The Essence of Government

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The
most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to
think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions
and taboos. Almost inevitable he comes to the conclusion that the
government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable,
and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he
is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among
those who are.

~
H.L. Mencken

I
give a good number of speeches each year. For some time I've asked
audiences a question: "What useful purpose does the US government
serve?" I do that not to be challenging or provocative, but
to actually find out if anyone else can think of a useful purpose
the government serves. The question at fist shocks, then amuses
and then perplexes almost everyone because it is both so obvious
and outrageous that no one ever thinks of asking it. Most people
accept the institution of government because it has always been
there; they have always assumed it was essential. People do not
question its existence, much less its right to exist.

Government
sponsors untold waste, criminality and inequality in every sphere
of life it touches, giving little or nothing in return. Its contributions
to the commonweal are wars, pogroms, confiscations, persecutions,
taxation, regulation and inflation. And it's not just some governments
of which that's true, although some are clearly much worse than
others. It's an inherent characteristic of all government.

The
essence of something is what makes the thing what it is. But surprisingly
little study of government has been done by ontologists (who study
the first principles of things) or epistemologists (who study the
nature of human knowledge). The study of government almost never
concerns itself with whether government should be, but only
with how and what it should be. The existence of government
is accepted without question.

What
is the essence of government? After you cut through all the rhetoric,
the doublethink and the smokescreen of altruism that surround the
subject, you find that the essence of government is force. And the
belief it has the right to initiate the use of force whenever expedient.
Government is an organization with a monopoly, albeit with some
fringe competition, on the use of force within a given territory.
As Mao Zedong said, "The power of government comes out of the
barrel of a gun." There is no voluntarism about obeying laws.
The consent of a majority of the governed may help a government
put a nice face on things, but it is not essential and is, in fact,
given with any enthusiasm.

A
person's attitude about government offers an excellent insight into
their character. Political beliefs reflect how a person thinks men
should relate to one another; they offer a practical insight into
how he views humanity at large and himself in particular.

There
are only two ways people can relate in any given situation; voluntarily
or coercively. Almost everyone, except overt sociopaths, pays at
least lip service to the idea of voluntarism, but government is
viewed as somehow exempt. It's widely believed that a group has
prerogatives and rights unavailable to individuals. But if that
is true, then the Ku Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army, the PLO
– or, for that matter, any group from a lynch mob to a government
– all have rights that individuals do not. In fact, all these
groups believe they have a right to initiate the use of force when
they find it expedient. To the extent that they can get away with
it, they all act like governments.

Terrorists,
Mobs and Governments

You
might object that the important difference between the KKK, IRA,
PLO or a simple mob and a government is that they aren't "official"
or "legal." Apart from common law concepts, legality is
arbitrary. Once you leave the ken of common law, the only distinction
between the "laws" of governments and the ad hoc proceedings
of an informal assemblage such as a mob, or of a more formal group
like the KKK, boils down to the force the group can muster to impose
its will on others. The laws of Nazi Germany and the USSR are now
widely recognized as criminal fantasies that gained reality on a
grand scale. But at the time those regimes had power, they were
treated with the respect granted to any legal system. Governments
become legal or official by gaining power. The fact that every government
was founded on gross illegalities – war or revolt – against its predecessor
is rarely an issue.

Force
is the essence of government. But the possession of a monopoly on
force almost inevitably requires a territory, and maintaining control
of territory is considered the test of a "successful"
government. Would any "terrorist" organization be more
"legitimate" if it had its own country? Absolutely. Would
it be any less vicious or predatory by that fact? No, just as most
governments today (the ex-Communist countries and the kleptocracies
of the Third World being the best examples), demonstrate. Governments
can be much more dangerous than the mobs that give them birth. The
Jacobin regime of the French Revolution is a prime example.

Is
the State Necessary?

The
violent and corrupt nature of government is widely acknowledged
by almost everyone. That's been true since time immemorial, as have
political satire and grousing about politicians. Yet almost everyone
turns a blind eye; most not only put up with it, but actively support
the charade. That's because although many may believe government
to be an evil, they believe it is a necessary evil. (The larger
question of whether anything that is evil is necessary, or whether
anything that is necessary can be evil, is worth discussing – perhaps
in another forum.)

What,
arguably, makes government necessary is the need for protection
from other, even more dangerous, governments. I believe a case can
be made that modern technology obviates this function.

One
of the most perversely misleading myths about government is that
it promotes order within its own bailiwick, keeps groups from constantly
warring with each other and somehow creates togetherness and harmony.
In fact, that's the exact opposite of the truth. There's no cosmic
imperative for different people to rise up against one another – unless
they're organized into political groups. The Middle East, now the
world's most fertile breeding ground for hatred, provides an excellent
example.

Muslims,
Christians and Jews lived together peaceably in Palestine, Lebanon
and North Africa for centuries, until the situation became politicized
after WWI. Until then an individual's background and beliefs were
just personal attributes, not a casus belli. Government was
at its most benign, an ineffectual nuisance that concerned itself
mostly with extorting taxes. People were busy with that most harmless
of activities, making money.

But
politics does not deal with people as individuals. It scoops them
up into parties and nations. And some group inevitably winds up
using the power of the state (however innocently or "justly"
at first) to impose its values and wishes on others, with predictably
destructive results. What would otherwise be an interesting kaleidoscope
of humanity then sorts itself out according to the lowest common
denominator peculiar to the time and place.

Sometimes
that means along religious lines, as with the Muslims and Hindus
in India, or the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland; or ethnic
lines, like the Kurds and Iraqis in the Middle East or the Tamils
and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka; sometimes its mostly racial, as whites
and East Indians found out throughout Africa in the 70s, or Argentines,
Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and other Latins discovered more recently.
Sometimes it amounts to no more than personal beliefs, as the McCarthy
era in the 1950s and the Salem trials in the 1690s proved.

Throughout
history government has served as a vehicle for the organization
of hatred and oppression, benefiting no one except those who are
ambitious and ruthless enough to gain control of it.

October
26, 2001

Doug
Casey (send him mail) is the
author of four books, and editor of Doug
Casey’s International Speculator
.

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