Monday, January 17, 2011

Under what conditions and for what reasons does one person (or, the state) have supreme authority over another?

This is a scary question. It’s also not a very simple one. It is not a matter of creating a list of when it is acceptable to exercise supreme authority and when it is not. In any scenario we must ask if the demands of justice and human dignity are being served. To exercise authority over anyone is to basically limit their liberty or, at the very least, limit their freedom of personal choice. In a perfect world this would never be necessary. So it is important to consider whether restricting someone in this fashion is essential for the greater good. Without ethical discourse the demands of justice may well be trampled upon.

The real question here might well be, why would we ever exercise supreme authority over anyone? The answer to this question will help us define the conditions or scenarios for doing so. The demands of both liberty and justice must make this type of thing the rare exception and not the rule, yet even in our democracy it seems that many times we may cross this very thin line.

I am increasingly of the opinion that liberty is not necessarily for everyone. The vast majority of us do seem capable of exercising our liberty without intentionally causing harm to another. When we do cause harm we are reasonable and able to make amends or offer the necessary redress. If not then we use our legal system and generally will abide by the decisions of the court even if we are not in agreement.

However, there is always the exception to this rule. There exist the Jared Loughner’s (by way of example) who cross our agreed upon lines of conduct and cause great harm. Loughner or a Timothy McVeigh are extreme examples. But, the corner drug dealer or even a petty criminal cause their stresses upon society. No crime is ever completely victimless.

We can cite mental health, poverty or childhood abuse, among others, for the reasons why these behaviors take place. But, these are simply “reasons for” and, while the demands of liberty should consider them before sanctioning the guilty, they are not excuses for the behavior. Liberty requires personal accountability. The more liberty you have the more personal accountability you must exercise. To be a libertarian of any shade requires that you have a highly developed sense of ethics. This is where it all starts to break down.

I do believe there are situations where restricting or limiting the liberty or “exercising supreme authority” over an individual may be necessary for the greater good. Jared Loughner, in my mind, serves as a relevant example. Regardless of his motives or his mental state he is not fit for liberty and not fit to be anywhere but a prison cell or a locked down secured mental hospital for the remainder of his life. His extreme actions require an extreme sanction. But, in the long run if we are not careful and willing to engage in constant ethical discourse we will not be able to safeguard our liberty well. It is more important for the majority to remain free even if it means having to deal with the occasional Jared Loughner etc.

For a kiss I will answer all your questions.

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