Why Government Should Be Voluntarily Chosen


I have earlier argued that choosing one’s government is a basic choice or decision right that follows from Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of rights contained in the Declaration of Independence; and that following out Jefferson’s reasoning we arrive at the concept of panarchy (see here). Rights arguments do not persuade everyone. The arguments in this article make no use of the concept of rights.

The question arises: What is government? Government must be defined by some quality that it uniquely has that distinguishes it from other things that are not government. That quality has to do with principles or rules that govern action. But what rules and what actions? Governments vary greatly in the scope of actions they govern, in their methods of governing, and in their relations to the persons governed.

There are all sorts of governments at many levels. To simplify the discussion, let us think only of national governments associated with States. Let us suppose for a moment that the reason that these governments vary is that the nations that they rule also vary. The Russians have their form of government and the Chinese have theirs. This is, at least in part, a matter of taste. Although these governments may have originated in conquest or in other ways, they found stability, at least in recent centuries, in ruling over amalgamations of people with some sort of identity or focal and shared points of belief and value and often religion and language. Insofar as an entire people had a say in the form of their government, that government may reflect that say. There is a kind of crude collective choice that either has been made or agreed to in some way or else brought about by force and custom, at least to some degree. I am not saying that governments come about by collective choice. I am saying that it plays a part, and that this helps explain variation among governments.

In some sense, the existence of a variety of states and governments shows that we acknowledge variations of preferences for government among large aggregations of persons. But if a part of the choice of government is collective, then we should recognize also that collective choice glosses over the vast variation we have as persons by aggregating in some way over our personal preferences and beliefs. If government is government of a population of people, it suppresses the expression of preferences for government among a large range of sub-populations and sub-groups of people. One cannot logically contend that a national government rests upon the consent of the governed without simultaneously recognizing that it does not rest upon the consent of sub-groups among the governed who express preferences not to be ruled by that national government.

Despite the state-by-state variation, there really are not too many different kinds of government to choose from. Yes, there is a large difference between being ruled by Mugabe and Bush. And individual governments do not all have the same mix of programs; but the fact is that if one tries to escape a land with big government and find one with small government, one is apt to have a difficult time of it without having to move out of one’s native land. Choosing a government that is different from one’s current one is apt to be very costly. It is even more costly to notify the world that you belong to no State or to renounce the State of your birth. Governments use force to keep people under their rule. Such force includes majority rule in democracies. The costs of getting out from under the rule of force are high. Each of us is apt to go along to get along. The result is that governments tend to be more homogeneous in appearance than they otherwise might be and that our choices among existing governments are not as broad as they might otherwise be.

The point is that if each of us could voluntarily choose the government we wanted without having to move or move very far away or without having to move to a foreign land, the range of government options could only rise and probably rise substantially. To put it another way, the 8 million people in New York City, if given a choice of government in that region, will likely exhibit a vastly greater range of preferences than the single one that they now have. They have many different ideas of what the scope of government should be, what its rules should be, how it should enforce those rules, and what its relations to those it governs should be. In a nation of 300 million people, it is obvious that there are vastly more personal preferences about government than are reflected in the existence of one national government for all. Personal preferences for different kinds of governments are not finding expression in our current arrangement. We have far more choice of fruit juices and drinks in a supermarket aisle than we do of government, and yet the choice of government probably has a far greater impact on our lives than whether we choose grape or cranberry juice.

If you think that you should have your choice of cereal, or spouse, or mode of transport, or job, or religion, even if the reason is simply that this is what you want, then, by the same token, you should have your choice of government if that is what you want. In these cases, I am speaking of making peaceful choices that do not oppress others. It is not necessarily your rights that come into this. It is simply your will, that is, the expression of who you are. To be human is to act, and to act is to choose; and to choose is to choose freely (still in the sense of peacefully). I am not saying at this point that choosing and expressing your personal humanity is a good or right thing (although I believe that and say that in my conclusion). I am saying that if you choose products and services, and nearly all of us do, then you logically can think of choosing government inasmuch as government purports to provide various goods and services. Phrases like "consent of the governed" and "no taxation without representation" express this choice. Voting is also said to be an expression of this choice, and, even if it is not in reality such an expression, the idea of choosing one’s government is still present in the rationales for voting.

