The penalty is always death

published Apr 21, 2013, last modified Jun 26, 2013

If you resist, you will be killed. By Mike Gogulski.

One of the great triumphs of civilization touted by liberal-minded thinkers around the world these days is the abolition of the death penalty in most of the planet’s “more-civilized” countries, with some notable exceptions. Without question, it is an advancement that the State’s premeditated, long-calculated and coldly applied murder of helpless prisoners, separated mostly by gulfs of time, space and sometimes personal reform,  has come to be seen widely as an abomination which cannot be tolerated.

I would submit, though, that these thinkers celebrate too soon. The State’s ultimate penalty for real crime (initiations of force or fraud against people or their property) as well as all those non-crimes the State takes umbrage at is always death. This is the nature of the State; killing is the instrument by which it maintains itself.

To be sure, the State is mostly careful to not exercise the penalty too often. The system of compulsion and coercion, backed by the ultimate tool of death, is one which States have learned functions much better when the sword is cloaked in layers of misdirection and abstraction. The simple — and perhaps more honest — compulsion of the local tyrant demanding of his subjects, “Do it thus, or I shall kill you,” has been replaced with a long chain of escalation beginning with paper things like demands for compliance and citations, leading through more forceful papers such as summonses and warrants, but ultimately grounded upon the power of that barely-concealed blade.

If we accept the natural-rights view of self defense as given by libertarian theory, we can see that the penalty for every infraction is death.

Fail to pay your taxes? You will be killed.

Consume a proscribed substance? Death awaits you.

Neglect or ignore some trivial regulation? Murder is your fate.

“Oh come now,” they will cry, “the government doesn’t kill people for not paying their taxes!” In general this is true. In general people are compliant, whether out of worship or fear. But as situations escalate from non-compliance to the State’s demand for enforcement, be sure that the blade remains ready to plunge into the belly of the scofflaw.

I’m quite fond of hyperbolic examples. Let’s make one now.

Imagine that Bob is a fruit vendor. He sells apples, oranges and plums, and prices them by the piece. He advertises them at “12 for $3″ or “20 for $5″, or at whatever price he determines he can sell them profitably.

One day a policeman comes around to Bob’s stand and tells him about a new law. The State has adopted a new numbering system, duodecimal, which uses base-12 instead of base-10 decimal notation. The State has passed a law saying that all transactions, offers, sales, etc., must be denoted in duodecimal.

The policeman informs Bob that his signage is out of order. “12 for $3″ must be replaced by “10 for $3″, and “20 for $5″ must be replaced by “18 for $5″. Because Bob is in violation of the law, the policeman issues Bob a citation ordering him to comply and imposing a fine for breaking the law.

Bob naturally looks at this as ridiculous. Everyone he sells fruit to understands decimal notation, and to change it would only create confusion. Further, Bob knows that he’s committed no crime, no offense against the person or property of another. Bob refuses the citation and tells the policeman to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

A few days later, Bob receives a letter saying that the fine has been imposed on him by a judge, that he has 30 days to pay it, and that he must comply with the new duodecimal law. As before, Bob ignores this letter and this judge, harming and having harmed no person or thing.

Thirty days pass, sixty days, ninety. Bob keeps on selling his decimal-denominated fruit during the day and going home to enjoy time with his family in the evening. One day another letter arrives stating that the judge has issued an order which says that if Bob does not comply with the first letter within 5 days, he will be in criminal contempt of court and subject to arrest and a term of imprisonment. Bob is disturbed, of course, by this threat against his person, but ignores it as he might ignore the taunts of a bully on the street.

A week later, a group of armed men wearing clown suits appear at Bob’s door and say they are there to arrest Bob and take him before the judge. Bob tells them he won’t go, as he’s done nothing wrong, but the uniformed thugs are insistent. He closes the door in their faces. They break down the door and enter Bob’s home, guns drawn against Bob and his family.

Bob then, in fear of his life and the life of his family, perhaps draws a pistol and tells the clowns to go away. Perhaps he attempts to flee. The clowns shoot him dead.

In the aftermath, the killing is sanctified among the State’s organized criminals as justifiable, since Bob failed to comply with lawful demands, threatened police officers and resisted arrest. The State’s worshipers and pawns fall all over themselves to praise the brave uniformed thugs and denounce Bob as having “had it coming.”

The penalty is always death.

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