Via Insty, an excellent essay by Richard Epstein. Excellent…but not perfect. Mr. Epstein quotes the excellent but not perfect John Stuart Mill:
That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
Not bad, eh? But here he is again:
[F]or such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, if society is of the opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection.
Epstein really doesn’t like that:
Indeed, he (Mill) makes a dangerous concession to the misguided principle of “social authority”.
So which liberty lover is right? Each man is brilliant, but their analyses differ from Your Spineless Host. Ergo, they’re both wrong. However—and this may surprise you—I find Mill to possibly be less wrong that Epstein. Atomize JSM’s universal word “society” into individualized “communities” and you’ll be closer to true freedom than humankind has ever been.
As always, puny vertebrates exacerbate problems by not defining their terms. But at least Mill troubled to distinguish between social and legal punishments, for an obvious reason. An obvious reason…that Epstein totally missed. I’ve no idea what wetware glitch caused Epstein to call social authority a “misguided principle”. But the man is nuts.
It’s not illegal to publicly suck your thumb or dig your fingers in your nose and ears or scratch that butt itch much more enthusiastically than onlookers prefer. Can you see all those activities in your mind’s eye? You can make it even more disgusting by imagining them in reverse order, one right after the other. And it’s all perfectly legal! So go ahead, indulge yourself. What’s that? You’d rather not?
That’s because you’re not a social masochist. Hell, I have no life and even I’m not a social masochist. So Epstein doesn’t merely miss the point; he sees it and exclaims “Anti-point!” But I’ll tell you what he really believes, since he’s incapable of doing so himself. He said “the misguided principle of social authority”. But what he meant is, “the misguided principle of codifying social authority as law.”
Those phrases differ in much the same way as “up” differs from “down”. Ban social authority for being “misguided” and all that remains is legal authority. Which delivers you here.
Social authority made Rhett Butler’s “I don’t give a damn” controversial even where local law didn’t ban public profanity. And it’s the lack of polite social authority that produces loudly blared g.d.m.f.ing rap music on subways and streets.
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