Distorting the marketplace of ideas
Posted by aogMonday, 23 February 2004 at 09:50 TrackBack Ping URL

Here’s another example of the “it’s not about the rule of law, it’s about how I feel” school of political thought. In this case, the poster is supporting the illegal granting of marriage licenses in San Francisco. The biggest flaw here is that while civil disobedience is a long honored tradition in America, this episode hardly counts.

In the first place, government officials should enforce the law. If such enforcement becomes subject to the political whims of the officials then we don’t have the rule of law anymore, but the rule of personal opinion. If the official thinks the law is unjust, he should resign, not simply choose his own law.

That leads to the second point, which is that civil disobedience carries a price, which in this case at minimum should involve firing the official. But of course, in modern society, no one should ever suffer for their own actions. That’s a bad idea.

It seems to me that cost-free protest is simply another form of socialism. The essence is making something seem free by the expedient of pushing the cost off to other people.There’s no such thing as free lunch. Civil disobedience is costly - pretending that bucking law and society is without cost is delusional, a delusion supported by transferring the cost from the protestors to the rest of society. This doesn’t mean that civil disobenience can’t be worthwhile, only that it should be used for things with a benefit large enough to outweigh the costs. Artificially subsidizing it is a distortion in the market place of ideas.