Is it the Lawmakers or Law Enforcers who are to Blame?

Austin White

Another gem brought to us by Austin White, originally posted to his site, Stop The State:

Walter Block has a very interesting defense of the inciter of a riot.  He argues that a person who inspires others to commit violent acts is guilty of no violent act at all because the inciter is doing no more than engaging in free speech activity.  The act of advocating violence is not a violent act and directly harms no one, therefore the inciter should not be held responsible for any chaos that ensues from his words.  It is the fools who listen to and carry out the inciter’s wishes who should be held responsible.  They were completely free to reject the inciter’s evil suggestions to loot or destroy, but instead voluntarily chose to do evil.

This is a sound argument and many libertarians would agree with it, but fail to apply it consistently when it comes to the lower-level members of government – especially the police and military.

Even among self-described libertarian friends I frequently hear excuses for the evils committed by police and soldiers. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” “They have to follow the lawmakers’ or their superiors’ commands.” “It’s not their fault; it’s the politicians’ faults.

Perhaps it’s because more Americans than ever have a friend or relative who is a cop or soldier and they don’t want to rock the boat too much and lose that relationship. Maybe they daydream about converting their cop uncle and soldier cousin to liberty and so they tone down their libertarianism to make the philosophy appear more attractive to police and military men, knowing that the philosophy unadulterated condemns those chosen careers.

These motivations don’t change the fact that they are cutting cops and soldiers far too much undeserved slack and failing to hold them responsible for the evils they commit on behalf of the American State. Libertarians who do this are performing a disservice to the future of liberty because it is precisely allowing those who commit evil to get away without being held responsible that the evils continue. If cops and soldiers were instead condemned there would be a reduction in the evil they are willing to perform.

What are the legislatures, lawmakers, judges, generals, governors, and even the president of the State other than well-dressed and well-spoken inciters of violence?

It isn’t the legislatures kicking down doors and pointing guns at families during drug raids, pulling people over and taking hundreds of dollars from them for minor traffic offenses, and locking people up for years over marijuana possession. It isn’t the lawmakers out there using tasers, mace, clubs, fists, and guns to enforce and impose their political opinions on the citizens. It is the low-level cops who have voluntarily agreed to join and remain on the force with the job of doing whatever they’re told to do to whoever they’re told to do it to.  The individual cops are fully responsible for the evils they commit on a daily basis; not the lawmakers.

It wasn’t Bush and it isn’t Obama dropping bombs in the Middle East and mowing down civilians. Members of Congress aren’t putting on helmets. The generals aren’t pulling the triggers. It is the young men who have voluntarily agreed to join an evil organization and voluntarily carry out its every evil command. The blood of all the murdered innocent Iraqis and Afghanis is on the soldiers’ hands, not the “politicians who sent them there.”

It makes absolutely no difference if the cop or soldiers disagrees with the orders he’s following. If anything that is even worse because in that case they know the orders they’re carrying out are immoral, but continue anyway.

To take the argument further: Hitler never killed a single Jew. Not one. Hitler probably never killed anybody after becoming the fuehrer. It was the men who voluntarily agreed to invade other countries and operate the concentration camps. Hitler was no more than a very persuasive inciter of violence. No one had to listen to him. No Nazi soldier had to follow his commands. This truth was partly recognized during the Nuremberg Trials. “We were just following orders” was not accepted as an excuse because indeed they did not have to follow the orders.

[Editors note: For more on this perspective, check out the clip below from The Chain of Obedience by StormCloudsGathering]

But why is this not consistently applied to American police and military by Americans? Surely everyone believes that the Nazis should have disobeyed Hitler. Ninety-nine percent of the entire world is probably even of the opinion that the Nazi soldiers should have turned on and killed Hitler for even making such insane and evil commands. Hollywood movies have been made glorifying attempts by lower-level Nazis to remove Hitler of power.

Ask people who proclaim to be opponents of the foreign wars or the domestic police-state and drug war if they think the individual soldiers and cops should be held fully responsible and given the same punishment a regular citizen would receive for bombing neighborhoods, tasering or beating innocent people, or breaking into homes with their guns drawn during a drug search. The majority of them will unfortunately deny this and say that it’s really the politicians’ faults – despite the fact that the politicians do no more than give speeches and write stuff on paper.

It is precisely the fault of the cops and soldiers and it is precisely they who deserve to be condemned. The longer this is denied, the longer it will be before the herds of state enforcers begin to question their orders a little more.

  • Diplod

    Recently Osama Bin Laden was killed. What was his crime? The average person wants to punish an evil leader (Manson, Hitler, Amin) as if he has the powers of Dracula. (Look into my eyes. You must do as I say.)

    The crime is pulling the trigger. But, of course, then we’d all be forced to admit responsibility. Evil leaders give us an excuse.


