Necessarily Evil?

Government is by its very nature violent. Consider what happens if you do not obey government dictates, even if your disobedience is non-violent itself: a man with a gun will come to your house. Consider the so-called “no knock raid“: if you are suspected of disobeying the government, they may simply break in to your house in the night and kill anybody who, startled and terrified, puts up any resistance to these unidentified, armed intruders.

But the same is true of all government action, not just law enforcement. Does the government run a school? Well you had better pay your school taxes or a man with a gun will come to your door. Your children had better attend or a man with a gun will come to your door.  As Ludwig von Mises observed, “Whatever a government does it is ultimately supported by the actions of armed constables.”

Max Weber wrote that the state is the organization that holds a monopoly on legitimate use of force. But this begs the question. The force is only “legitimate” because it is being exercised by the state. It would be more accurate to say that the state is the organization that has a monopoly on violence.

But for all its violence, it appears that government is necessary. Thomas Paine wrote that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Mises went further: “it is not an evil, but a means, the only means available to make peaceful human coexistence possible.” Without government (consolidated force), there can be no freedom because each individual is at the mercy of any stronger individual who comes along. “If we take into account the fact that, as human nature is, there can neither be civilization nor peace without the functioning of the government apparatus of violent action, we may call government the most beneficial human institution. ”

Even so, the government does not deal in freedom; it deals in violence. “It is the opposite of liberty. It is beating, imprisoning, hanging.” Only by strictly limiting and circumscribing the sphere in which the government is allowed to operate can freedom exist. A government that touches every facet of life is one that controls every facet of life. This is because government, regardless of intentions, can only touch violently.

Slyfox 113 Photo credit dad

Sly Fox Route 113 IPA – The name of this beer has two origins. The first and most obvious is Pennsylvania Route 113 (a highway built and maintained with funds collected from the local population with the threat of force,) which passes by the Sly Fox Brewhouse. But the beer is also named for its level of bitterness, measuring 113 International Bitterness Units. I rather enjoy this local, amber colored beer. There is a hint of caramel in the aroma and the full malt body of the beer is backed nicely by peppery hops.

Reading for the Week: Liberty and Property by Ludwig von Mises – In this section of a lecture delivered at Princeton University, Mises defends free markets as the only source of prosperity and freedom. A government that controls the markets is one that does not allow any freedom and can never advance society. After all, “there is no record of an industrial innovation contrived and put into practice by bureaucrats.”

Question for the week: Mises’ personal motto (seen in part on the above beer glass) was “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito”, which means something like “Do not give in to evil, but proceed boldly against it.” In this week’s reading Mises says that government is not an evil at all, but he also says that government is nothing but “beating, imprisoning, hanging.” So if beating, imprisoning, and hanging are not evil, what is?

Delicious Unity

A reader of this blog, if he were paying close attention, might have observed certain inconsistencies in the photographs. I have moved around quite a bit over the last few years, but the pictures (and the beer reviews that go with them) have lagged behind. For example, I mentioned recently that I was headed for Europe. Yet all of my subsequent posts have clearly included photographs from the same locations as before I left. What, you may wonder, is that all about?

For the most part, the issue is that it takes me much less time to drink a beer than to write something that I think is worth posting. Even more time consuming is finding and reading things worth writing about. As a result, there is almost never any temporal unity in one of these blog posts. The beer is usually consumed and reviewed weeks ahead of time and only later paired with a reading. For this post, however, the stars have aligned; I have just re-read the reading of the week while sipping the beer of the week. As I write, the level of the beer in the glass gets lower and lower.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I write the beer reviews separately from the rest. These blog posts have a few distinct parts that are largely separable. Somebody told me that she enjoys the body of my blog posts, but doesn’t care about the beer reviews. Other people, if the search engine statistics can be trusted, come here primarily for information about the beers. Rarely, people will engage me in conversation focusing on the question of the week. And judging by the page hits, just about nobody looks at the weekly readings. But there is a certain unity about this blog.

Like all things, this blog is made of practically infinite parts. Each section, each picture, even each word has endless possible interpretations and meanings. I am not claiming that my writing is particularly deep. I mean only that language is so complex and so versatile, and that the mind is so flexible, that reading a sentence is like stepping into a river: it is never the same twice. But language (and this blog and everything else in the world) is at its best when all of the parts come together in such a way that the whole comes into view. A line of a poem is not just a series of individual words, it is a complete phrase. The Bengali author and artist Rabindranath Tagor observed that we don’t see the forces working to keep our planet in orbit, or the chemical bonds that make two hydrogen atoms join one oxygen atom, or the innumerable cells that make up a living being. What we see is “the dancing ring of seasons; the elusive play of lights and shadows, of wind and water; the many-coloured wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death.”

So what do I do? I drink delicious beer; I read amazing works of poetry and prose; I write down my thoughts and post them for the world to see. I think that all of these actions have their own value, but I see real beauty in the unity of them all. This blog is about beer and philosophy and conversation, and I have never felt more sure that those three things make a wonderful whole.



Beer of the week: Yuengling Summer Wheat – I have personally failed in my mission to finish the summer beers before drinking autumn beers. A while ago I had a pumpkin beer from Harpoon Brewing Co. and just recently I had a Sam Adams Oktoberfest. But for the blog, there are still summer beers to be had. There is some dispute about whether Sam Adams (Boston Beer Company) or D. G. Yuengling is the largest American-owned brewery. However, Sam Adams brews sixty or so beers and Yuengling only makes about six. This Summer Wheat is the first seasonal beer I’ve had from Yuengling. It is not as cloudy as most unfiltered wheat beers. The aroma is of yeast and banana. There is a distinct flavor of banana bread in this beer, but it avoids the excessive sweetness that many wheat beers have. This is definitely good enough that I will be sure to try any other seasonals that Yuengling comes out with.

Reading of the week: Creative Unity by Rabindranath Tagore, Chapter One, Part I – Very reminiscent of Plato, Tagore explores the infinite and unity and applies the idea that unity is the only source of beauty. Illness, ugliness, and tragedy are simply what we perceive when unity is disrupted. Simply eating (and presumably drinking beer) is base because it is only filling a solitary need or desire, “but when brought under the ideal of social fellowship, it is regulated and made ornamental; it is changed into a daily festivity of life.”

Question of the week: Tagore claims that a water vessel as a water vessel has to justify its own existence by being well suited to its task. A beautiful water vessel as a work of art, however, doesn’t need to explain itself. Is he saying that utility is not a kind of beauty? Isn’t usefulness proof that the vessel has a place in the unity?