no third solution

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How Government Destroys Community

February 5th, 2009

Christopher Wellman lays out a clear and concise comparison between taxation and theft, on pages 3 to 5 of Is There a Duty to Obey the Law?, which after the introductory paragraph on page 3, was a pleasant surprise. Evidently, though, he is “not an anarchist”, a decision he bases presumably on several “plausible” premises which must obtain in order to justify the state, the crucial element of which is the consequentialist appeal: “States can render their services without imposing unreasonable costs upon those they coerce.”

Now, unreasonable is a fairly ambiguous term, devoid of objectivity. Who determines what is (or is not) unreasonable? Is it unreasonable if the poor man can’t find a job because of restrictive wage laws or occupational license requirements? Is it unreasonable if the wage-earner can’t escape the shackles of his Nine-to-Five in order to self-employ, because of onerous and often unfavorable tax codes? Is it unreasonable to destroy families in an unwinnable “war” on drugs? Is it unreasonable to use taxpayer money to bail out the Financial Elite responsible for bringing the world economy to its knees?

Those are surely questions worth asking.  But instead, Wellman resorts to the Hobbesian war, of “all against all,” in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the benefits of political society is to imagine what life would be like if your state were to go completely out of existence. Unless one lives in a very close-knit, face-to-face community where everyone knows each other and is invested in the group as a whole (which almost none of us does), it seems unrealistic to think that life without a political state would be anything but a horribly chatotic and perilous environment where one would lack the security necessary to pursue meaningful projects and relationships. In other words, for the vast majority of us, it would be virtually impossible to live a rewarding life.

Wellman qualifies his argument with an important assumption, that meaningful existence is not possible “Unless one lives in a very close-knit, face-to-face community where everyone knows each other and is invested in the group as a whole (which almost none of us does).” I believe that the question which really needs to be answered here is: why not?

Why don’t we have a vested interest in our communities?

A simple answer is that we don’t live in genuine communities.  Genuine communities have largely been co-opted or destroyed by governments. Governments “take care of the poor” so we don’t feel the responsibility to take care of ourselves. Governments “protect us” so we don’t responsible for our own protection. Governments give us “work” so we don’t need to be productive.

But in order to provide (technically, this is just redistribution) any of those things, the factions competing for control of the Government instigate class warfare, pitting individual members of society against one another, communities against communities, interests against interests.  The resultant decline in genuine community is then used as justification for even more government.  We don’t look out for one another anymore, because those who aspire to rule have the population convinced: not only are the “others” not looking out for you, they’re also your enemy.

The real “enemy” is anyone perpetuating this fiction.

What really happens, is the Hobbesian evil is concentrated, distilled by the existence of the State. According to numerous philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists, Hobbes was wrong

[I]it is civilization, and the technology we have organized ourselves to produce, that enables us to kill millions half-way around the globe at the push of a button. This is the ultimate proof that Hobbes was wrong–civilization is the way we organize ourselves to commit mass violence, not the way we organize ourselves to contain it.

If we live in a violent world today, it is because life is out of balance, because our “animal pity” has not learned to cross the same distance that our missiles can.

The latter opinion is something I’ve argued before, far from being the savior or protector, governments are the single greatest threat to the human species. To be sure, some are less oppressive or less violent than others, but taken as a whole, they’ve slaughtered many millions more than individuals (no matter how evil) could ever dream of doing on their own.

We need more “community.” But government isn’t going to give it to us, we have to build it on our own.

Comments

8 Comments

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  • Michael Wiebe says on: February 5, 2009 at 3:07 pm

     

    Wellman’s theory of samaritanism is pretty interesting. Basically, he has two premises, one normative and one descriptive:

    1- We have samaritan duties to rescue others from peril (when it is not unreasonably costly).
    2- Governments provide vital benefits which could not be secured otherwise.

    I think he has a good case for (1), but (2) can be easily demolished. All he offers as support is nothing more than the old “private agencies would battle” nonsense.

    Surprisingly, he admits that “if someone could generate conclusive evidence that a just and secure peace could be established in the state of nature, I would embrace anarchism rather than statism.” (A Theory of Secession, p.32)

    He’s also knowledgeable of libertarian anarchists, mentioning Benson, David Friedman, and Barnett (p.30 n35).

  • Francois Tremblay says on: February 6, 2009 at 3:14 pm

     

    So he’s just willfully ignorant, instead of willfully evil. Well, good for him.

  • John says on: February 7, 2009 at 12:55 am

     

    “Unless one lives in a very close-knit, face-to-face community where everyone knows each other and is invested in the group as a whole (which almost none of us does), it seems unrealistic to think that life without a political state would be anything but a horribly chatotic and perilous environment….”

    Ha! “We live in a thoroughly Statist world, which permeates every aspect of our lives, and we aren’t that close-knit or invested in each other’s well-being, so therefore without a State we would run the risk of not being close-knit or concerned about each other’s well-being!” Surely he realized how ridiculous that sounds…

  • David Z says on: February 7, 2009 at 8:44 am

     

    @ John – great point!

  • Brad says on: February 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

     

    Dave

    I read something similar about your post in the Ron Paul book. I am half way done with your “Economics of Liberty” book. The book is getting me angrier at the way things in D.C are ran. Some (All) of the info in there are things the average American just does not think about. It was amazing to see that the book was published in 1990 and everything those guys have written is coming or is true.
    I am trying to get a hold of Chuck Norris to see if he can deliver one big “round house kick” to everybody in D.C.

  • Roland says on: February 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

     

    This is one thing the conservatives (and Thoreau) got right: that government is best which governs least. Problem is, conservatives preach it but don’t practice it.

  • David Z says on: February 7, 2009 at 3:59 pm

     

    @ Brad – I finished Ron Paul’s book earlier this week, it was a good read.

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