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Bryan Caplan on Law

I agree – with an important caveat – with Bryan Caplan’s post on his refusal to respect “the law” simply because it’s the law.  My caveat – one pointed out by some commenters to Bryan’s post – is that law is not at all the same thing as legislation.  Law deserves far more respect (although, still, not respect given mindlessly) than does legislation; indeed, legislation, by its very nature, is frequently used to break the law.  For example, Jim Crow legislation in the late 19th-century American south broke the law that effectively enforced racial desegregation on streetcars.

One of the greatest dangers unleashed by modern language is the treatment of “legislation” and “law” as synonyms for each other – and, hence, the bestowal on legislation of the genuine respect that is due to law.

This theme, explained well in the first volume of Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty, is the subject of this talk that I gave last October to the GMU Economics Society and the Future of Freedom Foundation.

And here’s a short letter that I wrote a few years ago on this topic.


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