In general, your choice of cereal disagrees with your neighbor’s choice but since you each choose what you want, you each get what you want without harming each other. Choosing government can be the same kind of thing. You each can be better off by making your own choice. At present, this is not the case, and it is hard to imagine it as a reality because both you and he are now presented with only one cereal and you must both eat it, whether you like it or not. At best, you may vote for a person, the effect of your vote on that cereal being nil. This is all you and he have ever seen. You do not choose a government itself or a method of governing or rules of governing; you express yourself, to no effect, concerning a few people who may or may not run that government. An alternate reality, that you actually choose your own governance, seems quite unnatural in the present state of affairs, even though it is as natural as the fact that you and your neighbor choose different churches, or that two members of the same church choose to attend two different universities. America was inhabited by hundreds of Indian tribes with different forms of government, and even today there are hundreds of Indian nations within the borders of the U.S.A. If they can have their governments, there is little reason why other sub-groups cannot have theirs.

The disagreements over government that you may have with your neighbor can be and are far greater than the disagreements over cereal because they are over more serious matters that each of you values. He may wish to make war on Iran, while you may wish to build rockets to Saturn. He may ardently desire Social Security, and you may want a strictly limited government. You may want a monarch, and he may want no government at all. The greater these differences are, the stronger the argument is that you should each have the government of your choice, for then you will each gain more from getting what you want and each of you will experience less harm by being made to endure policies with which you disagree.

But I neither want to overstate the differences among people nor make them seem so great as to render life impossible without relying on a strong man to rule over them. The existing pattern of government by states engenders and amplifies differences and plays upon them. Political leaders of states create loyalties to their states by finding and exploiting differences both between states and within states. They find and also create and encourage rival groups and play them off, one against another. Their "solutions" to differences involve force, fraud, and payoffs (economic and psychological) that make them as much indispensable as possible. They are the exclusive priests of their religion of the State which makes them and the State appear to be the indispensable means of social cooperation and economic benefits. They would have us believe that we are unable to cooperate without them and unable to work together in a productive economy. Their system of rule depends on inculcating and educating us in the belief that without them and the State, we would be at each other’s throats. They pose to us an unnecessarily restricted (and thus false) range of choice: the State or chaos. They educate us to be divided and reliant upon them for our welfare. They play upon our insecurities while holding out promises of generous amounts of security at a low and reasonable price; but these are promises that they cannot keep. They are Ponzi schemes in which they return to us our own contributions after deducting large amounts for themselves and their favorites. They are schemes in which the returns produced by one segment of the population are transferred to another segment, without there being any genuine increases in returns brought about by the State and with all such increases being brought about by ourselves and made to seem as if they are bounties of the State.

Judging from the frequency and severity of civil wars, it seems conclusive that disagreements over government are strong. The rulers of ruling states greet secessions and independence movements with dismay and force. They mobilize public opinion to support the State. A typical litany of rationalizations can be found here, as Putin defends Russian attacks on Chechnya. Chief among these is the fear of chaos and the opposing idea that the State brings unity, strength, and order. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution used similar arguments, and this occurred immediately after a confederation of states without a strong central power defeated a major European power! What does Russia, which already occupies one-seventh of the earth’s land surface have to fear from Chechnya? The fear of Putin and all leaders of states is that one concession to one breakaway district or group will lead to further concessions to other groups. This position of Putin is clearly expressed in that news article. The implicit and unexpressed value is that the State of Russia must be maintained. Russia is a value in and of itself, they believe. Lincoln’s glorification of Union is quite similar. If pressed, the statists like Putin do not peacefully argue that all Russians will gain by a united Russia, and still less do they offer this as a voluntary choice to Russians. Instead, they resort to force. The Chechnyans (and other breakaway groups in other lands) clearly do not see the value in remaining under Russian rule. An independence movement speaks for itself. It expresses its own values. Those who wish to suppress it do not. This is entirely obvious. The strength and success of statist thought is evidently remarkable if something that is so obvious needs to be spelled out and emphasized. The American independence movement that broke with Great Britain expressed its own values, and they did not include submission to King George. No argument of his could have held up against the revealed preferences of the rebels who had not consented to his rule. Force is not an argument. It is what we resort to when argument fails.

The propaganda of the ruling states is so strong that it seems novel to raise the possibility of non-territorial governance, as well as governance arrangements that cover a wider scope of possibilities that are yet to be discovered and realized. This is the idea of panarchy, namely, that there can be (as John Zube writes): "The realization of as many different and autonomous communities as are wanted by volunteers for themselves, all non-territorially coexisting, side by side and intermingled, as their members are, in the same territory or even world-wide and yet separated from each other by personal laws, administrations and jurisdiction, as different churches are or ought to be." If we maintain the fictional idea that is drummed into us by the State that we cannot agree to live side by side while having our differences, then we cannot even imagine panarchy. The State has then cut our thinking off at the root. It has replaced independent thought, voluntary and free choice, peaceful expression of personal values, and peaceful association with others by force, fraud, fear, and falsity. The State cannot logically maintain that it is of prime important for the welfare of all of those within its borders when persons within those borders express clearly that they are worse off being ruled by that State and wish to dissociate from it. The State’s force is neither persuasion nor argument nor an expression of what a dissenting person values. It is a suppression of that dissent.

