Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Goldberg, Libertarians, and Law Enforcement

Jonah Goldberg has written a column on the death of Eric Garner that gives me some insight into the libertarian mindset.  He writes to defend Rand Paul's comment on the subject:
I think there’s something bigger than the individual circumstances. . . . I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so that’s driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, ‘Hey we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ . . . For someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.
The choice of words is poor, Goldberg acknowledges, but the point is sound.  Because to Goldberg as a libertarian, police killing law breakers is the end point of the law -- any law.  That is why we should have as few laws as possible.  "The state is about violence. You can talk all day about how 'government is just another word for those things we do together,' but what makes government work is force, not hugs."

Thus to a libertarian like Goldberg, police-community relations, or deep hostility between police and black communities, or excessive force,or even people being killed by police are not in and of themselves important issues.  They are simply inevitable side effects of having a police force at all. This is not to suggest that Goldberg is an anarchist or wants to do away with police forces.  He simply considers it inevitable that when they enforce, they will use force, and that when they use force, sometimes it will be excessive, sometimes people will even be killed.  The best way to avoid it, from the viewpoint of a libertarian like Goldberg, is to keep our number of laws to the bare minimum necessary so that police will have as few opportunities to use excessive force as possible.

I can see some problems in that viewpoint.  For instance, even a libertarian like Goldberg presumably sees a ban on shoplifting (as was the case in Ferguson) as legitimate.  Which would mean that when the Ferguson police shot and killed a shoplifter, a libertarian could only greet it with a shrug.  Officer Wilson was upholding a legitimate law against theft.  A few incidents like this are simply the price we pay to maintain law and order.

Well, speaking as a liberal, I disagree.  It is possible to enforce the law without resort to excessive force.  The amount of force appropriate is and should be proportionate to the crime in question.  Why, earlier today, a deranged man in New York (apparently black) invaded a synagogue, stabbed a student, charged the policeman called to the scene with a knife, and was fatally shot.  I have no complaint there.  The man attempted murder and was posing a serious threat to people around him. The use of deadly force was entirely appropriate.  It is an altogether different matter from killing a shoplifter or a cigarette peddler.  And, yes, the poor state of relations between the police department and many black communities is a serious issue, whether one considers any particular regulation legitimate or not.

It does offer me some insight, though, into why libertarians like Goldberg see the most important issue of freedom and government as confining government within the narrowest possible scope, rather than properly controlling its use of force.  They have simply dismissed properly controlling its use of force as a lost cause and therefore confine themselves to minimizing such instances.

Cross posted at Essayist-Lawyer

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home