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The only crime

May 26, 2012

Society likes to play with words and definitions, especially with regard to what it terms crime.  The modern judiciary ponders profoundly over phrases such as malum in se and malum prohibitum, misdemeanor and felony, statutory and common.  The general thread of all these discussions, of course, is the question of what will be deemed right and what will be deemed wrong, and what punishment will be meted out for that which is thought to be wrong.

However, as Arthur Train, himself a former district attorney, was bright enough to point out, crime is nothing more than opposition to the will of the majority.  The example he used (writing a hundred years ago) was that of a man who failed to remove his hat indoors being just as much a criminal as a murder.  Both have done wrong in the eyes of society, but society holds that the wrong is greater in the latter case, and so the man guilty of the latter offense is punished more severely than the former.  All crimes can thus be considered to constitute a single offense, that of injuring society.  The severity of the crime and its corresponding punishment are therefore proportional to the degree of offense given.

From the perspective of the nation-state this distinction is absent.  There is still only one crime, in this case the offense of lese majeste, or injury to the majesty.  It is a crime devoid of any degree or distinctions.  Any defiance of the state, its laws, or its attempts to enforce its laws, no matter how large or small, is interpreted as an act of lese majeste, and the state retaliates violently against anyone committing such an act.  It does not matter whether any person was harmed or not by the action, or even if written laws were broken or not.  Doing anything whatsoever which contradicts the will of the state is a crime.  When a police officer shoots down an unarmed civilian who fails to comply with his demands, he does so not because the civilian poses a threat to him, but because the civilian’s defiance is a heinous act of lese majeste against the state.  The state is jealous of its authority and unwilling to tolerate any encroachment.  The presence or absence of encroachment is the modern way of determining what is crime and what is not.

Lese majeste does not die with kings.  It is even more fashionable with their successors.


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