Defining Libertarianism (was Defining Terrorism)

Daniel C. dcrookston at gmail.com
Wed Jun 26 15:43:26 MDT 2013


On Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 5:01 PM, Russel Caldwell <caldr704 at gmail.com> wrote:
> What makes government force so legitimate?

Did you realize, when you asked this, that you were opening a
philosophical can of worms that has been addressed / tackled from
various perspectives over at least the past two centuries?  I guess
that sounds kind of accusatory, and that's not my intention.  It's
just such a perfectly phrased question, in a subject area that is
pretty commonly addressed in civics classes (or in my case, writing
classes where your professor happens to be a civics nut,) that it rang
my "college professor is opening a discussion" bell.

Some broad strokes on the issue:

- Governments are (at least ostensibly) accountable.  This is part of
why agents of the government who are authorized to use force (e.g.
police officers and soldiers) wear uniforms with identification on
them.  The uniforms identify the person wearing it as someone who is
acting on behalf of the government.  It establishes accountability for
the actions of the person wearing the uniform.  If you don't like what
someone in uniform does, you can go to the person that he or she is
accountable to and complain.  Ultimately, in the United States, the
government is accountable to the citizens.  (In practice we know that
this is not 100% true, but it is what we strive for.)  This has all
kinds of ramifications when it comes to wars, the ability of police to
make arrests (an arrest being a use of force,) etc.

- Governments are (again, ostensibly) an extension of a social
contract.  (See Hobbes's Leviathan.)  If I'm remembering my readings
correctly, Hobbes posits that humans enter into a society and grant
our governments the sole authority for force in exchange for the
increased freedoms and protection that joining the society give us.
The alternative, he claims, is for us to live in a state of nature, of
a constant and continual war of all against all.  Obviously this is
more of a philosophical enterprise than a statement of historical
fact, but it does make for a good thought experiment.  So, to bring it
back to the question of what makes government force legitimate: it's
legitimate because everyone who participates in a society implicitly
(or explicitly, in some cases) cedes the right to use force to their
government.

> As was pointed out earlier most
> people are disillusioned with the system to the point that there are more
> and more of us that see no point in participating in the political process.

This does bring into question the legitimacy of our current
government, but that doesn't necessarily intersect with the question
of whether governments are the sole legitimate wielders of force in a
society.

> In a free market every transaction is freely entered into by both parties.

This is probably a good time to mention the tyranny of violence.  It
is often proposed that we should all "just get along" or that humans
should work toward an end of violence.  These ideas are fantastic in
both meanings of the word.  They are fantastic ideas that I agree with
and which I hope we can bring to fruition, but they are also fantastic
in that they pretty much come from the realm of fantasy.  This isn't a
statement about the fallen nature of man or anything.  (I personally
think that the human future is bright and that we can overcome our
darker nature, but that's a separate topic.)  It's just the nature of
violence: there is no room for consent when violence gets involved.

In this fantasy world where we all live without violence, all it takes
is for one person to decide that they're going to be violent and
suddenly everyone else loses their agency.  The choice to live in
peace no longer exists: you can either be violently subjugated, or you
can try to stop the violence... which ironically requires being
violent in return.  And of course you didn't choose violence -
somebody else did, and when they chose it your ability to live in
peace disappeared.

Without a government (which is the sole authorized proprietor of
violence) in place, a free market is only free so long as everyone
plays nice.  Alternatively you could create a free market in which
mercenary protection is available to those who can afford it, but you
probably didn't even finish reading that statement before you realized
how wrong that situation would go.

> When the government does something most of us have no idea what transpired,
> and we cannot possibly know. There is not enough time in the day to keep
> track of what these jokers are doing. Just look at the Obamacare mess. How
> many, even in congress, really know what is in that bill, much less what
> the consequences will be.

Our current American government, yes, absolutely.  It's a damn mess.
But that doesn't mean that all governments everywhere must be a damn
mess.

>In my mind, destructive monopoly power is derived from the government.

A government (which, as defined in this email, is the sole arbiter of
force / violence) can certainly create monopolies.  But free
capitalism, with no government, will also result in monopolies.  As is
typical, the truth and the best option both lie somewhere between the
extremes.

-Dan


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