Highwaymen vs. Agents of Official Plunder: The Correct Terminology

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Police officers who stop motorists in search of cash or other assets to be stolen in the name of “asset forfeiture” are engaged in robbery, but it is incorrect to use the expression “Highwaymen” to describe armed agents of government plunder, explains LRC reader Timothy Paul Madden:

“I collect and read antique law dictionaries and just wanted to let you know that when the private sector does it it is called `highway robbery,’ but if it is directly or indirectly sanctioned by government, then it is more correctly called `brigandage,’ meaning a small lightly armed military or paramilitary force stopping traffic on the public highways for/with the purpose of raising a revenue for the government.”

Similarly, it could be considered technically incorrect to refer to plunder-lusting police as “road pirates,” since there are, within that generic term, some very important distinctions to be made.

In his informative and hugely entertaining book The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, Professor Peter T. Leeson of George Mason University distinguishes between “pirates” and “buccaneers” — who were “pure outlaws” operating without official sanction — and seafaring bandits known as “privateers” and “corsairs,” who “had government backing” and were “commissioned … to attack and seize enemy nations’ merchant ships during war.”

The latter description makes a very comfortable fit with the behavior of police involved in the Regime’s drug war against the public, in which every motorist is perceived as the enemy, and every private or commercial vehicle as a legitimate target for seizure.

10:53 am on June 23, 2014