Government as Mass Psychosis

Michael Savage enjoys saying that 'liberalism is a mental disorder.' He has even titled his new book with this phrase. I cannot personally agree with the statement as a generalization. Being somewhat of a Szaszian, I tend not even to believe in what are conventionally referred to as 'mental disorders.'

If we want to take Savage's adage with a grain of salt, and extend it a bit, I will agree that government is a mental disorder, and all that push for more of it, whether to do 'liberal' things such as regulate the sizes of our toilet seats, or 'conservative' things such as spy on our e-mail, are suffering under some sort of mental affliction.

This affliction leads people to courses of action they would never otherwise take. Let us take a recent example from the news.

Only a few weeks after the horrendous Supreme Court decision that upheld the federal government's 'Interstate Commerce' authority to bust medical marijuana users and providers within states that explicitly legalized such narrow use, federal agents have now broken up several medical marijuana dispensaries, taking people who hurt no one off to jail.

Now, this is just cruel. We can now expect even more federal persecution of medical marijuana users, including 'criminals' infirmed and suffering under some of the most painful of diseases. It is hard to imagine an average person harassing a person in such pain outside of the government framework. In fact, if we take away the obfuscating factor of the State, and simply imagine a group of people barging into someone's place of business, closing it down for selling plants that have been used medically for thousands of years, and dragging the merchants off to place them inside a cage, it seems downright outrageous. Even if some folks had the desire to meddle with other people's lives in such an offensive and bizarre way, who would pay for it? If it weren't for the State, where would such an operation get the funding to keep such harmless people in a cage, fed and clothed, for weeks, months or even years?

And yet, it happens right before our eyes! All because six over-paid bureaucrats in black robes said that such an injustice does not violate the Constitution ' as if their say so, rather than, for example, the opinions of the dissenting three judges, is equivalent to what the Constitution says; and as if what the Constitution says has any bearing whatsoever on whether or not locking up peaceful people is morally acceptable! The only reason this can happen is because people think that it is morally acceptable for the government to lock peaceful people up in the first place. It's all in people's minds.

Public choice economics tells us that with the government in charge of major economic decisions, any given potential beneficiary of government policy has much more incentive to personally lobby for and ensure implementation of such policy, than do the taxpayers, who only have a marginal amount to lose from any given policy, have an incentive to lobby against it. Concentrated benefits and dispersed costs therefore lead to more government spending, more coercive wealth redistribution, and more distortions of the free market order.

So we know that government can expand due to the rational choices of both the people who stand to benefit terribly, and those who will suffer marginally. But what about government itself? Most public choice economists tend to believe in having at least a little bit of government, so as to protect property rights and all, but I have seen little in the way of a public choice solution to the public choice problem. It seems to me that once there is government, the problem of unlimited, ever-growing government is just around the corner.

So long as there is government, we have the easy potential for concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Why do people stand and tolerate such a system at all? Apparently, the answer has to do with the idea, widely accepted, that if government does something, even something egregiously criminal or murderous, that something must be tolerated and respected in ways that it wouldn't if anybody else did it.

Even a lot of Americans ' even a lot of libertarians ' who opposed and continue to oppose the Iraq invasion, war and occupation seem quite uncomfortable to regard the act the way they would if, say, some random American criminal got his hands on some bombs and an army and conducted the atrocity on his own. Of course, such a privately maintained atrocity would be unimaginable, since it would rely on all sorts of factors of operation ' funding, getting people to go along with it ' that would be denied any private organization. Only a 'government' can convince people to shell over half their income every year. Only a 'government' can drop weapons of mass destruction on innocent people and continue to be widely regarded as an institution qualifying as somewhere between a necessary evil and God's crusading hand on Earth.

Government is all in people's minds. The reason that the generals listen to President Bush is because they think it's the right thing to do. Similarly, the rest of the military, from the lower-ranking officers down to the most newly inducted private follow orders because their minds incite them to. The IRS agents who help bring in the money for the war are likewise acting according to their mental inclinations. The taxpayers themselves, as well as the company executives who withhold employees' income taxes, only succumb to the government either because, strangely enough, they believe in their minds that the 'government' has a right to do what it will; or, on the other hand, because they think that others who believe such nonsense will help the government force its will upon them if they fall out of line.

Everything about the government is an illusion. Constitutions, flags, laws, uniforms, borders ' these constructs are artificial. They may have strong cultural manifestations and incite people to behave in distinct ways toward each other, but in the end it is people, and not nations, that act. In the end, the ways they decide to act cannot be qualitatively categorized as good or bad, just or unjust, simply by virtue of being called 'government.' Nothing can make the bombing of innocents anything other than murder, the forceful confiscation of wealth from those who earned it anything less than theft, the detainment of peaceful sick marijuana users anything short of kidnapping. In the end, government is a mass psychosis, and nothing more.

The government is only a bad idea, believed by almost everyone, and self-perpetuating by its own inertia. It is a false promise. Government claims to legitimize the illegitimate, turn bad actions into good, transform weak economies into strong ones, convert violent populations into peaceful cultures.

It's all a bunch of craziness. But, seeing as how I don't really believe in mental disorders as they are conventionally understood, I will not advocate an insanity plea. Instead, we must all stop this craziness and recognize that we are personally responsible for our own actions, and that no institution, however impressive its uniforms and paperwork, can legitimize criminal behavior. To the extent we embrace these difficult truths, we will see liberty advance and the State decline.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
Columns on STR: 41

Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is