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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11588/the-nature-and-morality-of-government/

The Nature and Morality of Government

February 2, 2010 by

Think of the worst injustices in history — confiscatory taxes, purposeless wars, great depressions, slavery, concentration camps, and genocide. Such injustices were either a direct or an indirect result of governmental action. FULL ARTICLE by Jarret B. Wollstein

{ 16 comments }

Gil February 2, 2010 at 8:56 am

“Government is, by definition, a ‘social monopoly of force’.

Talk about the standard Libertarian strawman. Government is usually as that which is the overall ruling body of a nation. Similarly governments have evolved over time – they didn’t just ‘appear out of nowhere’. And, best of all, up until three centuries or so, the world was under anarcho-Libertarian rule as all societies were monarchies and Hoppe correctly points out: monarchies are privately-ruled society. Hence a traditional monarchy is a privately-owned society in the real world.

“Similarly, there is nothing sacrosanct about the laws of today’s societies. As we have already seen, most of the activities of the government of the United States are clearly immoral and in violation of the rights of the individual. Since the individual always has the right to retaliate against those who initiate force against him, there is no obligation on the part of the individual to obey most existent laws. Indeed, since the draft, censorship and a host of other laws threaten the very physical and intellectual existence of the individual, draft evasion, underground presses, and a host of other illegal acts are thoroughly moral and proper.[1]

There is simply no obligation on the part of the individual to obey laws simply because the laws exist. If the individual’s rights are violated by laws, he is morally justified in regarding the unjust laws as a criminal invasion of his privacy and in retaliating accordingly.”

. . .

“There is, however, one type of law which is morally binding on all men — objective law. An objective law is one which is based on the objective facts of reality and on principles derived from those facts. In general, objective social laws are those which prohibit the initiation of force and protect the rights of men. Laws against theft, rape, embezzlement, arson, larceny, assault, fraud, and murder are examples of objective social laws.”

The author contradicts himself! You can disobey laws if you think it’s unfair but then again there are some laws which apparently you can’t morally break. Piffle! It’s mostly all relative. From his list, with the exception of rape, it’s only a crime if you think the victim wasn’t ‘deserving’. “Murder is wrong” is the easiest moral tautology from the list as murder is defined as ‘wrongful killing’. Or “arson is wrong” is another candidate for moral tautology because arson is defined as ‘wrongful fire starting’. If there is a ‘Second American Revolution’ whereby the participants succeed in dismantling the Federal Government and decide to burn the White House down to the ground – would that be ‘arson’?

David Roemer February 2, 2010 at 9:32 am

I don’t agree with two points you make. The first is explicit in your analysis, and states that morality is a “code of ethics.” According to Thomas Aquinas morality is based on the principle that we are responsible for our actions. Codes of ethics and moral laws are secondary principles.

The second point is unstated, but it is clear that you are defining force in terms of utility theory. This is not the most general definition of force. A better definition is that we exert force over other people when we affect their consciousness in a way they don’t want. An example is a father abandoning his children. According to you, the government should not make parents pay child support. Basing morality on utility theory is arbitrary and fanciful.

Guard February 2, 2010 at 9:36 am

“An objective law is one which is based on the objective facts of reality and on principles derived from those facts.” True. The objective fact they are based on is this: all governments have an army and a police force, and if I do not go along with the program, I will be shot.

Exercising freedom necessarily brings about my death, whether slowly or quickly. The above article is probably a violation of the Patriot Act (broadly undermining government legitimacy or authority). Hopefully the author will not end up being tortured to death in a third world prison after rendition.

“Competing agencies of retaliatory force” is what we currently have. The use of force accepts no limitations, that is the nature of it in spite of what everyone thinks “could”, “should” and “ought” to happen.

There is only one escape and that is to have absolutely no fear of death. This may seem unnatural, but it has been successfully accomplished by many people throughout history. The only authority government has over me is the threat of death.

