Is it my right to choose not to follow the law, provided I accept to bear the consequences?

Or should I be forced to follow it at all times?

The point is not whether it's right to violate the law or not, it's about the right to choose not to follow it if I think it's worth, for example when the punishment is less important than the advantage I would gain as result of my behaviour.

This question originated from a discussion with friends about rules related to driving a vehicle.

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    Interesting question. I suppose it depends on where the right comes from. If it comes from the state making the law probably not, but perhaps there exists a source of rights beyond the state. I would be interested in reading such answers. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:41
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    One can always choose not to follow the law, has no choice in "accepting" the consequences of such action, and can in principle be physically forced or coerced to follow it, the term "right" adds nothing substantive to the issue. And since law, like everything human, is flawed it may well happen, and often does, that following it conflicts with moral commandments. In which case it would not only be a "right", but even a moral responsibility, not to follow it (as many felt about slavery, interracial marriages, etc., and acted accordingly).
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:22
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    I had a similar argument with a teammate about whether it was within the rules of a sport to violate a rule and accept the consequences. The stakes weren't quite as high... Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 7:34
  • Assuming the law itself doesn't violate your rights, I would say no. Example: a man wants to burgle a house unarmed, knowing the penalty for unarmed burglary is fairly light. In the process, he is injured by the homeowner. I don't think the burglar can argue he had the right not to be injured since that is not a legitimate legal consequence of burglary. Other people may disagree: this is the debate about "castle laws" and "stand your ground" laws.
    – user935
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 14:58
  • I realise that maybe my question was not clear: maybe I should have phrased it as "should a country let people break the law and punish those who do, or should a country completely block any attempt to break the law provided it's possible? In case this question is actually significantly different from the original one, I can ask a new question, please let me know.
    – FarO
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 18:03

2 Answers 2


No law-book includes the right to break the law stipulated in the law code.

But there may exist law codes on different levels of a hierachy. Here the law of one level may contradict the law from a different level. In general, law of a higher level breaks the law of the lower level.

So far the principle of positive right.

The situation becomes more complex when considering natural right, not fixed by a law code.

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    Not to get too political, but it's related... the American founders explicitly mentioned that part of the reason for the 2nd amendment (right to bear arms) was to allow for armed protest against possible future unjust laws or oppressive government. In that sense, it may be an example of a law that is intended to allow breaking of other laws, in a hierarchy. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 16:16
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    Actually, "in the criminal law of many nations, necessity may be either a possible justification or an exculpation for breaking the law", see Necessity in Criminal Law. The "necessity" arises when it prevents "greater harm", e.g. breaking traffic laws to avoid a dangerous collision, and can be the basis for the so-called affirmative defense. In the US the legal system even allows jury nullification of laws.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:35
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    @Conifold Do you consider your reference 1) the case of a law code which includes its own violation or 2) an example of a hierarchy of law codes where the higher code restricts or suspends the lower code?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:48
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    Affirmative defense covers both possibilities. Since no hierarchy can realistically cover all exigent circumstances any workable code must envision itself to be broken. The alternative would be to include into law provisions so general and vague that they are worthless as laws.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 20:00

I guess under "bear the consequences" you agree on penalties imposed. Thus, from jurisprudencial point of view there is no more to say about this, since you already counted everything about it.

From philosophical point of view there are two major problems.

  1. Defining the objective (best outcome).

  2. Providing a solution.

Now I can conclude that every set of laws is seen as a solution (approximate as there are too many possible outcomes) for some objective. Whether it is good or not in the sense of philosophy to follow the law depends on these two points:

  1. Your's and legislators' objectives may differ. Even more different legislators might have disagreements about the purposes of laws.

  2. Even if you agree on that one, there still can be a disagreement on how to achieve it.

The problem with the first point is that usually legislators do not document the objectives (maybe there are some exceptions) and moreover if they would there is no guarantee they do not lie.

About second point I'd say no set of laws provides the best solution that covers all cases. I guess the set of laws that could do that would be larger than the whole universe. Thus it may be better to break the law especially in some uncovered extreme case.

Here I consider no natural law as in that case other problems come.

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