Vigil Injustus Non Est Vigil

Socrates held that no one counts a genuine judge unless he judges justly. He also held, as did Augustine, Aquinas, and Spooner, that no law counts as a genuine law unless it too is just.

Barney and Andy A 75-year-old Florida grandmother has now found her way to the same idea. Asked why she didn’t “respect” a police officer’s demand that she move her car away from the spot where she had been told (by the owners of the parking space) to park it – a lack of respect that led to her being handcuffed and her car impounded – she explained: I guess I felt he wasn’t a police officer; he wasn’t there to help me, he was there to be mean to me.

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13 Responses to Vigil Injustus Non Est Vigil

  1. Anon78 January 28, 2008 at 11:17 pm #

    I take it private police of competing defense associations won’t “be mean” to people and mistreat them…? I would be curious to know if Radgeek agrees with you on this. 🙂

  2. Administrator January 28, 2008 at 11:28 pm #

    I take it private police of competing defense associations won’t “be mean” to people and mistreat them…?

    Well, they’re subject to more checks and balances than monopoly police are and so I reckon would no doubt be able to get away with it less often. But nothing in my post above implies anything as to whether they would or wouldn’t.

  3. Anna Morgenstern January 29, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    There’s no such thing as the Government, but there are a bunch of guys in blue uniforms with guns who will get angry if you don’t pretend there is.

  4. JOR January 30, 2008 at 12:49 am #

    There’s no such thing as Anna Morgenstern, but there are a bunch of cells that move around in funny ways.

  5. pendragon January 30, 2008 at 9:48 am #

    how would private police be subject to more checks and balances than monopoly police?

  6. Administrator January 30, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    If private police become abusive or otherwise unsatisfactory you can cancel your contract with them and switch to a different service provider; so their revenue depends on their conduct — which doesn’t guarantee good conduct but at least it makes the financial incentives point in the right direction. Monopoly police have a captive customer base and so don’t lose revenue no matter how they act; thus they have less financial incentive to clean up their act.

  7. Lisa Casanova January 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    There’s also the fact that police are helped immensely by vague laws that make things like “disturbing the peace” and “disorderly conduct” criminal offenses. This makes it possible for cops to define pretty much anything a civilian does that pisses them off as a crime. Think of all the little things strangers do that annoy the hell out of you. If you were a cop, you could tell them to stop doing it. If they didn’t, you could call it “disorderly conduct” and slap on the cuffs. Private security firms that are not part of the state apparatus would have less leverage to make the laws the way they want them. Right now, law operates overwhelmingly in favor of the police. In a decentralized world of private security agencies, this might not be so.

  8. Rad Geek January 31, 2008 at 4:39 am #


    I take it private police of competing defense associations won’t “be mean” to people and mistreat them…? I would be curious to know if Radgeek agrees with you on this.

    Lots of people are mean, and sometimes people who have a little bit power over other people will use it to act like petty tyrants. I think this is part of the human condition and I doubt that it will change in anarchy. However, there is a question as to what recourse you have when someone is mean or abusive or throws you in jail for nothing. When it’s a state police force, you have no recourse, because (1) government cops can never lose their “customers” and have little or no material interest in keeping them satisfied; (2) government cops enjoy special privileges and immunities that nobody else enjoys, in virtue of government laws that allow them to ticket, hurt, or arrest people simply for not “complying” with their arbitrary orders; and (3) the only people who have any power to address abuses by government cops are other government cops, meaning that as long as other cops in the same police department are willing to excuse or ignore an abuse, the victim has absolutely no recourse, and in the few cases where the other cops are pressured into taking some action against their colleagues, it almost never rises beyond administrative disciplinary proceedings. Meanwhile, any restitution that goes to the victims comes out of taxpayers’ pockets, not from the people who actually committed the crime or the administration that allowed it to occur.

    In anarchy, all three conditions would be reversed. (1) Any security firms that wanted to make it in the market would have to compete with other security firms, as well as alternative set-ups like neighborhood watches and informal community defense, in order to stay in business. That makes for an external constraint on private cops’ actions with respect to their customers. (2) Without State-fabricated privileges, private cops wouldn’t be held to a special standard of conduct, and wouldn’t have special privileges to order people around or hurt those who disobey. (3) State cops and their employers would also be directly liable for any abuses they commit, and competing firms or associations would be free to intervene against them when they go off the handle, meaning that rogue cops can and would be arrested, tried, forced to pay restitution to their victims, and possibly jailed (if there’s reason to believe that they pose an ongoing threat). In anarchy, if there are persistent problems with abusive cops from one particular firm or association, then there’s a corresponding opportunity for an outside firm or grassroots association to take care of the problem by investigating and busting the bad cops. So, again, whereas statism allows the police to police themselves (fat chance), anarchy allows for other, competing groups to act as an external constraint on any one group of police. That makes for an external constraint on cops with respect to the people who the cops deal with, even if they are not customers of that security firm.

    What I’ve repeatedly argued about government policing is that all these so-called “abuses” are the direct result of a system which requires no real accountability for thuggish cops and which offers no real recourse for their victims (cf. Law and Orders #5, Rapists on Patrol, Oops. Our Bad., etc.). To the extent that anarchy would create alternative venues for victims of thuggish cops to get protection before-the-fact or restitution after-the-fact, for cops to be held personally accountable for their actions, and for organizations that aid and abet abuse by their hired thugs to be forced to take responsibility for the consequences of their policies, you can expect that to that extent you will see far fewer abusive cops (security guards, whatever), and, of those who remain, you can expect that they’ll be able to get away with far less, and to get away with it far less reliably than they now can.

