Doctrine of Emergency


Long ago there was a TV show “Emergency” about a team of fire department paramedics.  My family used to watch it religiously.  It actually has nothing to do with this post except…a recurring theme on the show, from the actual pilot, was that they had to skirt what the law permitted in order to do what they had to do to save lives.

They never really went into it but there is a concept called “Doctrine of Emergency” or “Emergency Doctrine.” Basically, this allows people, when faced with an urgent need for aid to take action without being subject to ordinary standards of reasonable care.  If a car is on fire, a person can act to pull an injured person out of the burning wreck even if doing so can make the person’s injuries worse.  The immediacy of the situation, and the risk of far greater harm from not acting, outweighs the usual recommendation of not moving an injured person until qualified medical help arrives even the “reasonable care” to stabilize injuries and ensure that movement doesn’t make matters worse.  One has a reasonable expectation in a burning car that not moving the person would make matters far worse than moving them will and the situation does not allow for careful, reasoned response.  A burning car has to be dealt with now, before the fire spreads.

Unfortunately, Emergency Doctrine has become rather tattered as people injured in such cases sue their rescuers for not being supermen able to deal with the emergency, get them out of harms way, and do so in such a way that there is not even the possibility that they might have done additional injury in the course of the rescue.

The term I use for such people is assholes.

I’m not a lawyer and cannot go into the details of the legal issues involved in the rescue of individuals from dangerous crises.  Instead I want to go in a different direction.

Taxation is theft.

Didn’t expect that coming, did you?

There’s a meme going around which says “When you respond to ‘taxation is theft’ by asking who will build the roads, you aren’t saying that taxation isn’t theft.  You are saying that sometimes theft is necessary.”

Yes.  Exactly.  The question is…when?  How does one justify “necessary” theft against “but I want it” theft?  I think the answer is in an analog of Emergency Doctrine.  Is the issue of such import that we would excuse an individual taking action under Emergency Doctrine?  In such case, then it might be one where the State can use its coercive force to make it happen.

Existential issues like national defense (to which I would add controlling the borders and immigration for reasons I have discussed elsewhere) qualify.  Indeed, it’s pretty much the perfect case of applying an analog of Emergency Doctrine.  Oh, you don’t have the immediacy generally required in an individual DoE (Didn’t want to use the obvious abbreviation of “Emergency Doctrine” so I’m going to call it Doctrine of Emergency from here on out)–a burning car doesn’t leave time for carefully considering all possible options–but failure here can easily lead to so much worse than the harm to “liberty” involved in using the coercive power of the state to build and maintain armed forces.

Likewise, in the case of international diplomacy.  Foreign powers don’t have to invade to harm Americans (I am an American and so my perspective is American–but this applies equally well to other nations and their peoples as well) and American liberty.  Clausewitz called war “Diplomacy by other means” but that works both ways.  Diplomacy an also be “war by other means”.

Internally, things like firefighting and police?  Right up there in DoE type stuff, practically by definition.  Note that while the concept of police is defensible under DoE, not all uses of police are since not all (or even most) laws are.

Civil courts?  Study some of the multi-generational blood feuds that have gone on throughout history and then see if having a way to peacefully settle disputes, that can enforce the settlement on the “losing” party, might not fit under an analog of DoE?

Scientific research?  I’d say some does, some of it falls under things like national defense (an obsolete military is of little use in national defense).  Others?  Well, nice but not DoE level critical.

And what about those roads?  Well, consider the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956.  Some have attempted to dismiss the “Defense” angle as being window-dressing to justify it, logistics and the ability to move men and materials rapidly from where they are to the point of conflict is vital to success so, yes, a lot of roads are DoE.

But, there are plenty of things that are not justified under an analog of DoE.  And those things should not be funded by taxes.  Because taxation is theft and absent dire need, justified under an analog of Doctrine of Emergency, then that theft should not be done.  In such cases voluntary transactions are the only justifiable approach.

So, yes, taxation is theft.  And that theft is sometimes, but only sometimes, justified.


3 thoughts on “Doctrine of Emergency”

  1. — So, yes, taxation is theft. And that theft is sometimes, but only sometimes, justified. —

    I disagree that it’s “justified.” It can be rationalized, which is not the same thing.

    To justify something is to square it with the prevalent conception of justice. But justice is about the defense, maintenance, and restoration of rights — and there is no defensible conception of rights that permits the violation of Smith’s rights to provide something Jones deems “necessary” but Smith does not.


  2. I have no problem paying my “Fair Share” to shoulder the load for ‘Essential’ services, however, I can find NO REASON that it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to support healthy people who refuse to work. I worked from the time I was 14 years old until due to a dr’s indifference I was required to retire at the age of 68. If I was able to work and support my family for that time I see NO REASON why other healthy people can not do the same.


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