You Have the Right To Do Whatever You Want, Unless or Until It Infringes Upon the Rights of Another To Do the Same

This is the third in a series of three essays.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plentitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” It’s as if each of us is circumscribed by an invisible membrane that defines where our own rights end and the rights of those around us begin. A person is harmed when this membrane is punctured by another. Crimes occur when this membrane is breached. Legitimate laws exist only to define this membrane, but cannot extend past it.

If someone is going to disagree with one of my three principles, this is usually the one. While some may argue that what constitutes a right is not clearly defined, and what constitutes infringement is often ambiguous, as I pointed out in my second principle, our own justice system is predicated on our innate ability to judge for ourselves when the rights of another have been violated, when this membrane has been pierced. If this were not true, then juries would have no purpose.

Often referred to as the Libertarian Principle, it outlines a third class of laws, which are by far the most numerous in our society. These laws may not be in direct opposition to natural law. They may not be obviously immoral. They may even, at first glance, seem entirely sensible. But nonetheless they require the violation of individual rights, either by themselves or by their means of enforcement. This class of laws seeks to define victimless crimes — things like speeding or the use of drugs — outlawing actions that by themselves harm no one. They do not cross the membrane, so they violate no one else’s rights. Without a violation, there can be no victim, and without a victim there can be no crime.

We’ve all heard a friend or acquaintance say, “there should be a law…,” in response to some perceived injustice. The truth is, there shouldn’t, and this is the principle they are attempting to violate when they say that. As we saw in my first principle, no one has the right to tell other people what to do. And, by my second principle, when you say there should be a law, what you are actually saying is, “someone should initiate force against that person, up to and possibly including lethal force, in order to make them stop whatever it is they are doing, even though it isn’t directly harming anyone else.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in that world.

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those that just want to be left alone, and those who won’t leave them alone. Which one are you? I am definitely one of the former, but most people are one of the latter (even if they say they’re one of the former). They are perfectly willing to live and let live. That is, until their neighbor puts up a basketball hoop in his driveway. Or someone wants to stock up on cold medicine at Walgreens. Or they want to travel to, or buy something from, Cuba. Then suddenly they want the authorities to step in and prevent and/or punish this so-called “crime.” I’ve only listed a few examples, but the list of victimless crimes is almost endless in our society today. From the ridiculous (preventing model rocketry hobbyists from storing rocket engines without BATFE permission), to the even more ridiculous (federal regulations dictating how much water per flush your toilet can use). So much for live and let live.

Legislators are enacting this nonsense, and it makes one wonder if they even pay attention to the oath they take to uphold and defend the Constitution, when the Ninth and Tenth Amendments remind us that the Constitution is there to limit the government’s powers, not we the people’s. We retain the right to do whatever we want, until we harm someone else.

Leave a Reply