    I agree that we must hold people accountable for their actions. I have actively demonstrated against police departments in California, and will most likely do it again. But the military is a different ballgame. I protest against the decision makers who start the wars and further the military industrial complex. Most young people in the military come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The GOVERNMENT refuses to allow a free market and forces public-school-educated kids to choose between poverty or military (which is paid for by tax dollars taken by force).

  • George Sand

    Beautiful article, Austin.

  • deepelemblues

    Pretty stupid argument. No violence would have been committed without the words inciting it – real-world consequences don’t deal in hypotheticals like ‘maybe they would have rioted anyway!’ There’s a direct causal link between the words and the violence, that’s all there is to it. The standard is already set very high – the incitement has to be to immediate violence, not violence in eight hours, or tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

    Words have consequences, ask six million Jews, five million Roma/gays/Jehovah’s Witnesses/disabled/Slavic ‘untermenschen,’ or the millions killed and maimed and oppressed during the Cultural Revolution. Oh wait you can’t, because someone’s words inspired others to kill them. They’re in the Silent Majority now, which for some, mercifully has to remain Silent.

  • Rita

    @ @ deepelemblues — If I told you to kill your neighbor, would you do it? Words don’t kill people. People kill people.

  • Jet

    Unfortunately, due to the dynamics of crowds, someone who would see a call to ‘Get Him!’ in public alone has a much better reaction than someone in a crowd. If a charismatic leader calls for immediate violence, and the lesser-moral members of a crowd obey, it is much much harder to avoid being swept by emotions into bad actions. Science has proven this, and therefore some responsibility must be taken by the incitor. This is different from say releasing a video with instructions, where you see it as an individual and have time to let your morality play on the content to decide if it should be followed, for example.

  • t.

    Ah, the cry for no accountability comes forth. What nonsense. And what a freaking coward that won’t stand up and back up what he says.

    Again I say it, the site cries out for accountability. I suggest responsibility. What is being suggested here is simply irresponsible.

    This is simply foolishness.

  • Carlos


    I don’t know what to think about your article, really. I do not want to burst your bubble either.

    Lawmakers [Senators, Representatives, at Federal level and State level] make LAWS. Some of these LAWS, might be right, some might be wrong [when I say “wrong”, I mean MALICIOUSLY created with some evil agenda in mind].

    Okay, now it comes my point…COPS are ordinary people, just like you and me and everyone else, right?

    Men and women join the so called “Force”, for [a] Getting a paycheck to support themselves and their families and, [b] To…en-F-O-R-C-E those LAWS created by our elected lawmakers WHETHER these Laws are RIGHT or WRONG…period!

    They don’t question if the Laws they are en-forcing are wrong or right…You will NEVER hear from a Cop’s mouth [even off the record] that they disagree with ANY Laws they are en-forcing.

    Let’s be real…COPS are N-E-V-E-R going to refuse to follow orders or en-F-O-R-C-E Laws, whether these are right or wrong. It ain’t gonna happen…period!

    They would be FIRED for INSUBORDINATION and more likely would face JAIL time, and then probably nobody would hire them because they are untrustworthy. NO ONE wants that over his/her head.

    Now, if you tell me that ALL the 900,000 COPS in the USA [Feds and State] are refusing to comply with orders given by their superiors, then a fantastic and exciting NEW BEGINNING is up for America. But, well…that only happens in DREAMS and in Hollywood.

    Even as much as I dislike COPS I have to admit that what I’ve expressed above is our reality.


  • Lurker

    Where is the acountability of the person inciting the riot? Oh, right. That only goes one way.

  • deepelemblues

    “@ @ deepelemblues — If I told you to kill your neighbor, would you do it? Words don’t kill people. People kill people.”


    This is the kind of very stupid comment that is sadly typical. It does not address the point I raised, it asks a question that is seemingly relevant to the topic but actually is not, and is basically just absolutely useless as an argument.

    If you told me to kill my neighbor, and you really wanted me to do so (it was not a joke), and I immediately went and did so when I would not have if you had remained silent, yes, you would bear some responsibility. Not if I did it later that night, not if I did it the next day, not if I did it the next week or month or year.

    Try to grow a brain, please. It’s sad how dumb what you’re saying is.

  • Kaz

    Regardless of what anyone may believe there will NEVER be 100% peace throughout the world. There will always be bad men and women out there who are willing to do harm to others. It will always be a Soldiers job to protect the freedoms of this country from those that use force against us. To say that soldiers are not held accountable for their actions or that there is a double standard for them is completely false. Go visit a military prison and ask those locked up troops about accountability.

    As for Austin white, until your ready to step up and stop a bad cop or soldier from committing unlawful acts of violence you should thank every Soldier you see for putting their lives on the line to support your 1st amendment right to talk shit about them.

    Once again I leave with a quote from Edmund Burke. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
    Keep doing nothing Adam and nothing will happen.

