at how well laws protect freedom. In the U.S., a person is completely
free to live his or her life ... as long as he or she doesn't mind:
needing a piece of paper to officially exist or cease to exist;
I sure feel free after compiling that list -- which could be much longer if I'd have invested a few minutes into thinking about the laws I'm aware of.
So, what about the argument that laws are required for individuals to be responsible? Although I agree that individual responsibility is an essential component of a civil society, I am unconvinced that laws help create individual responsibility. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite.
Murder and rape? I never hear about such horrible crimes these days -- after all, they've been illegal for years. Now that carjacking is a federal offense, it's stopped, too. Since the Brady Bill keeps guns out of criminals' hands, we don't need any more gun laws. Megan's Law stopped sexual abuse of children, so I don't bother to watch mine any more -- the law keeps them safe. I haven't heard of a case of counterfeiting in years, so I don't know what all that hoopla was over the new peachy-keen $20 bills. And of course, CAN-SPAM does a splendid job of keeping my inbox free of unsolicited email!
Now that we're all done laughing, we can return to more serious matters. Individual responsibility is indeed a fundamental element of freedom. But laws do not enable responsibility. Instead, they encourage mental and moral laziness, and thereby foster irresponsibility. This happens in several ways.
Many individuals grow up without developing an internal set of principles for guiding their behavior. Instead, they may transform from relying on their parents' edicts (which may often be justified with nothing but, "Because I said so!") to relying on the state's edicts, in the form of laws, never bothering to think through the issues, much less the fundamental concepts of right and wrong. Some individuals never formulate their own set of guides, and thus are ripe for exploitation, which enables the horrors that are only possible under a coercive system of law, such as the National Socialist German Workers' Party -- more commonly known as the Nazi Party.
Moral laziness helps instill mental laziness. Individuals without a moral compass are more likely to choose the easy course when thinking through a dilemma. Often, they ultimately reason something like, "If it were wrong there'd be a law against it". A few individuals go so far as to rationalize that an activity isn't wrong unless he or she gets caught breaking a law.
As a state noses more and more into individuals' private lives -- an inevitable occurrence -- its laws begin to stray from principles into the murky realm of attempting to prescribe and proscribe behaviors. As a result, some individuals become used to looking to the state to tell them how to live their lives, rather than thinking for themselves about the proper ways humans should act. Very often, laws of this sort are written with good intentions but have the worst of consequences. An excellent example are welfare laws that encourage pregnant women to stay single and become supported by the state, rather than marry or rely on family or private charity.
Other areas of law establish limits on the conditions under which an individual may seek restitution from another for harm. Thus, as long as a company is within the state's mandated pollution limit, it cannot be held liable for harm even though real damage may be occurring. Such laws have the perverse effect of encouraging specific levels of irresponsibility.
Because laws include an element of punishment for breaking them, they can breed irresponsibility out of a fear of punishment. This is very common where the law gives individuals permission (in the form of licenses and such) to perform certain kinds of work. The so-called War on Drugs has spilled over from illegal substances (which are illegal primarily because they haven't been some powerful group's form of pleasure in the past) to certain prescription medications, with tragic results. Because of the fear of arrests, and possibly losing medical licenses, doctors have become so afraid of prescribing pain relievers that many people with cancer or chronic conditions like arthritis are unable to get the medication they need in order to be able to just get some rest, or to be able to function.
A fundamental difficulty with relying on law as a basis for behavior is that it ultimately places the justification for or against specific actions outside each individual. Laws command, often without explanation, so individuals who do try to think in terms of principles or morals generally aren't given reasons to voluntarily choose to accept the law's authority in their lives. Absent a sense of personal investment in a social system, individuals will make their own choices as they see fit, which is exactly what we see in the U.S. today regarding compliance with numerous laws. Speeding laws, building codes, drinking laws -- these are just a few examples of laws that many individuals routinely ignore because they're viewed as means of control and income-generation for the state rather than means to create or maintain a civil society.
are animals -- to deny that is to deny our nature. We will always have
some among us who display the worst tendencies of that nature. However,
our powerful, creative brains give us the means to rise above it, and
to create social systems that allow us to flourish. I would much rather
take my chances in a truly free society -- where individuals voluntarily
choose to join it, and to craft the guidelines for their transactions
-- than in even the most benevolent tyranny of rule under the law.