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September 27, 2019 / Congau

Good Criminals

Sometimes it’s immoral not to be a criminal. If the law demands that you deliver Jews to the Gestapo, then you should break that law. If the law makes it impossible for you to feed yourself and your family, then it may be ethical to commit a crime and do what the law defines as stealing. Hopefully most people would agree that it is worse to be guilty of murder than to break an unjust law.

But then there are plenty of less extreme cases where the state seems to make unjust demands even though it doesn’t exactly require you to kill anyone. Still, if you have admitted that very bad laws should be broken, you have agreed to the principle that laws should not always be obeyed. Then where is the limit to be drawn? How bad must the law be for you to break it?

You may be in general agreement with the laws of your country, consenting that they are not perfect, but still insisting on their being followed rigorously. But you can still do a lot of bad, short of murder, by always obeying the authorities.

Would you tell the police everything? Would you report a close relative for a minor offense knowing that it might have serious consequences for him? Do you always obey laws that make no sense not knowing what it may lead to? You may have to break the speed limit to reach the hospital in time. You may need to take shortcuts.

If you are in the army, you must do what you are told because the fighting force depends on it. But if you are an ordinary citizen, the state works fine without your compliance in every minute detail. It’s important what you do only for real people around you. Don’t sacrifice people to please an anonymous state.

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