Why do we have a legal system?

October 16, 2011

The key question on this segment of the Kelly File on the Bill O’Reilly’s Show is whether or not it is constitutional for President Obama to take out the leaders of Iran with predatory drone missile attacks.  “Can we drop a drone right down Ahmadinejad’s nose?” The answer–no surprise–is “yes.” Obama may have political and military questions to ponder, but legally, according to Kelly, there’s no issue. And O’Reilly clearly likes that answer.

The segment gives rise to many questions, including philosophical ones like “Am I dreaming?” and “How can I know that I am not living in the Matrix?” But setting aside these epistemological worries, the segment also raises the question of “What is the purpose of a legal system?” We tend to assume that without a constitution and system of laws, society as we know it would descend into a Hobbesian war of all against all. Total savagery and all manner of immorality. And yet the Kelly File suggests that exactly the opposite may be true–that the legal system does not constrain or prevent immoral behavior, but actually promotes it. The very fact that we have a system that allows these killings makes this sort of behavior more, not less, likely to happen.



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