James C. Banks

Criminality and the Distribution of Guilt

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm

There is little for me to say about the tragedy that occurred in Norway over the weekend.  One can only hope (and pray) that teh country will respond to the tragedy in a way that will ensure that such an event does not occur again; however, that will be difficult, given the excessive leniency of Norway’s criminal justice system. 

A more likely outcome of this tragedy–which is understandable, but nonetheless the wrong answer–will be to respond by cracking down on privileges enjoyed by all citizens, such as Norway’s liberal (in the old-fashioned sense) laws regarding the ownership of firearms. 

One cannot blame Norway if it does react instinctively in this way (though it is not clear that it will). Nonetheless, this perfectly rational tendency reveals a fault of democracies as they become more tolerant of the malevolent: As societies become more tolerant of criminals, it incentivises society to ensure that acts of criminality do not occur in the first place. 

Hence, there is a crackdown on acts of “hate-speech” or heavy regulation of parochial curricula in the name of teaching students “civic virtues” of a multicultural society.  If narcotics are ever legalized, there is little doubt that private industries will immediately begin requiring that their workers be drug tested lest they face the full brunt of civil action lawyers. 

De-criminalization, in short, does not lead to greater liberty, but rather tyranny distributed across a broader population.  This is no time to lecture the Norwegian populace on how they should or should not react to such a gratuitous act of terror, but it is an issue that any democracy must keep in mind as it strives to make progress toward a more tolerant future. 



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