not a single person. From the perspective of both a legal practitioner who has represented the wrongfully-accused, and of a legal observer who has written about these trends for the past four decades, Three Felonies a Day brings home how individual liberty is threatened by zealous crusades from the Department of Justice. Even the most intelligent and informed citizen (including lawyers and judges, for that matter) cannot predict with any reasonable assurance whether a wide range of seemingly ordinary activities might be regarded by federal prosecutors as felonies.

I will end this post with all of chapter 4 of LeFevre’s book. I encourage readers to go to Voluntarist.com to read the rest of the book and the other useful pro-freedom resources on the site.

The Law Factory

Having granted that a government can perform a defensive function by apprehending and punishing the criminal, we must look at government on a broader scale.

It is immediately apparent that there is no government in all the world, saving only extremely small and local constabularies, which reserves for itself solely this simple and at least partially constructive function. The prevention of crime and the punishment of the criminal have become, in most instances, subsidiary departments of government. In the main, governments have gone far beyond this field of activity.

Today governments concern themselves in general not with criminals, but with law-abiding citizens. Every citizen is a victim of the aggressive tactics of government. Government begins by seizing the arbitrary and total power of deciding how much money it wants. Then it collects the money without a care or concern for the plight of the individual who must pay or be punished like a criminal.

Next, the government establishes hundreds and thousands of regulations which prescribe particular practices and proscribe others. Almost every action of every citizen has its legal “do” and “don’t.”

The list of prohibitions and compulsions is too lengthy for cataloguing here. But it pertains to business operations, licenses, building regulations, zoning, hours of employment, prices, trade, quotas, embargoes, subsidies, grants-in-aid, traffic, assembly, slander, libel, trespass, health, cleanliness, quality, quantity, method, education, indoctrination, propaganda, news, pictures, morals, food, drink, clothing, housing, sanitation, roads, farm products, transportation, search, seizure, mental outlook, exchange of parcels by post, and so on.

It can truthfully be said that there is almost no activity in which human beings engage which is free of legality. Think what you will, do what you will, there is a law somewhere which either compels, limits, or prohibits.

Try to think of something that people do. With the possible exception of breathing, laws bristle from the activity like quills from a porcupine. And the result of all these laws is to make any individual who does not conform in every respect, a lawbreaker.

Thus, the average person today, buttressed in by government, surrounded and overshadowed by government, finds himself a lawbreaker several times during an average day. And this fact turns him from being a law-abiding citizen into a lawbreaking citizen and equates him with any criminal who, in fact, breaks a law with aggressive intent.

But the government, as has been shown, cannot concern itself with anything but the universal obedience it must enforce. Thus, any violation of law becomes in essence a punishable offense. And whereas the government does maintain certain classifications — civil, criminal, and the like — the fact remains that even in civil matters government can and will punish and apprehend with vigor. This is not the fault of government. This is the nature of government.

This is the major point which must be understood eventually. Government which passes and enforces endless rules and codes is not out of character when it does so. It is in character. That is the way any government operates. And the longer a given government endures, the more numerous will be the laws it enacts. It is the business of government to pass laws and to enforce them. These laws are the productive sum of all governmental effort. Therefore it is not to be wondered at when thousands and thousands of new laws come into existence every year. It would rather be a marvel if this did not happen.

Government is a law factory. It passes laws in the same manner that another type of factory extrudes metal molding. Government is a lawmaking tool.

But, whereas a factory which extrudes metal molding is providing a product which is useful to the citizens generally, and which certain citizens will purchase voluntarily; the government factory extrudes compulsion which is useful principally to the government, itself, but is purchased in advance by the people, who are never in a position to refuse to buy.

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