When to Arrest a Criminal Who is Planning a Crime?

* From: P
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2018 9:11 AM
To: wblock@loyno.edu
Subject: Suspected Terrorism

Dear Professor Block: Not too long ago a Danish girl was sentenced to eight years in prison for planning a terrorist attack. A short summary of the story can be read here in English:


What would a legitimate response be to finding out about a planned terrorist attack in an anarchist society? In the case of the aforementioned girl, she had committed other crimes. If we disregard these and focus on the planned terrorist attack, would it be morally defendable to jail her even though her crimes were only planned but not yet committed? Best regards, P

Dear P: I don’t think there is any clear answer to your question that emanates from libertarian (or indeed any other reasonable) theory. That is due to the continuum problem, on which see below. I am now thinking of killing Joe Blow (he was mean to me, and I’m a psychopath). I’m “planning” on doing this. My planning consists, solely, of visualizing him being shot, or poisoned, or run over by my car as I drive it into him. If the forces of law and order can read my mind, they know all this. However, at this point, I don’t think violence should be used against me. On the other hand, if in addition I follow him around, write down his schedule, buy poison, start walking toward his house with a pizza laced with poison (I know he orders from the xyz pizza place, and I buy a fake uniform of theirs; I monitor his calls to them), I think I should be arrested when I’m within a short distance (a mile? a 100 yards? About to knock on his door?) of his house. In other words, we don’t have to wait until the attack actually occurs, but we may not use violence to stop it in the very early stages of “planning” either. Please do read what I have published on this issue, as I have wrestled with this challenge at great length there:

Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166, June; http://www2.units.it/~etica/; http://www2.units.it/~etica/2008_1/BLOCKBARNETT.pdf


6:59 pm on February 24, 2018