Originally published on March 20, 2004.
by Jim Davies
Did you hear someone say that today?
Or last week, last month or last year? Me neither. It’s a funny thing, but although it’s not hard to get someone to agree that Group X or Type Y certainly need to be controlled for the good of society (and although members of Group X may favor it for those of Type Y, and those of Type Y for those of Group X) the speaker’s enthusiasm for government never seems to extend to himself or herself.
In fact, except for some occasions when I’ve heard a pious prayor pray for his wilder instincts to be curtailed by the Almighty, I’ve never heard such a phrase uttered in all my born days (though admittedly, I’ve never been to a S/M parlor.) I conclude that there is not a human being on the face of the Earth who actually wants to be ruled by someone else. Might you agree?
If so, then the plot thickens; for in that case we have what economists might call a “zero demand.” The service of providing rule is simply not wanted; there is no price however low that will attract a purchaser. And if this were a rational (i.e., free) market, the consequence would be reliably predictable: no product! If nobody wants G, in the sense of desiring and being willing to pay for it, we can be quite certain the nobody will produce G.
Hence in a rational society there would be no government. Nobody wants to be ruled, so nobody would buy its only product, its service of ruling.
For all that, as everybody knows, society is infested with government in every last corner and refuge. It’s hardly possible to brush the teeth or the hair without being told what components shall comprise the paste or the bristles, by an all-wise bunch of bureau-rats. The market for ruling-services is, far from being zippo, actually near total saturation! How come?
A large part of the answer is that our society is not a rational, free market at all but rather one dominated by a group of thugs with guns and prisons who have seized control; that is, the ruling-service provider is not so much responding to a market demand as he is
imposing his product upon buyers and forcing them to pay for it by theft at gunpoint. All that’s true, but alas, it’s not the whole truth.
The whole truth includes the ugly fact named above; that there is quite a large demand for other people to be ruled, to one’s own perceived advantage. Mexicans should be kept out, by barbed-wire fences and fierce dogs and armed government thugs; so that “my” job will be “protected” from them. Blacks should be excluded from my nice upscale neighborhood, by zoning laws that inflate home prices beyond their means; so that my delicate prejudices will not be ruffled. Guns should be strictly regulated, lest some malcontent defend himself against police arrogance–or mine. The “rich” should be taxed more, but I should be taxed less. And on and on, ad nauseam. We may think very highly of our own rights and freedom, but a lot of us have little or no regard for those of our fellow humans. That’s the ugly paradox, and that’s why the government industry not only survives, but even thrives. “All I seek,” seems to say the modern American, “is a little honest advantage”–and Political Man is only too eager to help him obtain one–or at least, to appear to obtain one, short term.
There’s a double standard here, and that is an ethical matter.
So does such hypocrisy mean that human nature is warped, and that to achieve a free society we have to change it, and that the Reverend Jim is about to deliver you-all a sermon?
No, no and no. The reality is not quite that black.
But yes, I think it does come down to a matter of morality, so let’s look at two common bases for ethics: Christian and Rationalist.
The Christian moral ethic is summarized by that religion’s founder and is commonly known as the Golden Rule: “As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them likewise” (Luke 6:31). So if you’re a Christian, that is your standard; if (like everyone else) you don’t want to be ruled, it is your moral obligation not to rule anyone else–nor of course to vote for or support an agent to do it for you.
Accordingly, every Christian should for that simple and sufficient reason be an anarchist, and if your friendly local preacher doesn’t thunder against the very institution of government from his pulpit fairly frequently, please go tell him he’s betraying his religion and ask why he should not be fired, de-frocked or excommunicated, and hand him a copy of this article with my compliments.
The rational basis for morality is self-interest. Rationally, every human has one primary motivation in life: to pursue and enhance his own long-term happiness and well-being. As Ayn Rand’s provocative title has it, this is the “Virtue of Selfishness.” Therefore–rationally–he will do nothing to damage that purpose. Therefore, he will abstain from hurting his fellow humans by imposing his rule upon them, directly or through political surrogates, for that would destroy his good reputation and trustworthiness for the contractual business dealings through which alone he could earn a living.
Rationalist and Christian ethics therefore both produce the same result: treat people the way you wish to be treated yourself; impose and accept obligations only by voluntary, explicit contracts.
So there’s no need at all to change human nature; it already logically leads to a society rid of the scourge of government whichever of these ethical bases we prefer. All that we do have to do is to encourage our Statist friends to use their eyes and brains to see where their self-interest truly lies (or what their religion actually teaches) and that is a task only of persuasion; if we haven’t yet succeeded it means that, as Friedrich Hayek put it well, “The reason must be that our arguments are not yet quite good enough, that we have not yet made explicit some of the foundations on which our conclusions rest. Our chief task therefore must still be to improve the argument on which our case for a free society rests.”
Got comments? Email me, dammit!