Theorists and practical men alike have generally agreed that the primary purpose of the state is to maintain order. But unless the state has the will and capacity to ensure order not only bad but eventually good people will flout its authority. The law-abiding are demoralized when they see criminals getting away with it. Citizens and local communities tend to turn inwards … losing confidence in the law-enforcement authorities and relying on degrees of vigilantism to protect themselves, their families and their neighborhoods. And once that process of disintegration goes beyond a certain point it is all but impossible to reverse.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Path to Power, 1995.

Other than defending the country from foreign attack, there is no more important duty for government than defending its citizens from criminals. In this way the government fulfills its covenant under the political compact whereby citizens agree with each other to surrender their rights of retribution in return for protection by the police and justice from the courts.

Relationship to freedom

A person is not free if he can be randomly set upon and murdered. Thus, in a jurisdiction where thugs cruise the streets looking for an individual to beat up and they are subsequently given suspended sentences, it is not a free country. One may as well be living in occupied Europe prey to the Gestapo. A person is not free if his bank account can be emptied of hard-earned savings by an identity fraudster who is punished with a two-month jail sentence. He may as well be living in socialist Britain in 1978 having his rental income taxed at 98 percent. A person is not free if his wife or daughter can be raped and stabbed to death by a convicted murderer out on parole. He may as well be a Helot having his loved ones randomly murdered by the Spartans. Freedom is not just about being unmolested by government. It is also about being able to pursue life and happiness without violation of property or person by anyone. Therefore, in order to have a free country, criminals must be punished and reformed, or taken off the streets for good.

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