This is an interesting philosophical question that I've pondered on before: When is a man, if ever, justified in breaking the law?
It depends, in part, on how one defines the function of government to begin with, and whether the state exists to serve man or man exists to serve the state, of course. One must also mind that niches such as 'defensive murder' are typically covered in law; a person is not usually punished for defending themselves against another trespassing on their property who has just killed their entire family and who has shown definite intent to kill the person in question who has therefore murdered the offender. So to say 'in defense for my life' directly is not really a valid answer to the question, unless we're also examining Christian laws, which I am also open to if Christians would like to add their two cents on whether it's ever okay to break one of the ten commandments. Interpret this question however you can best answer it.
I'll add my own two cents later on, I don't want to affect anyone's answer with examples right away.
So you follow the rule of 'the lesser of the two evils'. If following the law would cause someone's harm or death, and breaking the law would prevent equivalent or more harm, therefore lessening the impact, the action is justified? Can you think of any hypothetical examples?
'Lesser of two evils' is a somewhat loaded statement, although I don't think you meant it to be. However, I don't consider the laws of my country to be evil - some are just badly formed, and some are badly interpreted. I digress.
As for some specific examples:
Scenario 1: I am driving to work and I am late. Being late to work is not a big problem for my boss as it happens infrequently. Should I break the law by speeding to get to work on time? The laws defining the maxiumum speed limit are there to ensure the safety of everyone using the area - by breaking the law I am placing myself and others at risk of harm through a motor vehicle accident. So in this case I would not feel that I was justified in breaking the law by speeding.
Scenario 2: As above except that I am on my last warning and being late to work will result in my dismissal - placing severe financial and emotional stress on my family. The certainty of harm to my family in this case outweighs the potential for harm in a motor vehicle accident. I would feel justified in breaking the law by speeding in order to get to work on time. By the same token I would not quibble in any way with any punishment I might get if caught by a police officer.
Scenario 3: My government has passed laws allowing them to arrest and persecute members of a particular ethnic minority. I have absolutely no problem justifying hiding members of this ethnic minority in my attic and thus breaking the law. Allowing them to be arrested, by action or inaction, would cause more harm than hiding them.
But these are easy examples for me to answer as they are of my own making and are biased towards supporting my philosophy.
When the law does not allow for justice at the time. Lets pick the worst crime, murder. We have a stipulation now called justifiable homicide in the cases where people defended themselves or others from harm.
If I had a child and that child was raped by a priest and the court case was lost but I knew it happened and was happening to others I could justify breaking the law to stop him in some way. I would also recognize that I was breaking the law and willingly turn myself in if I was successful in stopping it from happening.
Well the only way you could be totally positive the priest raped the child would be if you saw it, or the evidence in circumstance was absolutely overwhelming and left no room for a shadow of a doubt. By the law, these are also the terms under which people are most likely to be convicted. In a way, you are implying (because of the absolute unlikeliness of this) that perhaps the priest's Vatican ties (or some higher up religious group) could get them out of prosecution (as it is known Ratzinger is for keeping these scandals quiet). What action would you be justified in taking if the law did not stop this man from raping children, do you feel?
If I went in to the church it happened in and saw him raping another kid yes I feel I have the right to take matters into my own hands when my testimony and the kids testimony was not enough to persuade a religious jury in denial. At that point beating or killing the man to stop the act would seem appropriate, if he was not doing it at the time breaking and entering and placing cameras is justified. If I knew he had gotten away with it for a long time I might consider killing him since he is obviously immune to justice and there is no proven justice beyond this life.
Hopefully that makes sense because he was abusing people, badly, bodily harm stopping the act could be appropriate. Then again if I could capture the guy and hack his wang off that seems like a good solution too. Make him suffer like all the kids he attacked.
See, laws exist to stop the 'eye for an eye' among victims seeking retribution, with irrational punishments being dished out. I'm not in total disagreeance that somebody caught stealing should have a hand cut off. It's interesting to note that Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, who was hard on crime and pretty much impaled or otherwise mutilated and killed everyone who broke a law, came to a point in his rule where his crime rate was virtually null, where he could keep a golden chalice at the public fountain for drinking and not a single person would steal it. It makes one wonder: what is more effective in governing, laws that are more harsh or less harsh?
