Law limits power. It limits the power of individuals, institutions and governments. But in a lawless society no limitation on power applies.
By Daniel Greenfield l June 23, 2012
A lawless society is a depressing place to live because it’s a place completely without law. And while going lawless might be appealing, we aren’t talking about an end to laws requiring you to wear bicycle helmets or drink small sodas. Not even laws ordering you to pay recycle, pay taxes and join up during a war. These are laws, but they’re also ordinances, commands and compulsions. They are not really any different from your parents telling you to wash behind your ears or a mugger ordering you to give him your money. They might be right or wrong, but they aren’t law.
Law exists apart from what a group of people at any given time want you to do. That is why the aged nature of the United States Constitution is a strength. The farther away we travel from 1788, the less that the foibles and frailties of the Framers affect us. The transitory human things fall away leaving only the essence of law.
A Bill of Rights drafted today would look very different than it did back then. Not only would there be no Second Amendment, but most of the others would read dramatically different. There would be few severe restrictions on government power. Nor would there be unlimited Freedom of Speech. The entire thing would run a few thousand pages and would be filled with all sorts of escape clauses, which when added together would render the whole thing meaningless.
Take for example the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which includes dozens of new rights, such as the right of asylum, the right to environmental protection and consumer protection, and the right to social security, in addition to the more basic rights familiar to Americans, but it comes with a simple addendum.
“Any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognized by this Charter must be provided for by law and respect the essence of those rights and freedoms. Subject to the principle of proportionality, limitations may be made only if they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognized by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.”
Which is to say there is freedom of speech, only until a compelling argument can be made why banning someone’s freedom of speech will help protect the general interests of the European Union or the rights of others to have environmental protection and social security.
That is the essence of a lawless society, which is to say that there are oodles and oodles of law, but it’s merely a complicated way for those in power to enforce their will on others. If you want to force people to do something, all you need to do is study enough clauses, lay out your reasoning and it’s done.
It’s law in the same sense that a mugger putting a gun to your head is law. He has a gun and he makes the laws. The laws don’t apply to him. They don’t apply in any larger universal fashion. The mugger can choose to suspend any laws at his whim, because he has a gun.
The United States has drifted into lawlessness, into laws that are the guns of government. Want to force everyone to buy health insurance? Pass a law. Ignore any questions of legality because legality doesn’t matter. If people come out to protest, send out your SEIU thugs to beat them. If you lose your Senate majority, use Reconciliation to pass it. If the Supreme Court threatens to investigate the Constitutionality of the law, threaten the Court.
The only thing separating tactics like these from the mugger on the corner is public interest. Which is to say that the government is playing Robin Hood. It isn’t mugging you because it likes the smell of money, but because it wants to help those less fortunate. Robin Hood was rebelling against the illegal authority of the Sheriff of Nottingham. And our government is rebelling against the authority of… the people and the law.
The government is the outlaw, doing what it likes because it must resist all the “powerful interests,” the most powerful of them being the Middle Class. The Revolution becomes permanent, with the Reds in power constantly rebelling against the bourgeois capitalists by raising taxes and outlawing soda. Every year, the outlaws swing out of the trees, rob the merchants and ride back to Washington D.C. for a glorious feast over the stolen goods, which they may in some small way share with a few peasants, to secure their support.
This farce can take place under the guise of law, but it represents a lawless society. Law limits power. It limits the power of individuals, institutions and governments. But in a lawless society no limitation on power applies if the power is being applied for the sake of the higher ideals, which the society can be said to represent. If those higher ideals involve helping the poor, then every institution can act like Robin Hood. And it’s perfectly legal, because there is no law.
In a lawless society, law is a function of emotion. The one who screams the loudest gets his way if he can influence enough people to believe that he has a case. Laws get made from a sense of “rightness” that is entirely a function of emotion. Everyone operates in the egotistical “I feel” mode, sharing and feeling their mutual pain, and passing laws to outlaw anyone from hurting anyone else… unless it is in the interest of preventing pain.
Rights become entirely positive and empathy based. Negative rights become associated with selfishness. Everyone has the right to a thousand benefits, but no one has the right to opt out. Everyone is free to speak their mind, so long as it is an expression of need, rather than a demand to be left alone.
Empathy makes for very bad law, because it isn’t law at all. It’s a subjective response to the suffering of others. And often those who excel at marketing their suffering aren’t suffering at all, while those who are genuinely suffering remain silent. Empathy-based law commodifies pain, but it’s empty of justice.
A lawless society is one where those who manipulate empathy gain power. Where temporary outrage substitutes for policy. A video that stirs anger and goes viral matters more than law. Everyone is a muckraker, and everything is a muck of competing narratives because everyone is a victim and everyone is dirty at the same time.
There is no law and so every case, every incident is political, because law is made on an ad hoc basis. One side projects grief, the other side charges cynicism. The side that manipulates the emotions of the crowd most deftly, wins. Every politician is an actor, every debate is a performance and every victory is a chance to gather more spoils.
The idea that there should be one law for all, rather than one law for the sufferers and another for those who aren’t suffering, is alien to a society where empathy trumps law. Rather than making it easier for the rich and poor to compete, the rich hobble the middle-class for the benefit of the poor. Rather than outlawing racial discrimination, it’s reversed so that it favors those discriminated against. Rather than doing the right thing, the left does the Robin Hood thing, leaping from the tree, looting the society, and writing songs about its own dashing courage.
The government-media complex acts out the empathy narrative. Its reporting has nothing to do with the facts, but everything to do with emotion. A law is bad when it protects the privilege of the opposition, but good when it protects their privilege. The powers of the Senate, the Executive and the Supreme Court are good when they serve their ends, but bad when they serve the ends of their enemy. The blame always goes to one side, the side blocking their agenda.
A society that lives by law can have laws that mean something, but in a lawless society, a law only matters so long as it serves the purpose of those in power. When it doesn’t, then it’s ignored or tossed aside.
Last week we witnessed Obama playing Robin Hood by casting aside immigration law and transparency to the jubilant cheers of the media, whose fondest wish is for politicians to play Robin Hood, cut all the Gordian Knots and just carry out their agenda without regard for the law. That is what they wanted, that is what they got. But a lawless society cuts both ways and takes the system out of the protection of the law.
Law is impartial. It states absolute principles that apply regardless of faction and position. But in a lawless society, there is no law, only power. The left has ushered in a lawless society, but we will all have to live with the consequences.
Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to