“Law and Order”: these two notions of government’s purpose have always been related. During times of trouble, either from foreign or domestic threats, a government may be forced to use law to maintain order, even at the expense of justice for its own citizens. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1812 provide such an example. In a time of war, the U.S. government felt threatened by domestic opposition to the war and by foreign perpetrators against national security. Because the existence of the American nation and people was directly in great danger, the government had the right to use the law to maintain order, even though order came at the expense of Americans’ first Amendment rights.
And yet, when the state of the nation is not threatened in such an extreme manner, the primary purpose of law should be to ensure justice. The basic rights of citizens cannot be manipulated or taken away at a time when the safety of that citizen’s nation and so the citizen himself is not at risk. Such was the case during the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Unlike the war of 1812, the existence of the government and nation was only indirectly and ideologically threatened. Therefore there was no dramatic need to curtail the freedom of student protesters to speak and assemble against U.S. involvement in the war. The government violated its purpose to ensure justice in a time when its people were relatively safe from danger, in order to advance its own hawkish policies.
Without the maintenance of order in the short run, justice may be threatened in the long run. A weak or conquered state can’t protect the rights of its citizens. The primary purpose of government itself is placed between the significance and place of law with order and justice. Only when a government’s people are in danger of physical harm may such a body curtail their rights to ensure that they are not deprived of the basic and highest rights of their existence. One’s life therefore is the one justice that law...
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