Inquisitor February 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm

“Talk about the standard Libertarian strawman. ”

States aren’t things being argued (as opposed to being argued about), they are bodies of people out there in the world, so talk about the standard misapplication of a term. The statement is a fact-stating one regarding their nature and not a misrepresentation of an argument someone made about a state. They are unilateral territorial monopolies and have final say in all legal disputes with them and between any parties subject to their rule. You can concoct all the nonsense you wish to justify their existence but that will never change.

“Talk about the standard Libertarian strawman. Government is usually as that which is the overall ruling body of a nation. Similarly governments have evolved over time – they didn’t just ‘appear out of nowhere’. And, best of all, up until three centuries or so, the world was under anarcho-Libertarian rule as all societies were monarchies and Hoppe correctly points out: monarchies are privately-ruled society. Hence a traditional monarchy is a privately-owned society in the real world.”

Too bad Hoppe goes on to argue for anarchism, eh?

Nuke Gray February 2, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Slavery was not initiated by Governments, but was the result of humans going to foreign countries and using the people found there. The Corsairs of Africa were wealthy individuals grabbing Europeans to make them slaves. Sometimes governments also got into the act, but rapacious individuals were the first slave-makers.

Gil February 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Good point – people act, not government. Governement isn’t some mystical separate entity.

SteveS February 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm

The thesis is absurd. 10,000 years ago there was no government, but anywhere from 20-50% of men died at the hands of another man.

Pre-enlightenment, there wasn’t much government, but the murder rate was 100 times greater than it is today.

In Africa, most countries have a weak, mostly corrupt central government, but genocide, aids, war and famine are abundant anyway (I wonder why).

As mentioned, slavery was generally a private endeavor and it required “the government” to end.

I don’t think the author understands history very well.

Inquisitor February 2, 2010 at 8:53 pm

“Good point – people act, not government. Governement isn’t some mystical separate entity.”

Yeah and people presuming a monopoly over others are what we refer to. Obscuration won’t help here.

“Pre-enlightenment, there wasn’t much government, but the murder rate was 100 times greater than it is today.”

Vague statistic. Prove it. Prove correlation. Be more specific.

“In Africa, most countries have a weak, mostly corrupt central government, but genocide, aids, war and famine are abundant anyway (I wonder why).”

Because their gov’ts interfere with the functioning of market economies, perhaps? Oh but of course if the government isn’t “strong”, it isn’t “big”… lol

“As mentioned, slavery was generally a private endeavor and it required “the government” to end.”

Maybe your own history is what is lacking? Even if it isn’t, is the point here that it’s OK when gov’ts do it? Are you trying to say “because some criminals do it, it’s dandy if gov’ts do too!” Or do you really believe the phenomenon only ceased in any great nrs because of gov’t? Wow you’re naive.

Havvy February 2, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Two examples of genocide by African countries:

Rwanda & Sudan. Rwanda with a military coup and disinformation; Sudan by giving thieves weapons.

While it is true that not all destructive violence is at the hand of those who claim a monopoly on force, every major case has been committed by government.

Gil February 2, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Oh the hilarity! I s’pose you are going to say that whenever someone uses initiatory force against someone else they become a government – even if it’s a ‘government of one member’? If this is the Libertarians’ definition of a government or the emergence of government then Libertarians can’t lose their arguments against governments.

Peter February 2, 2010 at 11:44 pm

10,000 years ago there was no government, but anywhere from 20-50% of men died at the hands of another man.

How do you know either of those claims is true?

Pre-enlightenment, there wasn’t much government, but the murder rate was 100 times greater than it is today.

Or that one. (Right, the Roman empire, for instance, wasn’t much of a government…)

Guard February 3, 2010 at 6:15 am

Actually, Gil, all ancient near-eastern civilizations asserted that the state is in fact a separate mystical entity. This is the clear Old and New Testament biblical tradition as well. Modern sociologists agree that when a group of people form an organization, that organization is more than simply the sum of its parts. Once the organization is formed and named, it has achieved a certain autonomy. If you accept this as a theory if nothing else, it explains why all states act the same regardless of what anyone thinks or hopes they will do. States act for themselves, not humans. The state’s relationship with humans is almost symbiotic at the highest levels of authority, for middle management the relationship is parasitic, but for the vast majority at the base of the pyramid, the relationship is simply predatory.

