Yesterday, Thursday July 7, five cops were killed and 6 others were wounded in downtown Dallas, Texas. The attack was apparently carried out as a well-organized ambush by two gunmen.
I will concern my self with one question: are these killings morally justified?
To begin answering, we first need some definitions.
Law is not legislation
As Donald Boudreaux explains in this talk, what the state decides to put into legislation is fundamentally different from law, in the natural-law sense.
“Law” is fundamentally concerned with what is right and wrong. It is agreed upon by all members of a given society. For example in most countries, murder is considered to be wrong or immoral by almost everyone.
In contrast, legislation is the body of rules that the state unilaterally has decided that it wants its subjects to abide by. It then goes about unilaterally enforcing these rules. It does not ask its subjects for their opinion in writing the legislation. Indeed, there is even no need for the affected parties – you and I for example – to sign the legislation. Legislation may thus be likened to an agreement, except only one party determines the content and all other parties are not asked to sign it. The state enforces its rules no matter if the affected subjects agree with the rules or not. For example, the state has agreed with itself that it may steal from its subjects – it calls this “taxation” – and if subjects refuse to comply with “tax legislation”, the state may furthermore kidnap and cage (arrest and jail) such subjects. If any subject resists this, then the state has decided that it is even fine for its enforcers to murder such an unfortunate person.
As such, legislation is inherently immoral, whereas law is inherently moral.
What is a cop?
Cops are also referred to as “law enforcement officers.” This is inaccurate: they enforce legislation, not law. And the “officer” part just means that the state likes the enforcement they do for it so much that they give them a nice-sounding job title to go with the nice-looking uniform. The title “Law Enforcement Officer” is meant to obfuscate the facts of what a cop really is and does, and what the state really is and does.
Removing all the finery and propaganda, so to speak, a cop really is nothing more or less than a member of a gang that enforces the rules unilaterally set into place by that same gang. This gang is the state. The rules are inherently immoral because they are forced upon the state’s victims through coercion backed up by whatever level of threat or violence is necessary to enforce any particular rule in any particular situation.
When is killing justified?
Killing a human being is the ultimate penalty for immoral behavior. There are various culturally dependent historically varying moral sentiments regarding when killing is or is not justified. It might be argued that if a person murders another person, the relatives of that person would be justified in killing the murderer. More generally accepted is the moral sentiment that killing in self defense is justified, at least when it is a matter of life or death for the aggressor’s victim.
However, the decision to act directly and ad-hoc solely on the basis of individual moral sentiment would only be the norm in primitive society. In a free, civilized society, as Hans Hermann Hoppe for example explains, people would enter into private law agreements with each other. If some people in such a society believe that convicted murderers should be killed in turn by relatives of the victim, they are free to enter into agreements stipulating that they themselves will be subject to this law. If other people feel that different penalties – such as financial restitution – are more moral than revenge killing, they are free to enter into those kinds of agreements. These agreements would be enforced by independent private law agencies who would also arrange between themselves how to handle situation where for example the murderer and the victim and his family subscribe to different moral views. In such a society there would be no one-sided rules enforced by that same side, by agents protected by, again, that same side, almost irrespective of their behavior.
Living morally is made difficult by state coercion
It is difficult to act morally today, because most aspects of our lives are regulated by legislation and enforced by thugs. In a just and civilized society, most interaction with fellow human beings would be defined by agreements, entered into voluntarily by all involved parties and both the enforcement and the arbitration of these agreements would be handled by independent third parties. For example, instead of one gang doing all the enforcing – of it’s own arbitrary rules – there would be many protection agencies offering their services and competing with each other. Such service companies would less frequently end up killing innocent people, compared with the state thugs we know today, because doing so would have quick and terrible consequences for their bottom line. As we have seen so many times, state thugs – cops – frequently get away with killing the innocent with small or no consequences.
Some morally good actions are prohibited by state legislation. Examples are building shelters for the homeless and feeding them.
On the other hand, many morally bad actions are not only sanctioned by the state – the state carries them out itself. This includes taxation – which is really just theft – and the murder of its subjects as happens regularly when cops kill unarmed citizens, for example in the Alton Sterling case.
Are the Dallas cop killings justified?
Assuming that the dead cops have never themselves killed anyone, then certainly and obviously these killings are unjustified and immoral.
Even if they had killed innocents this must of course be established beyond doubt by a fair trial and independent arbitration (i.e. not by the state) before even considering killing the perpetrators as an act of retributive justice. Even if that were the case, my personal moral sentiment is that killing a thug for killing an innocent person is not the best option. It would be better for that person and the victims if the killer was sentenced to make severe restitution in, likely for the rest of his life, and to be cut off from free society.
The fact that other cops have killed many innocents does not justify killing cops that were not personally involved in those killings, even if they must bear some of the responsibility as members and supporters of the same gang.
To get from the moral abyss that humanity is stuck in a the moment – coercive legislation enforced by the legislator’s thugs – to a civilized society will take a long time and hard work. Violence is seen by some as a shortcut, but it mostly has the opposite effect of moving the hope of freedom further away. The result of these cop killings will be more rallying to the state, more support for collectivism, more support for the thugs that call themselves “Law Enforcement Officers”. So in addition to being immoral, it is also a very stupid and selfish act for which the killers indeed deserve to suffer most severe consequences. Even cops deserve justice.
If you disagree, please leave a comment and explain why.