By Robert LeFevre
[Editor’s Note: This is taken from a Freedom School pamphlet, titled PROTECTION (Colorado Springs: Pine Tree Press, December 1964, pp. 14-16).]
Conceive of an electronic device capable of creating a force field around any person or object. Imagine this force field of such intensity that it would actually stop a bullet or deflect any other object of force. Were such a force field available to you in the market, you could obtain one and place it around your home. You could even place it around yourself if you strolled abroad. With it in place, you or your property would be safe. No predator could possibly penetrate this shield.
Now, imagine a community in which all property and all persons were thus protected. What chance would a predator have in such a community? Would it be necessary to arrest and punish a malefactor? No. Because no predation could occur. The evil wisher would be confronted by an impenetrable shield standing between himself and the target of his ambition. He would have to learn to cooperate and to live in peace and productive effort, or starve. If he hurled himself against a person or a property so protected, he would injure himself in the effort. You would not have to arrange for his punishment or even for his arrest. He would be engaged in an act of futility and thus would be a proper object for your compassion, not for retributive justice.
We do not know that the market place could produce this device or anything similar. But we do know that the market place can and has produced seeming miracles. Once we accept the idea that we must rely on the market and look to it for our protection, stimulation of invention and devising will occur. Whether the market can or will provide for such protection is not the point. The point is that we begin thinking in terms of protection rather than in terms of retributive justice. A free society requires protection; it cannot at the same time hold to views in support of retributive justice. Ideas of retribution are contrary to ideas of freedom.
If we are to persist in retributive concepts, then we will have to discard freedom as a total concept. The best we can hope for is limited freedom; freedom limited by a government which will have the power to trespass anyone’s property or life at will.
If, however, we can discard this ancient and worn out idea that protection is impossible or ineffective in the sense that we are made safe, then we will have opened a door long bolted shut in our minds. Real protection is possible. But only the market place provides it.
Retributive justice is the last vestige of the ancient idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.