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A Word from Kropotkin

With hat-tip to Bryan Caplan*, of all people!

Parents and schools should be at great pains to see that the children learn this, take it to heart, learn to apply it productively. (I mean, you might know that the horses are leaving piles on the roadway, but the DIY method of taking care of the problem is not to kill all the horses.) It’s one of the main points which libertarianism, the Tea Party movement, and any other sensible political or philosophical group should stress.

In existing States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. If the road between two villages is impassable, the peasant says, “There should be a law about parish roads.” If a park-keeper takes advantage of the want of spirit in those who follow him with servile obedience and insults one of them, the insulted man says, “There should be a law to enjoin more politeness upon the park-keepers.” If there is stagnation in agriculture or commerce, the husbandman, cattle-breeder, or corn-speculator argues, “It is protective legislation which we require.” Down to the old clothesman there is not one who does not demand a law to protect his own little trade. If the employer lowers wages or increases the hours of labor, the politician in embryo explains, “We must have a law to put all that to rights.” In short, a law everywhere and for everything! A law about fashions, a law about mad dogs, a law about virtue, a law to put a stop to all the vices and all the evils which result from human indolence and cowardice.

–Peter Kropotkin,
“Law and Authority”

*Bryan Douglas Caplan is an American economist, a professor of Economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog. Wikipedia

He contributes to


  1. I have long thought that a “legislature” (a factory for making new “laws”) is a terrible blunder – although the Executive making “laws” (via Executive Orders and Delegated Legislation – “Statutory Instruments” as they are called in Britain) is even worse.

    An assembly should exist – but it should be there to control government SPENDING and to hold officials to account (not to make new laws).

    Perhaps the Texas system of the “Legislature” (I do not like the name) is best – have them only meet a few days a year (but have the Governor “weak” also – and Governors do NOT have wide powers in Texas).

    Although the members of the Assembly or Senate -should not paid.

    I believe they are not paid in New Mexico.

  2. Roue le Jour says:

    People calling for more laws frequently talk as if the mere fact of making something illegal ensures that it won’t happen. In fact what declaring an activity illegal does is authorise agents of the state to interfere with people suspected of the activity, and to harm people found guilty of that activity.

    So, “there should be a law against this” really means “people suspected of this should be harassed and possibly harmed”. Which is harder to say and still sound like a caring liberal.

  3. John Galt says:

    People calling for more laws frequently talk as if the mere fact of making something illegal ensures that it won’t happen.

    Yup, you’d think we’d learn wouldn’t you? It’s like the fact that many mid-west towns closed or sold their jails on the eve of prohibition because they thought they would be unnecessary as there would be no more crime once the evil of liquor and booze were abolished.

    Draconian gun laws, like the UK’s are another example. You’ll never lose a bet on how naïve and stupid people can be, especially in groups.

  4. john in cheshire says:

    All laws should have a finite life, so that if they are not renewed by popular vote, they fall away. Maybe if the bureaucrats were to be occupied with this, housekeeping, matter, they wouldn’t have any time to think up new repressive measures. Another advantage, of course is that fewer laws need fewer people to enforce them, so public spending costs fall and taxes too.

  5. nemesis says:

    “People calling for more laws frequently talk as if the mere fact of making something illegal ensures that it won’t happen.”

    Quite. The outlaws find a way round it and the negligent carry on as before.

    There are quite a few who like the idea of Laws in the abstract. It is only when they realize it would apply to them personally they get uncomfortable about it.

  6. Julie near Chicago says:

    So why should I be different? Absolutely right, RlJ.

    And wasn’t there a discussion about the reflexive “the way to fix this problem is, we gotta make a rule [talking about the coffee at work] or a law” either here or at Perry’s Place, awhile back? Seems to me it was here.

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