In my recent post “Don’t Regulate the Innocent, Punish the Guilty,” which concerned the proper role of government in a deadly tainted medication case, a correspondent raised the question of “where valid law ends and regulation begins.” It’s a good question.
Very briefly: Valid laws are laws that are objectively defined (i.e., clearly stated and sharply delimited) and that protect and do not violate individual rights. No other kind of law is legitimate.
Setting aside special circumstances such as military law, valid law comes in two forms: (1) laws that prohibit objectively defined rights-violating acts, such as assault, fraud, robbery, rape (criminal law); and (2) laws that provide a legal pathway for harmed parties to seek restitution from those who harmed them (civil law). That, in essence, is the extent of legitimate law.
Government regulation is illegitimate because it entails the legal imposition or prohibition of courses of private action in which no actual (or intended) rights-violations are evident.
As philosopher Harry Binswanger explains in “What is Objective Law?”, objective or valid law “does not require submitting to anyone’s will; it exists to prevent others from substituting their will, their plans, their judgment for one’s own.” He continues:
[A]ll regulatory agencies—all the alphabet commissions and boards from the original ICC right through the latest “environmental” agencies—are inherently non-objective [invalid] by virtue of being regulatory agencies. Regulatory agencies deal in preventive law, law that treats men as guilty in advance, requiring them to satisfy the government that they will not bring about a certain result, in the absence of any specific evidence that they will do so.
Government regulation by definition entails the initiation of force; it is therefore rights-violating and non-objective, and it has no place in a free society.
- A Civilized Society: The Necessary Conditions
- Capitalism and the Moral High Ground
- Don’t Regulate the Innocent, Punish the Guilty
- “Hate Crime” Laws are Gateways for Censorship and Statism
Image: Wikimedia Commons