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Roots of government power

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

Which laws are necessary and which ones are wasteful? Here is what you can count on a libertarian to say.

What exactly is the proper scope of government power? I tell you in my Pagan • Vigil FAQ that I think government should be smaller than absolutely necessary. But let's take that a step further with two legal phrases. I'm not a lawyer, but these are vital to understanding the libertarian position.

Mala in se means "bad in and of itself." Something is mala in se if and only if it threatens or results in measurable damage to life, liberty, and property. Murder, violent attacks, rape, kidnapping, and theft are included. The key concept here is "measurable damage."

Mala prohibita means "bad because it is prohibited." Something is mala prohibita if and only if the state has forbidden it. I would add regulation as well. Driving without a license or insurance, unusual sex, public nudity, profanity, recreational drug use, opening a small business without the "proper" permit, all these are included. The key concept here is "forbidden."

Here is the fundamental difference.

Mala prohibita means that the government will impose morality and ethics by force.

Libertarians think that mala prohibita laws abuse government power. We might argue over some of the mala in se laws, but we can agree that there is a need for some of them anyway.

Government has lousy ethics and worse morals.

Posted: Mon - December 4, 2006 at 08:28 AM

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