Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Bargain with Fearless Leader

The two defining characteristic of a State is that it is an instrument of law and an instrument of violence, used to coerce people into following its laws. This makes the State different from a simple agreement between friends or a hired night watchman. If I know for a fact that you murdered someone and I kill you then I am a murderer. I am not even allowed to stick you in my basement for twenty years; that would be kidnapping. I have no right to go into other countries to chase after people who I do not like. Government is a mystical action where we take people and make them "police officers," with the power to "arrest" people, deemed to be "criminals." We put people on "trial," "convict" them, put them in "prison" and even, in extreme situations, "execute" them. We call someone a "soldier" and send him to Iraq and Afghanistan were if he sees a member of Al Qaida running away he is allowed to shoot the man in the back. All of these things, which we would never dream of allowing private individuals to do, become not only justified but even commendable simply because there is now a government label attached to it. This is a monstrous absurdity, which we accept simply because the alternative is allowing "each man to do what is right in his eyes." I do not accept government because I like government; government simply scares me only slightly less than the alternative.

Nothing should shield us from the sheer brute force at the heart of government. In a sense, this is a weakness of democratic governments. Democratic governments can hide behind the rhetoric the "will of the people" and "protecting their freedom." It is even worse with modern liberalism, with its claims that government should help people in their private lives and insists on giving the government the power to do so. I sometimes think that it would be less detrimental to the cause of liberty if we had to deal with a Hobbesian autocrat; it would allow for a more honest relationship.

Dear Mr. Fearless Leader,

I do not like nor respect you in any way. You have no particular right to rule, whether through God or through nature. You are not better than anyone else; you were just immoral, crafty or lucky enough to be the last one standing of all your competitors. As such, your government has no legitimacy; you are nothing but a tyrant and I have no objection to killing you. The only reason why I do not is because, while you are a corrupt power hungry greedy bastard, unlike most of the corrupt power hungry greedy bastards I have read about in history books, you seem to actually be rational and sane. I, therefore, think that I might be able to do business with you. You serve to keep my neighbors in check so they do not scalp me while I sleep, rape my wife and sell my children into slavery. The fact that there is only one of you and that you are hundreds of miles away means that you are less utterly terrifying.

I do not want you to have any part of my life. Please leave me in peace (other than making sure I do not suffer sudden violent death and have breathable air and drinkable water). I do not want your health care; I do not want your roads. I do not care what sort of deity you think I should worship or what kinds of substances you think I should or should not put into my body. I do not want to receive a lecture in morality from you (you have no morality to speak of) and will do business only with those people I wish to. I am fully capable of overseeing the education of my children and have no desire to send them to your indoctrination schools. Because I do not need you for these things, there is no need for most of your taxes.

I think we can have a very fruitful relationship. If you leave me alone, I will leave you alone. I will support your claim to power, follow your laws and even agree to serve in your army. In the meantime, I have a house stockpiled with automatic weapons and ammunition and a tank in my garage. I will use them against you if I ever decide that you are not keeping your end of the bargain.


Your Loyal Armed and Dangerous Subject (Who Can and Will Kill You If He So Chooses)


Vox Populi said...

>Government is a mystical action where we take people and make them "police officers," with the power to "arrest" people, deemed to be "criminals."

I think this is backwards. It's not that when people get together they create this magical entity called "the government" that is born with the mystical power to detain people.

Rather, human beings always had the power to detain and punish criminals. Think. If you were on a desert island with two people, and one of the other two killed the other, so it was just now you and the murderer in this "society" - you would be perfectly within your rights to take steps to ensure that the murderer does not kill you. (Of course, you might have difficulty physically accomplishing such acts, and you may have trouble articulating to the murderer why it is your values that rule on the island - but this is the state of nature war of all against all. )

Even in this microsociety, we note two problems - (1) how do we decide what is punishable behavior and (2) how can we ensure that the party that is in the right will triumph, if he is weaker than the party against whom he wishes to enforce his right?

When you expand the society by thousands, you get both more problems (how do we decide morality/legality for so many people?) and more solutions (a weak individual may not be able to enforce his rights, but the combined might of the state can).

When enough of us get together such that it is impractical for each of us to maintain his right to do what he sees fit to protect his interests (his right to wage the war of all against all), we delegate this power to the government, and relinquish our right, so long as everyone agrees to be bound by the government.

Izgad said...

I think we are on the same page in terms of government.

I agree with you that human beings existing with each other happen before there is a government. Yes we may accept one person on the desert island passing judgment on the other. That being said it is a situation which we do not like, which is why we turn to the moral “magic” of government to get us out of such a moral dilemma. We cannot have Dexter Morgan chopping people up into neat little pieces no matter how much they deserve it.

Vox Populi said...

>We cannot have Dexter Morgan chopping people up into neat little pieces no matter how much they deserve it.

Sure we could, if we knew they deserved it. Problems are, inter alia (a) how do we know they actually did it, and Dexter isn't just a psychopath? (b) is chopping them up into pieces the right punishment? (c) how do we keep tabs on all the Dexter Morgans? Etc.

We're not so much giving government power as using it to muzzle our own. The govt is actually weaker in many respects than jungle justice. Dexter Morgan is not bound by due process or the 8th Amendment. Dexter answers to no one, and certainly cannot be sued, etc.