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Saturday, April 1, 1995

Libertarians and Crime

Are Government Violations Worse Than Private Violations of Rights?

In his article “The Real Enemy of Liberty” (December 1994), Robert James Bidinotto laments that crime “curiously … has gotten scant attention from most proponents of the free market system,”

Bidinotto goes on to say that “Free marketeers typically posit government per se as the enemy of individual rights and liberty…. [And] in their eagerness to denounce governmental violations of rights, these same individuals ignore the very evils that governments were established to eradicate: individual violations of rights.”

If all our taxes were used by government officials for the sole purpose of defending against and punishing internal crime, and defending from attack from enemies outside our country, it is probable that no free market and libertarian organizations would ever have come into existence.

But we are skewered to geometric tax levels to pay for the cost of thousands and thousands of functions that government should not be involved with. If the attention of government today were focused on and confined to combat crime, crime would once again become the entire focus of government action, with undivided attention.

Surely Mr. Bidinotto is not suggesting that libertarians opt for another crime bill to spend billions to be raised by further increases in taxes!

My greatest fear by far is of those who plunder and enslave me legally. I have no personal protection against government plunder, except to enter the overwhelming battle of numbers where it may take forty years to throw the rascals out via the ballot box. That is the fear libertarians are immersed in and talking about.

Hopefully, Mr. Bidinotto, will distinguish the difference and get off the backs of libertarians.


—John C. Sparks
Canton, Ohio

Robert James Bidinotto replies

I agree that government has diverted resources and attention away from its basic goal–that of fighting crime–into a vast array of activities that are morally onerous and constitutionally unwarranted.

In fact, that’s exactly what I argue in my book, Criminal Justice? Welfare state programs “diverted badly needed funds from the criminal justice system…. [As a result,] police are underfunded and undermanned to face the ever-mounting crime wave; court dockets are flooded with impossible caseloads; jails and prisons are filled to overflowing.” (Pages 66-67) If public spending were redirected toward establishing justice and public safety, we’d certainly need no increase in taxes.

However, I disagree that governmental violations of rights are somehow worse than private violations of rights. To most Americans, who victimizes them is far less important than the fact of their victimization. They thus find libertarian indifference to the current carnage on our streets bizarre and disproportionate, when contrasted with libertarian obsession with the hypothetical possibility of future dictatorship.

Libertarians must decide whether their defining purpose is a narrow “anti-statism,” or if it’s a broader defense of individual rights against any enemy, public or private. Should they continue to ignore or minimize the valid concerns of ordinary Americans about private violations of rights (crimes), their cause will rightly remain socially marginal and culturally impotent.

—Robert James Bidinotto

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