I use terms like “guns of government” and “government is force” quite often in conversations with people when talking politics. It’s amazing how often this elicits a visceral reaction from them regarding how “wrong” my statements are and requiring lengthy explanations as to why I use those terms. Years of indoctrination in public school (which I usually refer to as “publik skewl”) to the effect that government is your friend and does only good things is hard to refute in a Facebook response or a blog comments section.
So let me explain why “government = force” and what the “guns of government” means.
Nearly every one of us in the United States and, most likely, Canada and other places, have encountered negatives in government. Perhaps it was a long, frustrating trip to the DMV, a time-wasting day at court over a traffic ticket, or a paperwork shuffle (and the inevitable mis-filing) just to get a “permit” for something. Whatever it was, it was probably written off as “bureaucracy” or “incompetence.” What was unnoticed, however, was WHY it was that you were going to the DMV, court, or city office. What were you there for, really?
No, the answer is not “to get a driver’s license” or “to get out of paying this traffic ticket” or “to get a permit to put up a shed.” No, it was because if you did not go, you would be restricted from something or face fines or imprisonment for not going to those places first.
In other words, if you didn’t go to those places and wrestle through the frustration and effort, and continued your life as normal – letting your license expire, but still driving; not paying the traffic ticket; or building your shed without the permit – you’d face fines, confiscation of your income, jail, or worse. If you faced those consequences, how would those punishments for non-compliance be enforced? Right. People with guns (police, government agents, etc) show up to enforce them.
My simplest example of this phenomena is to use theIRS (not a typo). If you decide that you don’t like funding the war in Afghanistan, for example, so you deduct your portion of that from your taxes – or if you decide (gasp!) that you don’t “owe” any taxes of any kind to anyone for any reason – and so don’t comply with IRS paperwork.. what happens? Right. You get fined, imprisoned, etc. By people with guns.
Those are the guns of government.
Platitudes about how we live in a “democracy” and get to “choose” our leadership and thus “make the law” or how if we don’t agree with a law, we can “change it” are just that: platitudes. Usually uttered by people who’ve never actually tried to change a law, get someone elected that wasn’t just another corporate-party puppet, or just simply opt out of the system itself. It not only ignores the basic principle that government is inherently violent, but these same people will consider your abstention from voting to be a near-criminal act, even if you say “I didn’t like any of the candidates.” They always advocate voting for the “best” in the lineup regardless (often by pointing out who is most likely to”win” and thus is worthy of a vote). Often times, they’ll poo-poo you if you go with an underdog who has no chance in Hades of ever getting elected. Saying you’re “throwing your vote away.”
Voting in this country is nothing more than another semi-professional sport akin to professional wrestling or ice skating. Except pro wrestling and ice skating require skill and discipline whereas voting requires only that we show up.
To deny the inherent force that is government is to deny the very fundamental of what government actually is. There’s a reason George Washington (whom I often refer to as “The Original GW”) said:
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.1
The basic difference between those who advocate government and those who advocate a non-government ideal (anarchists, voluntaryists, etc) is simple: you either keep or you remove the force from government.
For example, an anarchistic society could be exactly like what we have now in terms of infrastructure, cooperative “government” institutions, etc. The only difference? If you aren’t interested in paying for something, you don’t have to. It’s voluntary. Period. No one will force you to pay, but you probably won’t be allowed to benefit either, so not paying for that road or fire department might mean not having access to either when you need them. Everything has a consequence. The difference? In a society without force, you can choose to take your chances with the consequences of your decisions, good or ill.
If you look around you right now – really look around you – you’ll see that the vast majority of the interactions you have with people every day are like this. No one is forcing anyone else to be involved. They just are. You go to that store because you like that store or they have what you want in the most convenient way for you to get it. You eat at that restaurant because you like the food or know the people there. No one forced you to buy or eat. You just did it. It’s voluntary. They offer to serve or sell you things and you choose whether or not to buy them. They don’t have to offer the wares, you don’t have to accept them and pay.
What a concept! One that, sadly, the people of this nation have apparently largely forgotten. America is one of the few places on the planet that has had a glimpse, a small taste, of truly voluntary interaction. For much of our early history as a people, we existed more or less without the force of government. Early colonists, and those living during a brief period shortly after our revolution from England, had a largely voluntaryist society.
Now? Not so much. Most people almost instinctively turn to the violence of government as the answer to even the smallest of problems.
1This quote is disputed, but even if the O-GW didn’t say it, it’s classic.