Vices vs. Crimes

There is a declining libertarian in my house.  I’ve noticed this on past trips homes for holidays, but as of this Christmas weekend, it’s decidedly confirmed.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that I’m a little concerned that Glenn Beck has somehow managed to duplicate his mental state and program it into his listeners.  So needless to say, it was a welcome relief to see a great excerpt of Murray Rothbard (introducing a book by Lysander Spooner, the distinguished gentleman to the right) on today discussing the important distinction between vices and crimes:

Opponents of the idea of an objective morality commonly charge that moral theory functions as a tyranny over the individual. This, of course, happens with many theories of morality, but it cannot happen when the moral theory makes a sharp and clear distinction between the “immoral” and the “illegal,” or, in Spooner’s words, between “vices” and “crimes.” The immoral or the “vicious” may consist of a myriad of human actions, from matters of vital importance down to being nasty to one’s neighbor or to willful failure to take one’s vitamins. But none of them should be confused with an action that should be “illegal,” that is, an action to be prohibited by the violence of law. The latter, in Spooner’s libertarian view, should be confined strictly to the initiation of violence against the rights of person and property.

Other moral theories attempt to apply the law – the engine of socially legitimated violence – to compelling obedience to various norms of behavior; in contrast, libertarian moral theory asserts the immorality and injustice of interfering with any man’s (or rather, any non-criminal man’s) right to run his own life and property without interference. For the natural rights libertarian, then, his cognitive theory of justice is a great bulwark against the State’s eternal invasion of rights – in contrast to other moral theories which attempt to employ the State to combat immorality.

As Rothbard concludes, “it takes firmness in libertarian principle to make sure to confine one’s pietistic moral crusade to crime (e.g., slavery, statism), and not have it spill over to what anyone might designate as ‘vice.'” 

How right he is.

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