The law of nature does not only allow us, but oblige us, to defend ourselves. It is our duty, not only to ourselves, but to the society … If we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our property and fortunes, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom. And Cicero says, ‘He who does not resist mischief when he may, is guilty of the same crime, as if he had deserted his parents, his friends, and his country.’

—John Trenchard. Cato’s Letters No. 42, Considerations on the nature of laws, August 26, 1721.

Reporting criminal offenses should be mandatory. When an employer fires an embezzling bookkeeper without reporting the offense, he harms society. It is no different in morality than obstructing a police investigation. Civilization requires the fulfilment of civic duties such as jury duty, assisting police investigations, rescuing a drowning child from a swimming pool, and reporting crime to the police. These duties are not charity or socialism; they are vital parts of the political compact necessary for society to function.

Thus, if a shopkeeper catches a young shoplifter, he should call the police, not the child’s parents. A crime harms not just the victim, but all of society, so society has an interest in seeing it punished. The same applies to crimes like muggings and rape. Even if the available evidence is insufficient to catch the culprit, the mere reporting of the crime may provide a clue, which together with other reports will solve the case. Even if the culprit cannot be caught, the reporting of crime allows for the proper deployment of police resources, leading to the culprit’s capture during his next crime. Along similar lines, parents who fail to report child molestation by a family member are allowing someone to escape who will likely abuse other children and may perhaps one day even abduct and murder a child. They therefore have a duty to their fellow citizens to report the crime.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove