That Government Is Best That Governs Not At All

The great American experiment of a perfected and limited civil government has gone terribly wrong. All but the most ardent statists now accept this. Many feel that drastic reform is needed. Others feel the present system is just too corrupt and the present beneficiaries too firmly entrenched for any meaningful improvement ever to take place. If that is so, then what is to follow? Some advocate the libertarian position of minarchism, that civil government should be small and strictly limited. But minarchism appears to have two major deficiencies. One is that the definition of "small" is arbitrary and is susceptible of gradually escalating inclusions as to what constitutes legitimate government activity. The other is that government by its very nature cannot be limited. As I have earlier pointed out, if civil government were somehow susceptible to earthly control, the entity exercising that control would in reality be the "government", and of course, that entity would not be susceptible to earthly control. The attribute of sovereignty is inherent in the institution of government. Thus the concept of "limited government" is a contradiction.

Is there no way out of this conundrum? There indeed is. It involves the concept of true self-government. Various names have been suggested for this alternative method of human organization. These names include such things as spontaneous order, the Non-Aggression Principle, and most commonly, anarchism. There appears to be some considerable reluctance on the part of many to accept the principle of spontaneous order. I believe a large part of this reluctance is due to the fact that we have allowed the advocates of statism to seize and occupy the rhetorical high ground. Thus, it is said, the supporters of a spontaneous order of social interaction are referred to as unrealistic, wild-eyed utopians. We are impossibly idealistic and ignore the lessons of history that humans, unrestrained, will prey upon one another until all is consumed in an orgy of destruction. I think it is high time the supporters of spontaneous order turn the tables, call a spade an spade, and appeal to the truly undecided as to which position has the most merit.

Let us suppose some person living in a state of nature. He rightly sees that life is difficult, and that his efforts alone barely provide for the needs of life. But he sees the arrival of a fellow human to confer some survival advantage. Both together can accomplish what was difficult or impossible for one alone. The arrival of yet additional humans suggests the division of labor, and allows more human needs to be met. Along comes a stranger one day, and announces that he and some of his cronies have developed a new way for people to interact, and he claims this new institution has been developed solely to secure its members the rights to life, liberty, and property. I believe this claim is the bedrock putative reason that governments are established, and it sounds most attractive. But on further examination, our potential government "citizen" discovers that membership in this new organization involves certain costs (hey, there is no free lunch!). The new organization will take a certain amount of the fruits of his labor, and will call this "taxation". The amount will be small at first, but in principle, can increase without any limit whatever, subject only to the "needs" of those in control. And furthermore, those in control will determine what and how much services to provide, and will be the sole judge of those services and the consequent need to appropriate the property of its citizens. So much for the right to property.

Our proposed new citizen also learns that this new organization, "government", will of necessity have certain enforcement powers, and that it will ultimately have the monopoly of deadly force within the area. The enactments of the authorities will ultimately be enforced up to and including the use of deadly force, no matter how small and unimportant the "infraction". Citizens will not be legally able to protect themselves by an equivalent use of deadly force, even the most justified self-defense. This constitutes resistance, and will be dealt with most harshly. So much for the right to life.

The future citizen is also assured that the above arrangements are compatible with his right to liberty. But given that he is going to have to surrender any meaningful right to life and property, the concept of the right to liberty becomes empty and vacuous. He is highly skeptical at this point. He refuses to assent to what he sees as a bad deal. But the authorities come along later and tell him that since a certain number of other people have signed on, his agreement is no longer voluntary but mandatory. So much for securing life, liberty, and property to him.

A great deal of time passes. The original skepticism of our first dissident has long since been vindicated over and over. Civil government always developed into an organization that politicized more and more of the ambit of human life, creating conflict where there was none before, destroying useful human institutions and replacing them with the destructive apparatus of the state (for example, the educational system in this country), and creating strife and conflict where there was none before.

Yet it is we, who believe in the spontaneous order of social interaction, who are labeled as wild-eyed dreamers, hopeless idealists, and people out of contact with reality. I suggest that it is the statists who are the wild-eyed ideologues, that it is they who are out of touch with reality, and that it is we anarchists who have a realistic plan to replace the present system, when it inevitably collapses of its own contradictions. For statists to argue that civil government has been anything but an unmitigated disaster for the human race is sheer lunacy. In terms of our own vaunted Constitution, it was a fraud before the end of its very Preamble, before drafting even of Article I. As I have maintained before, civil government is the mortal enemy of humanity and civilization. It cannot be otherwise. The very institution of civil government violates the very principles that civil government is instituted to protect. It is a contradiction and an affront to mankind.

I do not write to convince the convinced statist. There are those whose minds are closed to reason, and I do not presume to educate them. There is any number of people who are undecided about the issue, however, and I address my comments to them. There are also a number of peaceful anarchists who feel defensive about their position. It is easy for them to feel marginalized, but theirs is the position of liberty and freedom for all, and should be celebrated, not hidden.

Some people have written asking how they should "convince" their families, friends, and acquaintances. Again, I do not propose to convert the world, only to offer the idea of the spontaneous order of social interaction as a topic of reasonable discussion. I do not wish to have others live the way that is most comfortable for me. But neither do I accept the proposition that others have the right to order my life as they see fit. The world is a large place, and I believe each should have the right to live in the arrangement he sees fit. I prefer liberty. Others may feel uncomfortable with this, and wish a hierarchical order with some in charge, others in obedience. But almost invariably those who ascribe to this view see themselves as part of the wise ruling elite, not as the great mass of ignorant but loyal subjects. Nevertheless, a plurality of choices for various types of social organization appears to be an ideal step in the right direction.

I believe also that the reluctance to accept the spontaneous order of social organization involves the issue of security. This ranges all the way from national security (who will protect our borders from the wild hordes who are likely to invade should our armed forces cease to exist?) to personal security (who is going to protect the weak from the ravages of the strong and violent?). I believe the issue of national security is fairly easy to address. America is armed to the teeth. American marksmanship is rightly celebrated as the finest in the world. Americans have a tradition of liberty, and do not take well to being ordered about. They are intelligent, and are separated from their neighbors to the east and west by two vast oceans. We have a relatively under-populated neighbor to our north with whom we have close cultural and economic ties. The same obtains for our more populated neighbor to the south. Consider the case of Afghanistan. The impoverished insurgents, having no greater resources than crude rifles, RPG's, IED's, a willingness to accept casualties, and big cohones, are successfully resisting the mightiest military force on earth. Any potential invader would find this nation a tough nut to crack.

As far as personal security, I believe it would be far better in a society of spontaneous order, as compared to what we have today. For one thing, the civil state fosters and supports violent crime by its counterproductive War on Drugs. This war is really a war on American liberties and has been the excuse for a large part of the recent loss of our civil rights, including the right to privacy. By greatly increasing transaction costs, the war has kept the price of illegal drugs high, thus increasing profits to the drug cartels, and has served to reduce competition. I expect the drug cartels would be the last to support legalization. Thus the state indirectly subsidizes the very activity that it so vocally condemns. It is all a fraud, and peaceable American are the victims all the way around.

What of the violent criminal? Under a civil government, are we not better protected against that monster? Well, no. It is accepted American legal precedent that the police have no duty to defend us against criminals, violent or not. Police are not really the deterrent they are believed to be. In fact, it can be argued that their main activity is armed revenue enhancement for the state. Our community recently had a grisly mass murder. The police have sought community help in solving the crime. One would think that would be their priority now. But I have detected no decrease in the manpower directed to traffic enforcement. It increases the revenue stream, and the state is the institutionalized instrument of plunder.

Private deterrence of crime, however, is a different story. It is estimated that there are something like 400 decent and law-abiding citizens for every violent felon. There are simply more of us than there are of them. Legal concealed carry has been shown to decrease crime. I am not arguing here that we should get official approval of the state in order to engage in an activity that the supreme law of the land says the state has no right to infringe in the first place. I am only saying that we are ultimately responsible for our own security anyway, and that as in all things, the less the state in involved, the better off we will be.

I continue to be steadfastly optimistic about the ultimate triumph of freedom and liberty over the forces of coercion and tyranny. The demise of the civil state is inevitable, and will occur as a result of its own contradictions. The most important activity, as I see it, is to liberate oneself. Even in the temporary absence of a social evolution toward a society of true liberty, liberating oneself is a breakthrough to a remarkable new world of beauty and harmony. Take heart. A beautiful world beckons!

September 3, 2009