"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
Dear American Minarchist
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Dear American Minarchist,
I share your frustration at the course currently being set by the federal government of this nation. It is expanding its power to ever-more dangerous levels, thereby reducing the freedoms that can safely be enjoyed by all the human beings who find themselves within its purview.
Your contention is that the founding documents of this republic, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, define the proper relationship that should exist between government and citizen. Rolling back government to bare-minimum necessary functions is the only way to ensure that the people retain control over their freedoms and their government and that the government remains restricted to its legitimate scope.
I have repeatedly listened to minarchist arguments that deny the possibility of having a society without government, and that the belief in such voluntary social organization is but a naive belief in Utopia. You, in turn, have repeatedly listened to the arguments that government cannot be restrained by pieces of paper, and that the belief in such restraint is but a naive belief in Utopia.
And so the melee begins. What typically follow are heated discussions about the true meanings of shadowy words like government, capitalism, socialism, authority, and other such zaxlebaxes. We both have seen that in most cases very little progress is made in these jousts, as the focus becomes fixed upon words with ambiguous and even contradictory meanings. Much effort is expended with little or no progress.
Perhaps this is the goal of both parties, as each can retain his beliefs after all is said and done, and that’s always comfy.
But these peripheral arguments tend to ignore the subject of aggression that resides at their core. Each contains the implicit question: Is it acceptable for some members of society to aggress against others for “the greater good”? Or to put an even finer point on it: Are there instances wherein human aggression is justified?
And just so there is no miscommunication between us here, let’s be very clear as to the meaning of this word that is at the core of all these arguments. Aggression is the initiation of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. Whenever I define this term in my writing, I always invite readers to email me examples of justified aggression according to this definition. No takers thus far.
Aggression is like a huge old gnarly tree deeply rooted in the ground, waving its sharp branches menacingly in all directions. The branches are what scratch and poke at our eyes, and so we naturally focus our efforts on them.
But the branches are mere distractions. Look, this branch is called “government.” Some want to preserve it, some want to hack it off. Some insist it is always coercive, while others claim it can be voluntary. Some want to trim it just a bit, and others think most of it should go.
And look over there at the “capitalism” branch. Keep it because it represents voluntary exchange. Trim it because government is involved. Hack it off because greedy corporations are evil. No, don’t, because corporations are a result of government (return to the previous paragraph).
And so on, round and round, with much sound and fury.
Meanwhile the implacable tree remains at a safe distance, firmly rooted to the ground. Not one in a thousand even realizes that these peripheral arguments usually center around what kind of aggression should be acceptable, avoiding completely the much more vital question of if aggression should be acceptable at all.
Because as I alleged before, aggression is usually the unacknowledged elephant in the room in these arguments. Many will be rendered dumbstruck or take great offense if it is suggested that their side of the argument involves the justification of aggression. What? We’re talking about public education here, what in the world does that have to do with aggression?
See? If the wrong questions are being asked, then the answers don’t really matter, do they?
Few are those who are willing to actually step back and see the tree in its entirety. For most, the tree itself remains unseen for all the branches. But the tree is the thing, my friend: The tree is aggression. While we flail away at the specific branches that may bother us the most, aggression just keeps right on growing.
Now some dedicate themselves to this branch-hacking, but this does not hurt the tree. Au contraire, mon frere: Pruning a tree only helps it to grow taller and stronger. When you "win" and hack away a branch on the tree of aggression, the tree thanks you. It was obviously a weak branch, and so good riddance. The tree can now use the energy that was being diverted to that faulty branch in order to grow elsewhere.
What say we agree to duck our heads beneath all those annoying branches and get right on down to the root of the matter? By striking at that root, you and I can take care of all of those branches, all at once, and for good.
I am willing to believe that you are a good person, as are most people. I assume you would be willing to allow those who wish to have no government to be free to live in their "wretched chaos" while you and others try and work out various forms of "essential" government. Live and let live.
Can minarchy resist the expansion to tyranny? Can anarchy create a stable society?
Duck underneath those branches. C'mon, forget about them for now and follow me on down here.
Look. Just over here—this is the root question: Why do you believe that your United States government organization justly owns 3.8 million square miles of the planet?
You are a good person. If you believe in the minarchist American government, you do so because you believe it is good and just. You continually put forth the noblest sentiments that you can find from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as proof of your best of intentions.
But what of me, the fly in the ointment? Here I find myself within your government's land claim, yet I do not wish to participate. I am not part of the "we" that you assume is the relationship between you and me and your government. You then say that I have to leave if I don't want to be part of this ménage à trios? Why? By what right does the government land claim stand? Because it was taken with and is held on to by brute force? The right of might? That is the foundation upon which the entire virtuous government organization is built?
And you, by chance born within this particular land area, gain a partial control of 3.8 million square miles of land, to the extent that if I do not want to respect the rules laid down by the controllers of this arbitrary land claim, you can tell me I have to leave? That I have no place to stand upon the face of the Earth as a human being because your omnipotent and omnipresent government organizations own the entire planet? You say that governments, not human beings, are sovereign? And in this scheme of things you, as a member of the sovereign government club, have more human rights than do I?
The Declaration of Independence contains the phrase "all men are created equal." The only logical interpretation of this is individual sovereignty. If governments are sovereign, then individuals are not. Of course individuals control governments, and so some individuals are more equal than others as they control the entire planet and everyone else needs their permission in order to exist. Therefore it seems that not all men are created equal after all.
And if men truly are created equal, then this must merely be an error of nature which government officials, in their infinite wisdom, quickly remedy here on Earth.
I am searching for the justice in this bizarre Rube Goldberg device. You are confident that it resides somewhere within the heart of the complex machinery, but no one has been able to point it out to me yet. Perchance you would be so kind as to draw me a map?
It is oh, so easy to just gloss over this and say "Well, in a world full of governments is where we find ourselves, and so we have to work with what we have." But that is not a very convincing argument to the majority of the human beings on the planet. It's pretty easy to take the high road and say that we should all be free to do what we please within our own little sovereign government territories when you are in the fine position of innately controlling a huge portion of the Earth to the exclusion of everyone else.
Live and let live, as long as you are guaranteed to be more equal than are others?
So again, the question for you to put to yourself is this: Why does my government organization, and by extension, why do I, have the natural right to claim all this land and to command all those who find themselves here?
This is confronting the root question of aggression head on without blinking. This is striking at that root. Answer honestly, and the tree is felled. As strong as it appeared while vertical, you will see just how rotten it is when it is laid out on the ground.
Now just walk away and leave it for the worms.