Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

When Laws Are Not Enforced, Anarchy Follows

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

What makes citizens obey the law is not always their sterling character. Instead, fear of punishment—the shame of arrest, fines or imprisonment—more often makes us comply with laws. Law enforcement is not just a way to deal with individual violators but also a way to remind society at large that there can be no civilization without legality.

Or, as 17th-century British statesman George Savile famously put it: “Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.”

In the modern world, we call such prompt, uniform and guaranteed law enforcement “deterrence,” from the Latin verb meaning “to frighten away.” One protester who disrupts a speech is not the problem. But if unpunished, he green-lights hundreds more like him.

Worse still, when one law is left unenforced, then all sorts of other laws are weakened.

The result of hundreds of “sanctuary cities” is not just to forbid full immigration enforcement in particular jurisdictions. They also signal that U.S. immigration law, and other laws by extension, can be ignored.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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