We’re surrounded by concerns over what is legal and what isn’t. But what, really, do we mean by “legal”?
The first and most practical meaning of the word, of course, is “things you won’t be punished for doing.”
That definition, however, has never been sufficient for public use. That’s because it’s too stark. If the situation was as simple as a law enforcer saying to John Doe, “Do it the way I tell you or I’ll beat you with my fists,” Mr. Doe would eventually find ways to disobey safely or to cripple the enforcer.
Brute-force enforcement can work, but not over a long period of time, and always at a very considerable cost.
In order to secure long-term, effective obedience from humans, some rationale beyond a fear of violence must be used. People must believe that obeying the enforcer’s word is the right thing to do. That’s why codes of law invoke some type of unseen higher power: a divinity, the “will of the people,” “the way of our ancestors,” or the like. People need a reason to obey, beyond fear.
And by putting the reason to obey above and away from daily life, it cannot be questioned effectively: The higher power has spoken, and only an evil person would question it.
The Exceptions to the Rule
There are times when law is based upon reason, rather than force and edicts from an unquestionable entity. Those times tend to come when political power breaks down. Our best example of it was the common law of England.
The common law began to form in the vacuum of Rome’s influence. The great empire had fallen, leaving people to develop their own ideas. It was a time of reset and reversion toward a natural state.
An early king named Alfred attempted to codify the existing laws around 890 AD. He wrote:
Now I, King Alfred, have collected these laws, and have given orders for copies to be made of many of those which our predecessors observed, and which I myself approved.
Alfred did not write these laws – he collected the previous laws of the people and put them together. This pattern continued:
The Charter of Liberties published by Henry I in 1100 AD says that things ought to be done “through force of law and custom,” or “in a lawful manner.” Henry accepted that that law came from the people (that is, by custom) and not from the state.
The 1164 Clarendon Constitution of England cites a “record and recognition of a certain portion of the customs and liberties and rights of… ancestors.” Thus, laws and customs of the people, rather than laws imposed by rulers, became the law of England.
Even Magna Carta followed the model. Article 39 (1215 version) read:
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
Note that the ultimate arbiter was not the king, but “the law of the land.”
The law that came out of this formation was called the common law. It was developed through the decisions of judges, rather than through legislative statutes or executive edicts. And it was updated by judges, not by legislators. There were no legislators in the modern sense.
The Revolution of 1800
In the decades surrounding 1800 AD, we in the West were given a new type of rulership, featuring three main parts: representatives, legislation, and police. This arrangement, which is incorrectly called Democracy, is how men are ruled today. Under this system, law is no longer based upon reason and doesn’t have to be justified by custom or even by effectiveness – laws are freshly created by an elite class of “representatives.”
This new class of representatives can change the law any time it wishes. In fact, it adds thousands of new laws every year – far more than anyone can memorize. They may play lip service to the common law, but common law and legislation are two very different things, and legislation rules the day.
These days, what is “legal” is controlled by a corrupt political elite. Their law contradicts its own foundational statements, is impossible to know in its entirety, and is enforced arbitrarily.
Reason is no longer a tool of safety. The actions that may trigger punishment cannot be fully understood. The enforcer class will hurt you upon command, asking no questions as to right. Our forefathers would have called this tyranny.
What Shall We Do?
In this situation, three particular actions make sense:
- Stop taking laws created by a representative class seriously from any moral standpoint. These are the edicts of people who employ enforcers, and nothing more. Their invocations of constitutions and higher powers are sucker-bait.
- We do, unfortunately, need to be aware of how the enforcers are hurting people. There is value in staying safe.
- We should start building our own ways of obtaining safety and justice.
Our schooling championed the interests of those who paid our teachers. Now it’s time for us to look after our own interests.