As attached as I am to it, I must nevertheless allow that Curmudgeonry is not enough. There must be clarity. We must say what we mean distinctly, openly, and fearlessly. I try to be as clear as possible…but others devote their efforts to muddying the waters, and it’s unclear which way the battle is going.
WARNING: What follows will disturb many. It attacks an assumption that’s widely shared and seldom questioned. Indeed, you might be one of those who will recoil from the notion. But if clarity is the goal, confronting that assumption is imperative.
What defines a government? That is: what distinguishes governments – States – from all other kinds of human organizations?
Aristotle called such a distinction the differentia: the critical characteristic in a definition that separates the category being defined from others in its genus, or supercategory. The genus of governments is stated above: “human organizations.” Clearly, a government is one such. But what characteristic do governments possess that differentiate it from human organizations that are not governments?
Take your time over it. There are a lot of false trails. Many of them are highly seductive. Governments’ cheerleaders – i.e., those who think the whole idea is just dandy and want you not to think too deeply about it – try their best to mislead you about it, each and every day. So think hard.
Let’s have a few quotes on the subject. First, one that George Washington the “Father of Our Country,” did not say but is nevertheless revealing:
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence; it is force.
Now some observations from later thinkers and writers:
Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us…. In order to obtain and hold power, a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, craft, and cruelty. – Leo Tolstoy
I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. – Henry David Thoreau
The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence. – Mahatma Gandhi
Hint, hint. Perhaps we can proceed to the next part of this diatribe.
The sole characteristic that differentiates governments from other kinds of human organizations – book clubs, corporations, regular Dungeons & Dragons get-togethers – is its assertion that a government may use coercive force against others without penalty. That’s the reality behind George Washington’s non-quote. If you’re an agent of the State, you get to bully people – e.g., point guns at them; slap manacles on them; drag them off to wherever – who aren’t agents of the State. Sometimes (cf. Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas) you even get to kill them. However, they have no such privilege over you.
Every government asserts exactly that privilege. Constitutions, charters, bills of rights, and so on do not contradict that assumption. They can’t, for the privilege is essential to the State. Without it, it’s just another salon. But the danger involved to Us the People cannot be gainsaid.
Isabel Paterson’s landmark book The God of the Machine attempted to rationalize government as potentially domesticable by the method of the Constitution. She analyzed it as an engineering document for the specific purpose of chartering a government that could be trusted not to violate the rights of its subjects. And to be fair, it was a valiant attempt to do exactly that. That it took more than two centuries to fail of its purpose testifies to its brilliance.
Nevertheless, it has failed. That raises the question whether it’s possible to tame the State by any means. I’ve been straining to find the answer for forty years.
Let’s retreat, albeit briefly, from the consideration of governments to the consideration of individuals. We know a few things about Mankind at this point:
- Each man possesses self-awareness and purposiveness, at least in potential.
- Despite his consciousness of being an individual – i.e., a separate creature from others of his kind – he participates voluntarily in society. That is: he willingly interacts with others some of the time.
- He recognizes, and is capable of, both good and evil in the pursuit of his objectives.
- He is capable of overriding his instincts, even the instinct for self-preservation, by an act of will.
No individual man lacks any of those characteristics, except perhaps the demonically possessed. And despite the objections of “thinkers” who claim that good and evil are “socially constructed,” the concurrence on their nature is overwhelming. Evil actions have a common characteristic of their own: they treat another, or others, as things without rights, things to be used.
That is the eternal and immutable cleavage: what separates good from evil; what has always separated them; and what always will. Tolkien said it quite clearly:
‘It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’
‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’
But governments don’t recognize that distinction. The only thing governments respect is government itself: power over others. To work in or for a government requires that you accept government uber alles as your credo. If you don’t – even if you make exceptions – you will be driven out of the State’s legions. That’s why every government, no matter how constituted, eventually goes bad.
If you’re wondering why I’m nattering on about this crap, the reason is simple: The time has come to consider seriously whether there’s a viable alternative to government. The mass murders of the century behind us, and the looming mass murders of the years immediately ahead of us, make it morally obligatory.
You don’t think so? Then how do you rationalize the deaths of approximately 160 million people at the hands of governments? What is your moral defense for permitting entities culpable in such things to continue to exist? If we permit them to continue, how can we prevent them from killing more? It’s only what they’ve already done. From the historical record and recent events, it’s a solid bet that they enjoy it.