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How Can a Free Society Protect Itself? August 17, 2007

Posted by federalist in Government, Open Questions.

An open question for Libertarian readers, as well as any who oppose the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, and all the trappings of a police state:

A civil society prides itself on its ability to presume every citizen innocent until proven guilty.  Libertarians chafe at the idea of a government spending resources “invading the privacy” of people who have not committed crimes in order to predict who intends to commit a crime, and punish them for that intention.

Is conspiracy to commit a crime ever itself a crime that deserves punishment?

Are there not people who will conspire to commit murder and yet will not be deterred from the act by any punishment that might be imposed after the fact?

Then does not the government, in its legitimate role of securing our lives and property, have the obligation to engage in prophylactic law enforcement activities to prevent those who cannot be deterred from committing terrible crimes against the citizenry?

If so, then how can we balance that obligation to proactively police against the risk of government abusing its police and intelligence powers?



1. Hamilton - August 20, 2007

Well it seems to be an academic argument… the real life situation is that such wire-tapping is going on, will continue to go on, and even has the approval of the Democrat-majority congress.

My opinion is that most libertarian philosophy carried out to the full extent is completely impractical, including the legalization and taxation of various drugs. Pure libertarianism exists in an idealistic, utopian, twilight zone of thought experiments.

2. federalist - October 29, 2007

Brett Stephens explores a similar question in his recent essay, “So Be It?

3. federalist - December 23, 2008
4. federalist - December 8, 2009

As Victor Hanson puts it:

We who created the Western way of war are very reluctant to resort to it due to post-modern cynicism, while those who didn’t create it are very eager to apply it due to pre-modern zealotry. And that’s a very lethal combination.

5. federalist - June 13, 2011

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