Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Law and Order Versus Law

One of the major philosophical divisions between the left and the right in this country is the distinction between laws as written and laws as applied.  I'm going to do a lot of generalizing here.  Bear with it, because I think there's something important in the generalizations in terms of understanding where the two parties come from.

The right believes in Law and Order.  Laws should be applied as written in all cases; there's very little room for personal discretion, both when deciding whether or not to follow a law, and in the courtroom.  Jury nullification flies in the face of justice, to the right.  As a result, the right is very concerned with the applications of laws; laws which could have unintended side-effects are very poor laws, and so they tend to prefer narrow laws which address specific situations.  They also regard loopholes as a minor problem, seeing them as an inevitable product of the legal system, and have no particular issue with people utilizing them.  (Although they will close them, once identified.)

The left believes in Law, less so in order.  Laws should be applied to solve the problem they were intended to solve.  They believe in personal discretion, both when deciding when to follow laws, and by the government when deciding how to apply them.  Laws shouldn't apply outside the problem they were intended to solve; when a law has collateral damage, they're likely to blame the police and the justice system, rather than the legislators who passed overbroad legislation.  They're more accepting of jury nullification, as long as it's directed at purposes outside the intended targets of the legislation.  The left is more concerned with the -implications- of laws, and so tend to prefer broader laws which cover things they didn't necessarily intend to cover, using personal discretion to solve the problems produced by this.  They regard loopholes with a conspiratorial eye, seeing narrow legislation which didn't cover a particular situation as having been crafted with that situation in mind, and regard individuals who utilize loopholes as flouting the law.  (The law, in this case, which doesn't exist.)

The government of the right depends on having good laws; they depend upon the system and the process being well-constructed.  The government of the left depends on having good people enforcing those laws; the system and the process are of relatively little importance to them.  The ideal government for the left is in fact lawless, formed of agencies which make decisions on an ad-hoc and situational basis; individuals in such a society are expected to behave at a socially acceptable minimum, and deviations below this minimum are legally punished, even when it's not clear when one has passed it.  The ideal government for the right has no laws which have not explicitly been passed; individuals are expected to behave according to the law, and there are no legal punishments for behavior outside the law.  This means the right is more likely to pass laws directed against behavior they regard as immoral.

The left prefers a law which is ambiguous and mutable, resulting in a situation in which nobody is punished unjustly (by their standards), but in which there are no clear rules about what is and what is not acceptable.  The right prefers a law which is rigid and predictable, resulting in a situation in which one can always know when one is within the bounds of the laws, but in which individuals may be punished for situations over which they have no control.


  1. "The government of the left depends on having good people enforcing those laws"

    And there is the critical failure point. I can put up with a lot of bullshit. However, having the ground shift beneath my feet constantly and living at the whim of whoever the current breeze checker in power is sucks too much. Even for me.

    1. I agree entirely.

      I tried to present the distinction neutrally - not certain how well I succeeded - because I'm fully invested in the idea of knowing your enemy, and it's hard to assess your enemies when you do so in contempt of them.

      Such policies have served me well thus far; I've made fools of several of my philosophic opponents, and perhaps more importantly, shifted some of my own philosophic views, mostly to the end of lessening my hostility towards the right. (I have hostility towards both, but the right at least seems willing to change, albeit grudgingly.)