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?

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