  • Kaz

    Adam was meant to be Austin White

  • Rita

    @ deepinthemblues — gee, I thought your user name meant you were depressed. I realize now that “them blues” must mean you’re a cop, which would explain why you are incapable of debating a point without resorting to name calling. Sadly typical indeed.

  • Rita

    Hey Kaz, when our brave soldiers have slaughtered enough brown-skinned children to secure my First Amendment rights, can we move on to numbers 2 through 10?

  • deepelemblues

    “@ deepinthemblues — gee, I thought your user name meant you were depressed. I realize now that “them blues” must mean you’re a cop, which would explain why you are incapable of debating a point without resorting to name calling. Sadly typical indeed.”

    Actually it’s the title of a Grateful Dead song. Ignorant, too, along with being none too bright. You’ve really hit the jackpot.

    I must be a cop! Because, uh, of some incredibly stupid reasoning! You must be a tool. And yes, yes you are.

  • The redcoats now wear black

    In reply to diploid: The binladin you are referring to “recently”, would be osama’s son hamzi. Osama actually got a bullet in his head, back in 2000-2003 time frame. The man that did it was omar sheikh. Benizihir bhutto affirmed this to the world shorty before her assassination. Sheikh was a M15 operative.. The real osama needed to be silenced.. This was agreed upon by other sects of binladin families that have money interests with the u.s. saudi arabia and israel and the souther tribes in shiraz province in iran.. India seems to be a guilty party as well, at the highest levels of their government unfortunately.

  • paschn

    The law-makers as well as the law enforcers are to blame in this respect;

    We sit by and obediently allow the “Renfield Class” in D.C. to pass laws that are in direct,(or covert), oppostion to our bill of rights and constitution and/or INTERNATIONAL LAW.

    Then their favored few,(insert sycophants-in-blue), crush us into submission to these unlawful/treasonous “laws”.

    Interesting article on this fine government’s actions;

    A person can be a willing paricipant in this type of evil feigning ignorance or “just feeding my family” only to a certain point. beyond that, you are unable to hide behind the bullshit rants and have become as rotten as those you run interference for. Do any of you hear a faint “ticking” in the back of your heads?

  • deepelemblues

    “A person can be a willing paricipant in this type of evil feigning ignorance or “just feeding my family” only to a certain point. beyond that, you are unable to hide behind the bullshit rants and have become as rotten as those you run interference for. Do any of you hear a faint “ticking” in the back of your heads?”

    And you are going to do what about it? Force them to see the light? That seems to be the preferred fantasy around here.

  • Justin

    The phrase “I was just following my orders” Didn’t hold water for the NAZI soldiers, why would the police get away with using it?

  • t.

    Lice JUSTIN: The only using that line (I was only following orders) is you. All of you that constantly cry about unconstitutional laws need to figure this out. Just because you don’t like it (whatever law) doesn’t mean that it’s unconstitutional. When our legally elected representatives pass those laws, there they are. I don’t like every law either. And I can work to change that via the electoral,process.

    The constitution obsolutely exists to protect the rights of the citizens and limit the actions of government. Several of the rights are specifically addressed in the bill of rights. The issue is the understanding (or perspective) taken about those rights. This site is littered with problems stemming from the perspective taken by the various sides in any encounter. As a very simplified example let’s look at the video posted on this site about an incident at a party in which the Houston police responded. Watch that video and think about the perspectives. The partiers view is that they are exercising their rights and hurting no one. The police are responding to a request to deal with the loud noise being created by the party goers exercising their perceived rights. The police are there, in the middle between the party goers rights to party’s and the communities desire for peace not having to endure the loud party. Now then, whose rights are more important? (Personally, I have always taken the stand that someone’s right to do something doesn’t outweigh someone else’s right to not have it done to them). So there the police stand. Now that particular video cuts in after the encounter has started and the only clue we have as to what occurred pry to the video starting is, what in my estimation is, a very skewed view of what happened. Now having been in the police officers shoes for over 15 years, I can only believe that they initially tried for find a common ground and reach a simple solution, like turn it down. Then comes the bigger problem. Who’s rights win?

    If you figure it all out, let me know.

  • Daavec

    If one shouts “fire” in a crowded movie theater (the classical example) are the Patrons so immature, incapable, irresponsible, incapable that they cannot:

    1.) determine whether or not there really is a fire
    2.) make an orderly exit?

    If so, they should not be in Public without a chaperone.

    @ t – classial circular logic and ad hominem attacks:

    “Just because you don’t like it (whatever law) doesn’t mean that it’s unconstitutional. When our legally elected representatives pass those laws, there they are.

    All laws that are not unconstitutional, that is. The “just because you dont like it” is an ad hominem attack, typical for somoeone with no valid position.

    When they cant answer, they attack.

  • t.

    DAAVEC: love me some fancy liberal arts book learnin’. But really, I think you ad hominem attack claim applies better to Justin’s comment.

    But answer my question as stated above. Tell us there smart guy, who’s rights are more important? Use your fancy book learning to help me figure it out.