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Our panel of 90 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

Lots of questions there. I'll offer three comments.

The first is that if citizens simply get to pick and choose the laws they follow, then we don't have laws at all. The question of what makes government coercion legitimate is a big one, and I'm not a political philosopher. But if governments are ever legitimate, then it will also be legitimate to prevent people, by force if necessary, from simply ignoring laws they don't like.

The second comment is about this:

          In other words, the government gained a massive benefit at the expense of the citizens.

I'd suggest there's a confusion here. The government isn't a private corporation. Money that "the government" has is money that the State has, and, if the State isn't corrupt, the government (the institutional embodiment of the State) uses the money for the benefit of its citizens. It's not stowed in secret bank accounts that government officials can draw on for their own benefit.

Finally, is it ever justified to break a law that does more harm than good? It may be, though the State will still have a prima facie justification for prosecuting the lawbreakers. This goes back to the first point: some citizen may believe that some law does more harm than good. But a "state" that leaves these judgments up to individual citizens will not be a state at all. Some people may have enough faith in human nature to believe that anarchy is a better alternative than the State, even if the State is a functioning modern democracy. Most of us aren't convinced, however interesting and difficult problem providing a good theory of the State may be.