Cicero, the murdered Roman statesman, explained the law thusly:
“Law is the highest reason implanted in nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite.”
Most men know the law without resort to a lengthy civil or criminal code. They know it through simple living, passively absorbed common law, and mostly by religious teaching and custom. Indeed, the most basic laws governing one man’s relationship with another are the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife and so on.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that law’s going beyond these few simple things creates more problems than it solves, hands one man unjust power over another, and creates a parasitic political class and Leviathan government.
Bad law invites contempt not only for government but also for the law itself.
A few facts about the law, which permits government or its agents to do all of the following:
If a business doesn’t hire an applicant of the “right” color or sex, the owner is punished.
Government repeatedly taxes the same income: when it is earned, when it is spent, when investments earn dividends, and finally, when a citizen dies. These taxes do not include other government “fees.”
Government prosecutes crime victims.
Bureaucrats tell doctors how to practice medicine, and stop manufacturers from marketing life-saving drugs.
Illiterate teachers and bureaucrats “educate” your children.
Government requires drivers to pay five different fees, each requiring proof of payment: a license, a registration, a license plate, a county tax decal and state inspection sticker.
Courts levy fines for not wearing a seat belt.
Government tells barkeeps and restaurateurs to forbid smoking at their businesses.
Government sells liquor.
Government permits doctors to perform abortions on minors without parental consent. Government gives teenage girls birth control pills without their parents’ knowledge.
Judges strike down laws they do not like, and write new laws in their place.
Courts help dishonest plaintiffs put companies out of business with frivolous lawsuits.
Government murders foreign leaders and citizens.
Something Is Wrong
Something is wrong when government, using a mammoth tome of unintelligible laws, takes a citizen’s money and gives it to someone else.
Something is wrong with a law that tells a small businessman who he must hire, or that regulates smoking on private property.
Something is wrong with a law that tells parents they cannot know whether a teenage daughter and abortionist are murdering their grandchild.
Something is wrong when government prosecutes frightened citizens who use guns to protect themselves from violent criminals. Something is wrong when a lawnmower manufacturer is held liable, because an idiot nearly cut off his leg when he used a mower to trim a waist-high hedge.
Something is wrong when government can tell a doctor what to charge for a procedure, or tell parents how to educate a child.
What’s wrong is this: Law has gone beyond the legitimate purview Cicero and others described.
Contrary To Cicero
National ruin looms ahead of us for many reasons: cultural disintegration, public education, mass immigration, racial strife, and abortion, to name just a few.
But almost all these ills can be traced to irksome, unjust or ill-conceived laws, which breed scorn for appropriate and just laws.
Most laws seem contrary to Cicero’s model: They command what shouldn’t be done and forbid the opposite.
August 4, 2003
Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.