The basic reason why government should be voluntarily chosen is that in this way, each of us can get more of what we want and less of what we do not want. The fact that we personally disagree over what government is and should be counts as a reason why it pays us to agree to have rival governments in and on the same land (with one major exception to be noted shortly). The fact that we, to some extent, have coalesced into different kinds of governments as in nation-states (even if the equilibrium is held together by force and deceit), counts as a demonstration that cooperation among rival governments is possible. The earth is one great territory that contains many governments within its limits. There is no reason why the territory of the United States or any government cannot contain many more independent jurisdictions, up to and including the very smallest, which is a single person. Government should be a matter of personal choice.

The argument that it pays each of us to agree to have rival governments has one important exception, namely, except for those people who gain by ruling over other people. Some of us want a government that rules other people than ourselves even when they do not want to be so ruled. Some of us not only want to tell others how to live and govern themselves, they want to force them to live in a particular way. This kind of person we may, following James Ostrowski’s analysis, call a fascist. I quote him:

"What shall we call this broad-based statist coalition? It is apparent that there are two basic political mindsets: libertarian and fascist, the latter term being used here in its colloquial sense to mean imposing your will on others. Even a more academic definition is not far from my usage. Fascism involves u2018the glorification of the state and the total subordination of the individual to it. The state is defined as an organic whole into which individuals must be absorbed for their own and the state’s benefit.’ (Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.)"

Panarchy is unalterably opposed to the fascist idea, which is the imposition of a government (or state) upon a person who does not want that government. The libertarian idea explained by Ostrowski is similarly unalterably opposed to the fascist idea. If the fascists do not give ground peacefully and if ways are not discovered to get out from under their rule, then there is no alternative except for the panarchists and libertarians to resort to defensive force as the American revolutionists did.

A truly American ideal is that of Jefferson, which is the voluntary choice of one’s government. This ideal was radical in the eighteenth century and it is radical now. It is the idea of liberty extended to choice of government. The idea of liberty is the polar opposite of the idea of fascism. The idea of liberty has not yet been achieved. We have drifted far, far from it in the direction of fascism. Fascist ways of thought are prevalent in America, so much so that the resurgence of liberty seems at times but a dream. And yet liberty will prevail because the fascist idea is basically an evil idea inasmuch as, among other things, it suppresses humanity and human beings. Fascism rules by force and fraud, but it will not withstand exposure to truth or to the aspirations of living life fully that are within each and every human being. The latter statements are value-laden. In neutral terms, the same idea can be expressed as follows. There are very large opportunities present when people are suppressed and unable to achieve their preferred values. The people can achieve much higher returns by re-organizing and removing the suppression. The system in place that suppresses these values and returns maintains itself because there are high costs of effecting the change. Sooner or later, however, the good people of this world will find ways to lower those costs in order to get the returns. They will end or at least reduce the domination of the fascists.

Many of us are being held captive by the State under a government that we do not prefer. I refer, not just to libertarians or anarchists or minarchists or greens or socialists or democrats or republicans or any political classification, narrow or broad, but to all of us who are not fascists. Instead of combating each other, we should recognize that we are all prisoners being held in the same prison. Our common enemy is the fascist who refuses to allow us the freedom to choose our own governments. Our common enemy is the fascist who insists on herding us all into the same wars and the same programs under the same rules enforced by a monopoly government. And when we succumb to the temptation to make the other guy have the kind of government that we demand, then we become the fascist.

Let us demand our liberty and free ourselves from fascist thinking, no matter what our political persuasion is. Let us understand that this means not imprisoning others within the walls of our own parochial beliefs by the fetters of a national monopoly government or any other monopoly government. Let us understand that we cannot have our liberty without the other fellow having his. Let us recognize that our enemy really is the fascist idea of "imposing your will on others." As soon as we attempt to rule others and attempt to bring about a system in which our views prevail and prevent others from choosing, we contribute to our own defeat. We are imprisoning ourselves and allying ourselves with the fascists. We are intolerantly dis-allowing the voluntary choice of government.