Government Is Not Compassion, Part 1


Indeed, a hellish artifice was invented there, a horse of death, clattering in the finery of divine honors.  Indeed, a dying for many was invented there,  which praises itself as life:  verily, a great service to all preachers of death!  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, on the state1

The single most damaging error of the modern age is the misperception of government as an agency of compassion.  As a replacement for the "divine right of kings," this misperception has, for those in power, been an astonishing success.  For the rest of mankind, it has frequently been a disaster beyond imagining.

Government is nothing more than structured, widespread coercion, and the idea that it can implement compassion for us by force is simply a vile and cunning lie.  It is cunning because people are primed and willing, even desperate, to believe it.  It is vile because government allows, facilitates, and encourages mass murder, widespread torture, needless famine, and every form of tyranny.  No other tool than coercive government does this.

Everything people truly want and need can be provided without government coercion--and the market is far better at providing it. For instance, Yugo vs. Toyota. Bread lines (or starvation) vs. any American supermarket. Not a tough choice, one would think.

But again: for mass murder, widespread torture, needless famine, and systematic tyranny--for THOSE, one absolutely needs a government. The difference between not having a government to inflict power and having one, is literally the difference between Adolph Hitler as a nearly-insane, anti-Semitic housepainter, and Adolph Hitler as a nearly-insane, anti-Semitic German Chancellor. It's the difference between Charles Manson as the murderer of a handful, and Pol Pot as the murderer of perhaps two million.

Socialists and other statists have been wildly successful at selling government as a kind, caring, and protective parent figure, which provides for the citizens/children in response to their need. Statists have done this by constantly repeating the lie that coercive government's reason for taking people's money and running people's lives is to exercise compassion in one way or another. 

Despite academic details and differences--alleged and real--among various forms of large, centralized government, much of the public apparently now sees large federal programs of any type in the same light that professing socialists see socialism--as expressions of concern and compassion, which no caring or sensible person could oppose. The bottom line is that if "government = compassion," then more government must be better--it must, in fact, be more compassionate--than less government.

One needn't be an Einstein to see where that puts libertarians in the public mind. For that matter, Einstein himself was a socialist, despite having fled the National Socialist regime in Germany--which illuminates a point we shall consider in another essay.

The socialist (or Democrat, or compassionate conservative, or Green, or whatnot) believes that where there is need, government must provide. In turn, this requires that government grow ever-larger, and for an obvious reason: We care about people. We care about children and the sick and the elderly. We care about endangered species. We care about the environment. We care about the poor. 

Of course, with so much to care about, perhaps socialism isn't such a bad idea. Government clearly isn't large enough to help everyone now, and--it's halfway socialist already! So perhaps we should quit worrying about labels, stop being McCarthyites, have the courage to quit being shills for big business and the rich, and finally make the stretch to a progressive, truly compassionate form of government.

Don't laugh. Many of your neighbors are in full agreement with that paragraph.

My first thought for this essay was to simply reproduce the Contents page from Dr. R. J. Rummel's Death by Government (Transaction Publishers, 1994). For example, [Chapter 9] "2,035,000 murdered: The Hell State: Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge."

Professor Rummel estimates, based on more research into the subject than most human beings could probably withstand, that over 169,000,000 murders were perpetrated by governments in the first 87 years of the 20th century. Rummel has coined the term "democide" to describe any form of government murder, including genocide, politicide, murder of dissidents, murder for entertainment, etc.2 One hundred sixty-nine million is more than the total democide Rummel could find in all of previous human history, which he estimates at 133,147,000. The many millions of battlefield dead are not included in either number. Note to "World Government" supporters: Bad as war is, it pales in comparison to the number of deaths inflicted by governments against their own helpless, unarmed citizens. Not, of course, that "World Government" would actually put a stop to war.

Back to government's primary historical function of mass murder: For the entire 20th century, Rummel believes governments may have murdered as many as 180 million or more--possibly many more. It is worth mentioning that he is not the only researcher to find such astonishing levels of mass murder by government; a group of Marxist researchers came to an estimate of roughly 100 million murders just by Communist governments in the 20th century; see The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press, 1999), page 4. The book's forward, titled "The Uses of Atrocity," makes clear that an almost incomprehensible level of cruelty was the major tool by which every Communist regime brought itself to power and worked to maintain that power. This cruelty was purposeful, calculated, and savage beyond anything resembling sanity, much less compassion.

Rummel's estimate of 180 million total government murders for the 20th century is:

 ·    About the current population of England, France, and Germany combined

·    Roughly three times the total 1999 population of California, the most populous state in the Union

·    More than 134 times the current population of San Francisco

·    Nearly 30 million more people than the total population of the United States in 1950

I don't believe such a number can be understood in human terms. Here is another try, however: A typical Super Bowl crowd is about 75,000; governments thus murdered the equivalent of 2,400 Super Bowl crowds in the past century (180,000,000/75,000)--or almost 5,000 murders, on average, every single day.

Whatever else we say about those numbers, we must also say this: They are real. They are well-documented, if necessarily imprecise--they may be high or low by several million souls. They represent actual human beings, murdered in cold blood. 

Pause here a moment, please. Think about one person being murdered--hanged, shot in the back of the head, buried alive, or otherwise killed. Now try, really, to wrap your mind around this:

* One hundred million murders by Communist governments. Or this:

* One hundred and eighty million murders, by governments of all types.

In a future essay, we will consider why such an engine of mass murder could ever be seen as the wellspring of compassion, and how we might begin changing that perception.

Government is not compassion. Pass it on.


1 "On the New Idol" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, part 1, translation by Walter Kauffmann.

2 Dr. Rummel's website, with over 5,000 pages of searchable documentation, is at

There is much reference material available on this topic, not that anyone wants to see it. A single example: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang, Penguin Books, 1997. From the Introduction: "The Rape of Nanking should be remembered not only for the number of people slaughtered but for the cruel manner in which many met their deaths. Chinese men were used for bayonet practice and in decapitation contests. An estimated 20,000 - 80,000 Chinese women were raped." (Page 6) That paragraph continues at some length, and in horrendously graphic detail.

The carnage at Nanking was compressed into the space of only a few months: "Years later experts at the International Military Tribunal of the Far East (IMTFE) estimated that more than 260,000 noncombatants died at the hands of Japanese soldiers at Nanking in late 1937 and early 1938, though some experts have placed the figure at well over 350,000." (ibid, Page 4) Iris Chang is not the only author to have written about the Nanking slaughter. A search at for "Nanking" will bring you several other books to choose from on the topic.

Portions of this essay appeared previously in the July 2001 Libertarian Party News and at the author's website,


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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.