I think that people who put their dick in places it does not belong lose the right to keep it. It will effectively stop the assault in the same way that people who abuse their right to own a gun are refused to own one later.
I think that people who steal should have all of their possessions taken and distributed among their victims. But now you are getting into what we want as opposed to whether it is ok for me to break the law to do it, which I wouldn't.
As for the harshness of laws that is up to the people, some are willing to follow laws and others only follow the laws by force. If you are in a country where the laws are not being followed they may follow them if the punishments are harsher, if not then a relatively peaceful culture could go crazy considering it unfair.
Slavery used to be the law. Good people broke that law.
When the powers that be attempt to impose servitude, we are just in defying them.
The current event related to servitude is bankers imposing their own debts onto the public, leading to debt slavery:
Elite banksters who control governments in the West are learning today how Europeans view their attempts to impose servitude in the form of long-term debt slavery: The Icelanders told them to go to hell (so to speak) and now so are the French and Greeks and others.
And Europeans are just in defying the banksters: Bankers gambled with derivatives, bankers lost, and bankers want you the public to pay off their gambling debts. The alternative would be for the banks to be declared insolvent, at which point the bankers would lose their wealth and power. They don't want that: They want the public to lose its wealth and power and be enslaved with debt.
Laws merely codify plans. If the plans are unjust, if the plans harm innocent people, they should be rejected.
This reminds me of a good example acted on here in the Detroit area, where someone involved with the Police department (a high up, but I'm not sure what position or department) in one of the towns actually came out and encouraged people who are having their homes foreclosed on, to physically refuse to leave the property. This is an instance where I believe that breaking the law, or general courtesy, is justifiable. Although I essentially agree that somebody who cannot pay for a home should not have something they can't pay for, usually such houses are bought by people who honestly make their payments but run into hard times, only to find their families on the streets or in the backs of vans after living in the same house for over two or three decades, and I would also probably refuse to leave my home no matter the consequence or backlash it earned me.
The problem I see with your logic is that not all people adhere to 'empathy'. What you're relying on is an ideal that everyone has the same abilities to recognize what is naturally right or wrong and don't need laws to keep them in place (this is very reminiscent of anarchy). The problem is that a lot of people DON'T. Murders, for instance, are perfectly fine among religious people like Muslims who advocate 'honor killings', or killings with a religiously justifiable basis. Laws exist simply to tell you what you can and can't do, so that if you don't adhere to them, there is a corresponding punishment. Rightly, any Muslim man who kills his wife or sister or daughter for not sticking to their religious virtues should be arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Although the basic idea of 'murder is wrong' is a generally universal concept, abnormal psychology and religious or moral justifications for such heinous actions do occur more frequently than is comfortable. The idea that you should 'never follow the law purely because it is the law' implies you're disregarding your concept of right and wrong and simply choosing not to follow the law on principle's sake. A more appropriate summation of your philosophy would probably be, 'one should never go out of their way to obey the law because people should naturally know what's right or wrong and not have to be bossed around like little children into doing what they're told'. Yet another problem here is assuming that having laws limits your freedom. Actually, laws exist to protect the freedom of others. Murder is illegal by law because you're violating the right to somebody else's life. Stealing is illegal by law because you're violating someone's right to their own property. Trespassing is illegal for the same reason. Jay-walking is illegal because it can cause accidents that in turn cause financial damage or could possibly end the life of somebody, again violating a person's right to life-- and in the matter of finance, every business and home should have some level of protection of its assets that discourages their potential destruction. If Jay walking was legal, accidents would undoubtedly occur more often, causing cars to swerve into poles, or into businesses, or into homes, which therefore destroy public or private property and endanger lives.
I honestly think the idea of anarchy is a little silly. In the same. I don't believe in bowing to the state, either. I believe every person should follow the law within reason, and challenge it when they feel it is justifiable, by legal means or at least means that do no harm to others if they are illegal. Question authority always, obviously.