Bob Barr, last years (ho ho ha ha) Libertarian candidate for president, is dismayed that the American people are losing their trust in government. Yes, you read that right.
Barr is particularly upset that the U.S. Department of Justice is among the least trusted of federal agencies. … Nearly four times more Americans found the Postal Service worthy of their trust than they did Justice.
Why is that such a bad thing? Barr explains:
Confidence in the Justice Departments ability to operate according to high standards of fairness is essential to upholding the rule of law in America. Lack of trust in government erodes the ability of the Justice Department to successfully prosecute important cases, including those involving corruption in government. If the citizenry lacks trust in law enforcement, especially at the federal level, they will be more hesitant to bring information to the governments attention. If the average citizen perceives top government officials as thumbing their noses at the law, those citizens may feel emboldened to themselves violate the laws.
Okay, so Barrs reasons for thinking its a bad thing are all reasons for real libertarians to think its a good thing. The Justice Department is the enemy; libertarians dont want to make it easier for the Justice Department to prosecute important cases. Nor are libertarians eager to see citizens bring information to the governments attention; a culture in which people are constantly informing on their neighbours is not one conducive to liberty. The attitude that Barr complains about, of skepticism and disrespect toward the established laws, is just the sort of attitude libertarians seek to foster.
It may be objected: arent many of the established laws just? and arent many of the crimes the Justice Department prosecutes genuine invasions of person or property that violate natural law?
Sure. But thats going to be true of just about any legal system. In Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, ordinary citizens were for the most part forbidden to kill, rob, defraud, and assault one another; many of the crimes prosecuted even under those regimes were no doubt genuine crimes that deserved to be prosecuted. But thats no argument for saying that it would have been bad to inculcate a culture of distrust toward government under such regimes.
Admittedly, our Department of Justice cant yet get away with as much as the legal authorities in those countries could. But take a look through the links in the What We Do sidebar at the right side of the handy-dandy DOJ website and see what by their own admission they are already empowered to do: these are the folks who enforce such liberty-destroying policies as drug prohibition, gun control, immigration restrictions, tax laws, antitrust laws, obscenity laws, intellectual property laws, the PATRIOT Act, and a host of economic regulations mostly designed to make it harder for small businesses to compete with bigger, richer ones (e.g., the American Disabilities Act). Theyre also the folks who run our horrific prison system.
So they also prosecute some genuine bad guys? Who gives a damn? We could do that without them. The real problem is that people arent yet distrustful enough of the Justice Department.