Pyotr Kropotkin-Wikimedia-Public Domain
By Richard Girard
We hear a great deal these days from conservatives and libertarians about the dangers of the "nanny state," and its effect on our society both individually and collectively.
There are too many people who use the term "nanny state" as a pejorative for any law that they dislike, or for which they feel there is no need. The term "miniarchy" and "miniarchists" have come into use by those individuals who believe that government should be reduced to the size that it can be drown in a bathtub, and that its nose should be allowed just above water level.
The mind of the believer in the existence of the "nanny state" is a self-limited one; it is a mindset that wishes to avoid the higher responsibilities that are incumbent in the existence of organized civilization under the social contract that makes our living together in large groups possible.
If the only thing that you believe that you have any duty towards is that small number of things for which you are directly responsible, you are not free. You cannot be free if you so limit yourself, or you take no actions to insure that others are not under constraints over which they have no realistic control.
For example: in theory, an African-American could vote in the Deep South before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, the real world constraints under which the Deep South's political and electoral system operated, made voting for most African-Americans impossible.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Lord Chancellor of England--writing the decision for the House of Lords (then as now, the UK's equivalent to our Supreme Court) stated in the case of Vernon v. Bethell, Eden 2, 113, (1762) --was as correct 250 years ago as he is today: "Necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men: but to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms the crafty may impose upon them."
So if we are to limit our laws to prevent the "evil" acts of "criminally-minded" individuals, what are those acts and who are those individuals that we may define as evil and criminal?
I think we would all agree that acts such as murder, theft, assault, unlawful detention, and fraud constitute crimes. But is that absolute?
If I kill or assault someone in defense of myself or another, is that murder or assault? What if I am preemptive about defending myself or another?
If I buy a functioning company, strip it of its assets (including pension and health care funds paid for in whole or in part by the employees), and then bankrupt it to decrease my tax burden, leaving thousands destitute and without work, is that theft? The former employees would certainly say it is theft; predatory capitalists would disagree.
If I lie about the qualities of a product I sell to the public, and do so by inference rather than direct statement, does that constitute fraud or freedom of speech?
If you are "prevented" from leaving a "religious compound," by its members, convinced by those members' fraudulent assertions that you need to stay there "for your own good," to avoid being corrupted by the outside world, are you imprisoned? If you are cut off from all other information, and are under constant pressure to ignore all contrary information and stay with your religious group by your friends and family in the compound, the people you see everyday, is that unlawful detention or freedom of religion? I believe that it is unlawful detention, as does any person who has ever lost a member of their family to a cult.
So I think we can safely say that few if any actions of themselves (and none I can think of) can be, in a general sense, necessarily and universally evil. Even the heinous crimes of sexual assault and rape are in fact the commission of sexual intercourse without another individual's informed consent and awareness. It is the intent of the rapist to inflict themselves upon their victim without their consent or awareness that makes it a crime, not the act of sexual intercourse itself. It does not matter if the act is coerced, or inflicted upon a less than aware individual (because they are drunk, drugged, underage, or mentally incompetent), it is the matters of consent and awareness that that makes it sexual assault or rape. "No" always means "No."