Free Speech, Democracy, and Crime

From iSteve: Kinsley on the Advantage of a Written First Amendment

European countries, obviously, do not have a statute protecting ‘free speech’. The result is people are occasionally apprehended (severty of punishments vary, from being detained for a few hours or days or, in exceptional cases, imprisoned for years) for communication deemed ‘incendiary’ or a ‘threat to order’ (hate speech laws).

The trade-off is, although Europe has no first amendment, it’s otherwise soft on crime, with comfy EU-approved dorm room jail conditions vs. America, which is very hard on crime (with mandatory sentences), with the worst prisons and longest sentences second to Iran or North Korea. In Great Britain, for example, a woman with an extensive history of shoplifting, when finally caught, the punishment was 12 hours of detention upon which she was released with no charges. Or Glen Stacy, Britain’s most prolific shoplifter, who has been arrested 400 times. In America, given the mandatory minimums, he would have to live forever to shoplift that many times.

Britain, as well as much of Europe’s, justice system is dysfunctional, imprisoning ‘thought dissents’ yet giving actual criminals slaps on the wrists, while America’s system may be too functional to the point of putting too many people away for too long.

The thing, is people get mad (especially those on the right it seems) when political dissidents are thrown in jail, but under a reactionary form of government that’s what would happen. And people get mad (both on right and left) when you question the sanctity of free speech. Democracy? No so much. It seems like everyone is on board the anti-democracy train. * But free speech is sacred. But you can’t have it both ways – reactionary government and free speech. And free speech and democracy are, in many ways, intertwined. Although speech laws may seem egregious, one also dig up plenty of egregious examples in America, too, like people serving many years for possession of firearms or drugs. Pick your poison, I guess

On a related note, this raises the question of what is the best way of handling crime: the libertarian/anarchist approach (retributive) or America’s punitive approach. Let’s consider the case of shoplifting, which is a very common crime, yet not so severe of nature that the appropriate punishment is not without a large degree of ambiguity. Libertarians may argue that businesses, not tax payers, should deal with criminals. Under such a system, the business or individual would administer punishment such as a fine and or banishment from the store. But that is not very effective since the thief can go somewhere else, in perpetuity. Or, maybe the store could exact a more severe punishment as a deterrent – beating the thief into a pulp, for example. But that may violate the ‘non aggression’ principle of meeting force with equal force. And some employees may, understandably so, have qualms about carrying out such a heavy-handed punishment. Civil demands are another retributive option, but since it’s civil, not criminal, the thief is under no obligation to pay. A thief with no assets can’t pay, either. That’s why the punitive approach is the most effective, by putting criminals away so they cannot continue to inflict harm on society, possibly with rehabilitation, but also lifting the burden off the private sector in having to choose a suitable punishment for miscreants; the ‘justice system’ deals with that. But as we can see with Europe and their petty crime epidemic, even that isn’t good enough in many instances, since these thieves, once released, continue to steal. On the other hand, putting too many people away for too long can strain resources that can be better spent elsewhere.

*In recent years, online, it’s actually hard to find people, both on the left or the right, who don’t have reservations about democracy. Some of the major criticisms of democracy are that it does a bad job (inefficient) at allocating ‘public goods’ and gives to much power to the ‘ignorant masses’, which are both valid criticisms.

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