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What’s Right & What’s Legal

While I’m a big advocate of personal freedoms, I could never embrace libertarianism.  There’s too little recognition of what brings us together as social beings, not enough pragmatism.  Then there are the unfortunate backwaters that an unyielding defense of liberty leads to – tax resistance, antipathy to laws prohibiting discrimination, etc.  

But I loved this piece from the libertarian Reason.com blog the other day – “why I’m teaching my son to break the law.”  It plays into a debate I often have with my son; at 14, he’s got a heightened fear of the consequences of breaking rules.  I can respect that concern, and as a parent, I don’t want to see him getting into trouble for trouble’s sake.  But as I try to tell him, sometimes what’s right doesn’t line up with what’s legal.  Rules aren’t imbued with some kind of moral weight just because a government body, bureaucrat or majority of the citizenry voted for them.  Sometimes the least right laws are the most popular.  Sometimes laws are enacted that are flatly unconstitutional.  And sometimes the law is an ass.

As I’ve written before, I’m convinced that being too scrupulous about rules-following is a dangerous way to ride a bike.  But it’s also a dangerous way to live as a citizen.  The only way to stay free to stand up, to question authority and to push back on bad laws. For as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed:

“The wise know that foolish legislation is a rope of sand, that perishes in the twisting.”  

Twist away.

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