Hobbes Visits Campus

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The
philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that there can never be harmony
in a community unless there is a government; some person or group
exercising the power to coerce the rest. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe has
pointed out, it is a logical consequence of this view that if 2
men live together, isolated from other people, one of them would
have to be the ruler, or else there would be no end to their fighting
lest death. This conclusion is obviously ludicrous, and leads one
to doubt the truth and rationality of Hobbes' premise. Yet it seems
that our universities have internalized the Hobbesian position and
act on it quite readily.

How else
to explain the spectacle that has been unfolding itself here at
Texas A&M ever since Spring Break? A small group of students
has spent their days wandering around campus, dressed in suits,
shaking hands with other students. Of course, those with whom they
shake hands likely ate beside them in some dining hall over the
past 4 years and so do not consider it in an honor and a privilege
to meet such an unimportant personage, but no matter. These students,
who wish to be elected Student Body President, have spent much time
assuring us of the crucial differences in their platforms. Candidate
A, it seems, favors more student u2018involvement' while candidate B
vigorously opposes this. Hmm, that isn't quite right. Actually,
their platforms are identical. All have "lots of new ideas"
for how to spend the mandatory student fees such as "movie
nights" and "bowling trips." All favor a more "inclusive"
campus, an unusual campaign position at one of the least tolerant
campuses in the nation. In fact, all give roughly identical speeches.
Many promise things which are entirely outside the scope of power
of the Student Body President. One promised to expand meal service
options — meal service is provided by an outside vendor. Another
promised to institute an additional break during the year — a decision
which would be made by the real school president (Robert Gates,
by the way, and yes, THAT Gates.)

To differentiate
themselves, these students plan a number of campaign stunts. They
ask other students to stand around campus at all hours holding giant
flags. Some candidates are more creative — their staffers hand out
copies of the student newspaper — next to the dispenser which holds
roughly 1000 additional copies of that same newspaper at no user
charge (not "free" of course.) All this activity begs
what seems to be a reasonable question — why aren't these people
in class? If they have this much free time, why aren't they working
instead of maxing out their parents' credit cards?

I explained
to a campaigner — a diehard supporter of Brian or Bill or someone
like that — that I would not support any candidate. It is true,
I did endorse a candidate for Vet-Med Senator, but only because
I would love to see her picture in the school newspaper on a regular
basis. She missed her calling in going to college, she should have
been a model. But, back on topic, this campaigner was simply shocked
that I "did not care what was done with my mandatory student
fees." I responded that I was extremely concerned about my
mandatory student fees, and saw there as being two options: Either
that money could not be taken from me to support this student government
nonsense, or it could be. Since all candidates endorsed the latter
option, I saw no reason to care. By the way, it turns out that to
become a candidate, a student must submit a number of papers. Once
they have done so, they receive a few thousand dollars — paid for
by mandatory student fees — to carry on their irritating campaigns.
So in a very real sense, the irritation I experience around campus
is the primary purpose of the entire student government.

Where did
people get the stupid idea that, since there are a bunch of students
on campus, they ought to elect a president? Maybe they got it from
Hobbes, but I doubt many are able to read at that level. Of course,
to the government there is great benefit to the existence of such
silliness. It gets students used to the idea that all identifiable
groups need a Great Leader. The ludicrous nature of the campaign
process makes it perfect training for those interested in a career
in Parasite Service. I spoke to some of those very interested in
the race, and asked them why the heck a bunch of students needed
a President. Even most of their standard reasons for having governments
didn't apply here. After all, the Student Body President does not
maintain law and order, nor does he order the invasion of neighboring
schools or countries. They concurred with what I expected — the
students need a President to direct the wise use of the mandatory
student fees. Not enough money is paid by this fee to simply fund
anyone who wants to do a fun activity, so we need someone to decide
what the most fun project is and direct money to that.

Suppose
my annual fee is $500, and I want to go mountain climbing for $200.
I would have had plenty of money to do that, had I not paid my fee.
If I ask for funding for this activity, the Wise Leader (usually
a student who couldn't manage to graduate in 4 years) will likely
decide that no, that is not really fun. What is fun is a trip to
New York to campaign for the Republican Party, so that will be funded
instead.

Wouldn't
we eliminate the need for such a Wise Leader if we just let students
spend money on what they wanted to do? Might this not save me a
lot of annoyance for 2 weeks per year, plus also increase total
funness (if such is a goal anyway?) No, say our illiterate teachers,
this would be too expensive. It boggles the mind that people can
believe that spending money on your actual activities is more expensive
than pooling all this money, devoting large chunks of it to funding
a meaningless election, and then holding regular meetings to decide
what to fund. What they mean, of course, is that the private-property
idea would be too expensive for them, the people who enjoy partaking
of many campus activities. It would not be more expensive to those
who prefer things like going to class and working. The present system
allows them to live like parasites on the rest of us. If we complain,
they respond that it's our own fault — we should take advantage
of those activities too!

I eat a
strict low-carb diet. I would not take too kindly to a man smashing
me over the head, stealing my wallet, and then offering me a loaf
of bread which I have paid for. When I refuse this bread, he might
respond, in exactly the same manner as these students, that I can't
complain about the theft now — after all, I could have taken some
of this thing which I don't want but which I was forced to pay for.

Of course,
what makes this statement even more ridiculous is the fact that
(one hopes) they can't really mean it. Of course they realize that
if all of us non-activity goers went to every activity, the fees
would have to increase to exactly the price of going to all these
activities, plus the campaigning fees. On the other hand, maybe
they really do believe that costs are reduced in this absurd way.
That is a frightening thought.

Conclusion

Of
course, university attendance is voluntary, and so I do not oppose
student government in the way that I oppose real government. You
might wonder why I bother commenting on it, then. There are a couple
reasons. First, u2018student government' can be taken two ways. Not
only does it govern the students, but it also trains future governors.
So, if you want to know who your future enemies will be at any campus,
look to the student government. Second, student government exists
only because students have internalized the various myths and stupidities
regarding politics and economics. At the same time, its very existence
and lack of truly dangerous power gives students a sense of trust
in government, as well as the expectation of a government. Third,
I wish to point to what may be a rewarding line of anti-government
research. The student government is relatively small, with little
lasting bureaucracy due to the tendency of most students to graduate
in 6 years or less. It tends to have short documents, and to lack
good security mechanisms. (Doubtful regarding Texas A&M, of
course.) Therefore, it is quite transparent. That makes it easy
to study. Yet, at the same time, many absurdities and stupidities
regarding real government can be observed in student governments
— it is like a microcosm of the Incompetent State. If we can document
the complete lack of justification for student government, and do
it in a convincing way, those same arguments can, I believe, be
extended in general arguments for anarchy.

April
1, 2006

Joshua
Katz [send him mail] is
a graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M. He has studied philosophy
of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and is presently looking
for work after the academic term. He enjoys a glass of port and
a wedge of Brie as a way to start his day.

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