Steve Maughan February 3, 2010 at 8:43 am

While I like most of the sentiment there are a couple of point:

The government is offering something in return for the money taken in the form of contract law and property protection (from other goverments and other individuals). It’s difficult to imagine that a private courts system (i.e. judicial system) would be workable outside the context of a government. In which case priviate property protection that is anything more than a security firm would also be difficult (e.g. would a private property protection firm defend one from spurious court orders?). So I conclude that minimal government is necessary and different from an individual thug.

Naturally the “any law to prohibit abortions is imoral” hinges on when the unborn child is considered human and has rights. I personally think it’s at the time of conception so strongly disagree with this point.

Steve

mpolzkill February 3, 2010 at 9:03 am

Mr. Maughan, you concluded too early. Now try to imagine minarchy. Try to imagine humans with the power to tax restricting themselves to only providing security and meting out justice. (wildly imagining of course that they would ever provide security effectively in the first place, as with their every failure they accrue more power.)

Ohhh Henry February 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

“As mentioned, slavery was generally a private endeavor and it required “the government” to end.”

Ending slavery required the government to cease its activities which protected the institution of slavery. For example in the USA local militias were raised to patrol the plantation areas to catch escaped slaves and suppress uprisings, and federal law forced free states to capture and return escaped slaves. Non-slaveowners were forced by government to protect slaveowners from the natural, commonplace consequences of slavery (escape and rebellion). The impulse to enslave other humans may be a private one, but it can only be carried out successfully when others are coerced into maintaining the system.

And if you want to get at the fundamentals of slavery and freedom, the government abolition of private slavery approximately coincides with the rise of income tax as a means of government fundraising. In this sense nearly all national and state governments are slaveowners and the only real debate that takes place (outside of mises.org and LRC) is how much of the fruit of their labor the slaves should be allowed to keep.

mpolzkill February 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

I don’t know if “Ohhh Henry” was concious of it or not, but he just echoed (and pretty nicely, too) a great man on the scene. Perhaps the most stirring passage of Spooner’s “No Treason”:

“The pretense that the ‘abolition of slavery’ was either a motive or justification for the war, is a fraud of the same character with that of ‘maintaining the national honor.’ Who, but such usurpers, robbers, and murderers as they, ever established slavery? Or what government, except one resting upon the sword, like the one we now have, was ever capable of maintaining slavery? And why did these men abolish slavery? Not from any love of liberty in general–not as an act of justice to the black man himself, but only ‘as a war measure,’ and because they wanted his assistance, and that of his friends, in carrying on the war they had undertaken for maintaining and intensifying that political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both white and black. And yet these impostors now cry out that they have abolished the chattel slavery of the black man–although that was not the motive of the war–as if they thought they could thereby conceal, atone for, or justify that other slavery which they were fighting to perpetuate, and to render more rigorous and inexorable than it ever was before. There was no difference of principle–but only of degree–between the slavery they boast they have abolished, and the slavery they were fighting to preserve; for all restraints upon men’s natural liberty, not necessary for the simple maintenance of justice, are of the nature of slavery, and differ from each other only in degree.

If their object had really been to abolish slavery, or maintain liberty or justice generally, they had only to say: All, whether white or black, who want the protection of this government, shall have it; and all who do not want it, will be left in peace, so long as they leave us in peace. Had they said this, slavery would necessarily have been abolished at once; the war would have been saved; and a thousand times nobler union than we have ever had would have been the result. It would have been a voluntary union of free men; such a union as will one day exist among all men, the world over, if the several nations, so called, shall ever get rid of the usurpers, robbers, and murderers, called governments, that now plunder, enslave, and destroy them.”

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