“The Purge” – Confusion about Crime and Enforcement

“Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and threats the victim – when he defends himself – as a criminal.” – Frederic Bastiat

I caught a trailer recently (while watching the NBA playoffs) for an upcoming movie titled The Purge. All the information I have (or one really needs, I suppose) about the movie is gleaned from the trailer and the Wikipedia entry – I haven’t done any deep inquiry into the actual themes of the film. The premise appears to be that in some future America (2022 I think) the U.S. undergoes an annual “purge” where there are no laws for a 12 hour nighttime period. With the suspension of law enforcement (and other emergency services) bedlam and anarchy ensue.

It’s an interesting concept for a movie, but I think it somewhat misunderstands the basis of law enforcement. Frederic Bastiat (from the lead quote) notes that the purpose of law enforcement, or of government in general, is collective defense of individual liberties. We all band together and agree to defend each other’s rights (life, liberty, property, etc). This tacit agreement is what gives rise to the structures of law enforcement and other emergency services.

To “suspend” these for a 12 hour period is to suspend the agreement amongst the free people that they will cooperate for collective defense. The government, of course, cannot make such a suspension – the government is the people and only the people can suspend the agreement.

I note this because the trailer portrays a family (and presumably there are others) banding together and bunkering in to survive the purge. That is a reasonable place to start when it comes to defense of individual rights, but there is no reason to think it would stop there.

Suppose for a second that the government could announce that all crime would be forgiven if committed in some set period. Families would buy guns to defend themselves. Neighbors would coalesce into groups that agree to offer mutual defense. “If you are attacked we’ll come help – and vice versa.” Cities and towns would form defensive structures, quite organically, to prevent crime from sweeping through their neighborhoods unrestrained. In fact, I suspect they’d advertise: “worried about the purge? come to [insert town here] and book a hotel for the night for only [insert obscene price here] – we guarantee your safety.”

Eventually one would have exactly the law enforcement structures we have now, or very nearly the so, and they would work during the 12 hours of the purge to prevent crime and punish perpetrators. The only way a “government” could enforce a “crime is legal” period is if it made defense of individual rights illegal.

Of course, this would make for a rather short and uneventful movie.

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