  9. Anon78 January 31, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    You’ve certainly given an interesting response. Frankly I figured you’d be more skeptical of policing, whether part of a formal state apparatus or not. Your economic analysis against the likelihood of monopoly violence is persuasive, but even if this kind of accountability can exist I’m not sure human nature will go along with it so well. Regarding the economics however, there are some reasons why monopoly might be more likely than what you’ve described.

    Consider this: Most people at most times are opposed to violence. Howard Zinn makes the point about villages refusing to arm themselves despite getting attacked by marauders several times. You can also see it when state wars are going on: people rarely clamor for war, many escape to become refugees; they have to be goaded and incited to it, and even then conscripts are not usually very good. In short, people have to learn the majority of the brutal behaviors they display. If you’ve ever read or watched police training videos, etc, you can see this sort of thing in action.

    This makes me think of two related objections to your position: (1) People will in general be reluctant to engage in significant self-defense and in organizing to meet external threats, ergo the “neighborhood watches” would be no match for roving marauders, well-armed battle-hardened soldiers, etc. (For example imagine a gang of 4 ex-soldiers terrorizing a village of hundreds.) (2) The security, meanwhile will generally have large amounts of training and be comfortable with using violence, and if they can’t take it out on ordinary people, they’ll end up taking it out on each other, particularly if there are so many disparate groups overlapping in different areas with varied jursidictions. For example, look at African countries like Kenya or Rwanda; initial conflicts are fanned by rivalries into sporadic fighting which can improve for a while and then quickly descend back into chaos. This would be even uglier in place likes Louisiana or South Carolina where many conflicts would take on racial overtones.

    In brief, the extent to which people are opposed to violence increases the viability of a monopoly on it (because of reduced competition), and the extent to which people are in favor of violence will make it hard to sustain large numbers of competing jurisdictions (since the people who favor violence will wipe out their competitors easily).

  10. Rad Geek January 31, 2008 at 6:17 pm #


    I am skeptical of professionalized policing and uniformed “security” forces, even in the context of competitive free market agencies under anarchy. I think that while they may offer useful services to some private property owners, they also pose substantial dangers, which, even if the benefits outweigh the dangers in a given case, need to be countered, and probably not only by competing but basically similar firms, but also by assertive individual actors and by countervailing grassroots groups (on the model of CopWatch, but without laboring under the heavy burdens that State privilege for police currently forces them to labor under). I also think that in most cases the benefits are probably not worth the accompanying costs, and informal and decentralized solutions to security problems are usually going to be better than formal professional goon squads.

    However, you asked a comparative question about competing private defense associations as vs. the current situation, so my answer mainly focused on comparing the two. I do think the former would be substantially better than the latter, for the reasons I explain, although I also think that a third solution will often be better than either.

    As for your two objections, (1) it may very well be the case that individual people will prefer to back down when confronted by roving marauder gangs, and will ransom their safety rather than paying in the money and personal risk that it would take to defend themselves. It’s an interesting question why, historically, the technology and tactics of extortion and repression have tended to outrun the technology and tactics of evasion and resistance, and whether this would still be true under anarchy in a modern industrialized society (I’m not convinced that it would), and if it would be, whether anything can be done to reverse that trend (I suspect that it can).

    I’m not especially convinced by your appeal to popular reluctance to use violence in self-defense or lack of training in it, because (1) presumably in anarchy, if people rely on themselves and their neighbors rather than professionalized security forces for their self-defense, more people will see it as in their interest to acquire some minimal training; (2) it doesn’t need everyone or even most people being willing to forcibly defend themselves, but rather just enough that it’s no longer profitable for the marauders to write off marauding in that neighborhood as too risky to be profitable; and (3) perhaps most importantly, there are lots of ways for people. individually or cooperatively, to effectively respond to violence other than by meeting it with defensive violence. There’s obstruction and fortification, stealth, evasion, and a whole host of tactics for passive resistance. All of which are increasingly accessible to the knowledge and resources of educated people in modern industrial societies.

    But whatever the case may be, if anarchy does mean that many people will have to ransom their safety from marauder gangs every so often, which take the money and then leave, it’s hard to see how that’s worse than the present situation, in which a permanent marauder gang occupies their territory and micromanages the most intimate aspects of their everyday lives.

    As for (2), I don’t really think it’s the case that feuds and civil wars between competing armed factions, such as those now common in central Africa or those that were common a few decades ago in southern Africa, are really a basic part of how trained fighters will always behave. Surely in those specific cases it has much more to do with the ideological and material allure of a particular prize (state power, or, failing that, local warlordism, with heavy, pervasive, and constant intervention by neighboring states, former colonial powers, world superpowers, and the bureaucratic “foreign aid” kleptocracy) which the victor in the civil war will ultimately be able to claim. But if it’s the prize that’s driving the fighting, then a political condition of anarchy, and a widespread cultural and institutional shift towards anarchistic principles and the industrial mode, which would tend to undermine or eradicate completely, makes it correspondingly less of a worry.

  11. Tomasz January 31, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    the use of a paramilitary force (the modern police) to regulate parking is quite absurd. the parking management role is really more analogous to cinema ushers and waiters and busboys in cafeterias than the artificial ‘law enforcement’ situation governments have set up. the road system should be a service industry not a police state. the woman is a hero!

  12. Anon78 January 31, 2008 at 10:24 pm #

    But if it’s the prize that’s driving the fighting, then a political condition of anarchy, and a widespread cultural and institutional shift towards anarchistic principles and the industrial mode, which would tend to undermine or eradicate completely, makes it correspondingly less of a worry.

    Yeah states and non-states bordering each other does open up a big can of worms. I think Chomsky argued once that an anarchy would be pretty secure from statist attack if, say, founded in the Americas or Australia, since a huge ocean separates it from the rest of the world, but one located in Europe or North Africa would be surrounded on all sides by hostile states of one form or another.


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