Why legislate?

For the first time in my life, I realized I don’t have a clear understanding of why a law should exist. For specific laws, I’ll often come up with reasons, but I don’t have a general, guiding group of reasons for creating (or for that matter, keeping) a law.

I realized this when I was chatting with a friend on Twitter about polygamy. Many countries don’t have a law against it, but we do in the United States. Why?

Why is that law justified? More importantly, why is it justified from my perspective? Why would I support it? Or why not?

Like any good student, I asked Google, which shot back this article on the five basic reasons laws exist. According to that article, the five basic reasons are…

  1. To keep people from hurting one another.
  2. To keep people from hurting themselves.
  3. To help people do morally good stuff.
  4. To keep the government from unfairly helping certain people (usually at the expense of others).
  5. To keep people from unfairly hurting the government.

As soon as I read these, I remembered why I don’t have a clear understanding of why a law should exist. Just looking at those five reasons, you can see the slipperiness oozing all over the floor.

They’re slippery because all laws are based on someone’s morality, and most people don’t agree on who’s morality we’re choosing.

So yeah, I’ll have to think about this some more and ask more questions. Specifically, how much of my morality should I try to legislate unto others?

For now, why do YOU think a law should be created? What justifies it? How much should you legislate to force someone else to do what you think is right?