Saturday, January 26, 2008

Vices Are Not Crimes

Reading William Norman Grigg's blog post on the drug war and some of the fallout that occurs because of it got me thinking of why people think that victimless "crime" should be outlawed by the state. Why can't people do what they want, as long as they don't hurt somebody else or their property? Perhaps it's easy for me to see why because I was exposed to an incredible essay written in 1875 by a man named Lysander Spooner. The name of the essay is "Vices Are Not Crimes," and it shows that actions some think are wrong and yet harm no one ("vices") should never be considered crimes. It is still well worth the read over 130 years later! It begins like this:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting.

It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth.

Read the rest of Spooner's essay, and also see this great introduction by Murray Rothbard.

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