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A crime is a violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others — i.e., the recourse to violence — that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas, in a free society, are not a crime — and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime.

There can be no such thing as a political crime under the American system of law. Since an individual has the right to hold and to propagate any ideas he chooses (obviously including political ideas), the government may not infringe his right; it may neither penalize nor reward him for his ideas; it may not take any judicial cognizance whatever of his ideology.

By the same principle, the government may not give special leniency to the perpetrator of a crime, on the grounds of the nature of his ideas.

All actions defined as criminal in a free society are actions involving force — and only such actions are answered by force.

Do not be misled by sloppy expressions such as “A murderer commits a crime against society.” It is not society that a murderer murders, but an individual man. It is not a social right that he breaks, but an individual right. He is not punished for hurting a collective — he has not hurt a whole collective — he has hurt one man. If a criminal robs ten men — it is still not “society” that he has robbed, but ten individuals. There are no “crimes against society” — all crimes are committed against specific men, against individuals. And it is precisely the duty of a proper social system and of a proper government to protect an individual against criminal attack — against force.

“Textbook of Americanism”
The Ayn Rand Column, 86
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