Benefits are a Justification for a State

Political obligation is the central problem in obeying the law. Questions invariably arise about the moral nature of law, Jim Crowe and slavery are commonly agreed to be immoral laws, but fully protected by the state at one time in America.

But a much broader question about government is troubling to ethical citizens, (presuming one is not a contractarian who believes the law CREATES morality but rather believes like Locke and the natural rights theorists, morality precedes law.) This question is: if morality precedes law, why do we need the law to protect morality? Why not just be ethical anarchists without the law? In fact, the law is often radically the wrong way to enforce morality, especially in dictatorships, i.e. North Korea. Also, the law is coercive; it forces citizens to follow trivial laws unrelated to morality. There was once a book that came out when I was a kid listing useless laws, the title of the book being a law, “Donkeys May not Sleep in Bathtubs.” However, there are moral issues, such as cheating on a spouse for instance, not addressed by the law.

Philosophical anarchists are of the persuasion that the coercion of the law is unnecessary if it is assumed morality already precedes legality. My position is not the philosophical anarchists’, because on a practical level, not a purely theoretical one, we benefit from medicine, environmental regulation, traffic laws, an enormous legal infrastructure which could not be organized without the law.

The question of immoral laws like Jim Crowe and slavery, are a question that moral citizens are more able to discuss with legality better than one hundred years ago. Non-dictatorial governments are able to rid themselves of abuse, as long as their government serves its citizens, not the state itself. I believe the problem with immoral laws, is not with law or government as a whole, but whether the government truly serves its citizens. Abolitionists such Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison used the statement in Jefferson’s Declaration, “All men are created equal,” to justify abolitionism. Without a just framework, it would be harder for moral progress to be made. Without any framework; it would not be clear how moral progress or benefits would be organized. Organization itself, is difficult without some political framework.

What philosophical anarchists end up with, as a system is not clear. The problem with philosophical anarchism, is that makes just criticisms of authority, but offers no solutions. What would we do if we were all anarchists? How would we get medicine, clothing, internet and reading material? These are not “given” to us by the government, but the government regulates infrastructures which checks products produced by civilians to ensure they are safe and useful: as the FDA is supposed to do generally, and as the EPA does to help clear, the US of toxins. Those in other countries (apologies for only mentioning American organizations) often offer similar organizations.

It’s not clear how benefits could be attained in an anarchist society.

Just a note. Jim Crow was never a law. It was a social separatist attitude among whites that had the practical force of a law until real laws were enacted and enforced to end the practice, beginning with the Civil Rights Act, the abolition of the poll tax, and the Voting Rights Act… Of course, the 1951 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas started a slow process towards integration, but the South did not really start to change until the mid-sixties.