Monday, 22 June 2009

A Need for Justice: Part 2

John Locke held a slightly rosier view of mankind in his State of Nature than Hobbes did, believing that we are predisposed to reason and tolerance. We have natural rights, which we recognise in each other - these being to life, liberty, health and property (property was an important concept in Locke's philosophy, and I touched on this in one of my previous posts). We moved from this State to civil government because there are those amongst us who are prepared to violate our natural rights. When this did happen in the State of Nature, the victim would ordinarily pass judgement, leading to miscarriages of justice and unduly harsh punishment.

So, according to Mr Locke, this is how civil government came about. Its purpose was to protect those natural rights mentioned above; to prosecute and punish those who violate the rights of others; to pursue the public good even when it could conflict with the rights of individuals; to act as an impartial judge to ascertain the severity of a crime; and to mete out punishment proportionate to that crime.

What is quite pertinent for us, when we look at our current government, is that Locke argued if we are prepared to give up some of our civil liberties in order for protection, and if the government fails to deliver, thus breaking the Social Contract, then that government should be dissolved. A clear message for Gordon Brown. Call a General Election. Do it now. You've failed to deliver in so many ways. All the time requiring us to relinquish our civil liberties, whilst failing to punish those who commit crimes against us.

David Hume didn't agree with the Social Contract theory one bit. He asked at what point in history this contract had ever been made? Even if there was such a time, could we rightly say that every person born into that contract still gave his or her agreement to abide by it? He likened it to being born on a ship in the middle of the sea, where you are subject to the tyranny of its master, even though you were carried on board whilst asleep, and the only option you have is to jump into the sea and perish.

Nevertheless, whilst Hume goes against this theory, I feel it applies for those who choose to settle here from abroad. You know the rules before you come, you know what this country has to offer you if you abide by its laws, and if you break them, you should expect to first be punished and secondly deported (depending on the severity of the crime). This isn't a statement against immigration, far from it. What I'm arguing here, and what I have argued in my post on immigration, is that such people who don't abide by our laws aren't sufficiently punished or deported. The greater injustice I highlight in that posting is that there are those who do abide by our laws, who work, pay taxes, have lived here for over 9 years, conformed to reporting conditions, and yet they are the ones who get sent home.

Hume also felt that if there was an abundance of resources and if man was not so selfish in attempting to hoard it for himself, then there would be no need for justice. But this is not how things are, men have different abilities and the right to private property is the first principle of justice. To check the unequal distribution of property would be counterproductive, there may be inequality in wealth, but not unfairness in how it is obtained (I'd like to know a time when this has ever been the case). It was an unavoidable consequence of our natural and different degrees of art and industry.

Where justice is an artificial utility created by us to protect our rights, virtues such as benevolence are natural, being more or less unchangeable and which form part of our character or trait. So it follows that a propensity toward theft, murder or rape are negative natural virtues that cannot be removed from the character of an individual. We do, however, have the ability to control our natural negative desires or impulses, and those who choose not to do so must be punished.

For Hobbes then, it was imperative that there be a sovereign who oversaw the defence and enforcement of the Social Contract. Without the fear of punishment, men would continue with their tendency towards betrayal, which is inherent in our ultimate drive towards living well with the minimum of effort. For Locke, we have natural rights, and it's the duty of the government to protect them and give punishments appropriate to the crime. If the government fails, the contract is broken, and that government no longer has legitimacy. Hume's conclusion was not much different, only the way he arrived at it is.

Throughout all three theories, there is an acknowledgement that those who choose not to comply with the laws we all should adhere to must be subjected to necessary punishment. This is the only way in which justice can prevail. But if the punishment is less than appropriate, the government only serves to tacitly encourage that behaviour. In a modern context, all of this is evident in the early release schemes and the lack of foresight to build prisons, and I have already written much on these and other failings of our current government.

Anyway, it was my belief in the concept of justice that led me to join the police.

To date, I've been largely disappointed to see criminals very rarely receive the justice they deserve.
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  1. Good morning, Sir. The justice system has to be seen to be working because otherwise people will demand back their "natural" right to deal with wrongdoers themselves. This is how vigilantism and mob rule come back very quickly. If the justice system won't prevent Billy the Burglar from breaking in once a week then a bit of retribution might well do. The point of the justice system is to take the heat out of the situation. People will give up their freedom to go and beat the crap out of people if they can rely on the system to punish anyone fairly who beats the crap out of them.

    As you say, this system has broken down in our "progressive liberal" society. Any wrongdoing is always "someone else's" fault rather than the criminal's. Excuses are made, and once there are excuses how can there be strong punishment. Given the lack of incentive in the system it never ceases to amaze me that there is any peace on the streets at all. The vast majority still cling on to their "morals" even though there is no punishment for not doing so.

    Getting back to a sensible place would be very easy, in my view. We need more prison space and firmer sentencing. That will very quickly provide a deterrent and get the prolific offenders off the street for the long term. Once that is done a virtuous circle will develop and we won't need so many prison places.

  2. Excellent stuff. When did natural common sense give way to target-driven social engineering? Government's job is to protect not mould. I did a short piece on Locke last month relating to another matter; he should be more widely read.

  3. Blue Eyes - I wish I asked you to write a summary to post after my second part. You summarised it perfectly, far better than I. I did write about folks taking the law into their own hands after comments made by Judge Bray. It's on my Police Oracle link, but I forgot to link it into this post

    Vienna - could you send me the link to your post on Locke please? I tried to find it. Feel free to link it to this page.

  4. Sorry I wasn't trying to re-write your post I was just putting down my immediate thoughts. This is something I think about a lot so perhaps my comment was half-baked at the back of my mind somewhere. I'm glad there are other people who are on the same wavelength, especially people in important positions such as yourself.

  5. Just put Locke in the search box - I didn't say anything you haven't said and missed a hell of a lot of what Locke said.

  6. Dear Leviathan, I too joined the force for altruistic reasons (and on the toss of a coin). I too studied the politics of policing, criminology and governance, to degree level, after 19 years of police service. I too learned very early on, of the gulf between the concept of justice and the reality that actually prevailed. The hardest thing for me, and it remains something that I have carried into my `life after the police`, is that the advice I used to give people who were considering reporting such things as being assaulted seems ever more relevant today than ever before; `If you want someone punished for what's happened to you, sue them in the civil courts. By doing that you may just get the feeling that justice has been served, but as for justice through the criminal law, don't expect to find it there`.

  7. Hog Day - if the Tories get to power and they o ahead with their elected Commissioners for police forces, I think you should absolutley stand for one of the posts. You've got my vote. No doubt about it.