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28. December 2010

Questioning the dispensation of state violence

Imagine, for a moment, that your boss has been treating you poorly (for many of you, this may not be very difficult).  After weeks of abuse, you finally become so frustrated, that you start to wonder whether you should finally quit your job and join the ranks of the unemployed.  Perhaps this might lead to something better, perhaps not.  But there is one thing that you know, and it is that remaining where you are is simply unacceptable.

This freedom to abandon your employer is oftentimes taken for granted, oftentimes forgotten in our modern world of anti-corporate rhetoric.  But while many leftists decry the abuses of the business-owner, they oftentimes forget that the governmental remedy can be more dangerous than the poison.

To understand why, let us now consider that a business, like a government, wields a certain amount of power over its beneficiaries.  But the two powers are very different.  While the power of the business-owner is negative, consisting solely in his power to cease funding of the employee, the power of the governmental authority is positive, consisting solely in its dispensation of violence.  And you cannot easily “quit” your nation.

Now, many leftists will argue that the government’s purpose is not to dispense violence, that leftists promote a more peaceful government, limited by civilian oversight panels and committed to peaceful means of persuasion.  But consider what happens when, say, a person doesn’t want to pay their child support, or when a person doesn’t want to pay taxes, or when a person doesn’t want to pull over, or when a person doesn’t want to stop dumping toxic waste into the storm drains, or when a person simply wants to build commercial property on a site regardless of zoning.  At first, the state might threaten with fines, with sanctions.  But what if the person still refuses to pay, to pull over, to stop building?

Eventually, all forms of governmental law cannot function without the use or threat of violence, which means that government and violence are necessarily intertwined.  Therefore, it can be said that the more laws we create, the more violence we legitimize.  Taking this argument one step further, the ideologies which most openly promote an increase in government intervention–American liberalism, for instance–are the most threatening and violent ideologies.

Alexander Hamilton once wrote of state violence in Federalist Paper #15:  “It is evident that there is no process of a court by which the observance of the laws can, in the last resort, be enforced. Sentences may be denounced against them for violations of their duty; but these sentences can only be carried into execution by the sword. In an association where the general authority is confined to the collective bodies of the communities, that compose it, every breach of the laws must involve a state of war; and military execution must become the only instrument of civil obedience. Such a state of things can certainly not deserve the name of government, nor would any prudent man choose to commit his happiness to it.”

But despite what initially appears to be a rationalization of anarchy, Federalist Paper #15 was an argument in favor of a nationally-legitimized violence, in favor of the United States’ use of military force to maintain national order.  In the same article, Hamilton went on to say, “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.”  So the answer to violence-threatening leftism cannot simply be “free peace good, state violence bad.”  We’ve already seen enough of human history to know that law is better than anarchy.  No, the answer must be within the proper application and rightful boundaries of state violence, otherwise we end up looking just as foolish as leftists do.

As an example of this “conservative” brand of foolishness, the contemporary secular right claims an answer to the threat of state violence, manifested most concisely in Walter Williams’ critique of socialism.  In his critique, he writes that if a widow lives down the street, and the neighbors unanimously vote to force you to mow her lawn, that action would be perceived as injustice.  However, he argues that when people vote to increase your taxes to pay for the widow’s lawn maintenance, the action eludes public condemnation although having an almost identical affect, as the taxation forcefully harnesses your labor for the benefit of another.  In this philosophy, it is immoral to forcefully reallocate private funds (through taxation) if the reallocation benefits certain people and not others.  And if philosophical consistency is of any importance, this belief would radically reduce the size and scope of government intervention far beyond simple matters of taxation, completely dismantling the legal framework of an economically-crippling, poorly-labeled “social justice.”

But logical consistency is also this philosophy’s worst enemy.  What becomes of this theory, when a road needs to be built or maintained?  Certainly, we could argue that the road only benefits certain people, although taking taxes from everyone in that area.  Likewise, what becomes of the theory when building and powering street lights?  And what of hiring police officers for certain districts?  And spawning from the last question, just how localized should taxation be? And if the taxation can be proven to benefit the taxpayer in some way, does only this subjectively-determined benefit make the taxation moral?  It seems, then, in light of these questions, that the threat and use of violence must necessarily extend itself beyond these radically-libertarian boundaries if we are to have any functional form of government at all, especially on a federal level.

So, understanding the violent nature of an oppressive leftist state, and having rejected the principles of anarchy, what exactly are the rightful boundaries within which the state should dispense violence?  As a committed Christian, I understand the boundaries within which the government must be confined.   My question to my readers is, do you?  And if you do, what are those boundaries?


  1. The short answer is that the size of government should be that which can be supported by voluntary contributions.

    You create a false dilemma in arguing that roads and law enforcement could not be privatized. Businesses would contribute to the building of roads for the same reason they build buildings to draw customers. Law enforcement is even a better example. Under the current system it is in the interest of law enforcement for there to be crime. The more crime there is, the more money they get. You always hear the cry, “we need more police”. However, when Camden, NJ laid off half its police force crime went down. The was because of the crime perpetrated by the police. But there is another aspect to this. If the government fabricates a non crime, for instance speeding or not wearing a seat belt, they can use it to generate revenue. This is because, generally speaking, law abiding citizens will just pay the extortion and go on. However, if someone is a burglar or robber, and the police catch them. They have created an expense. They have to house and feed him. They have to pay for a trial. They may have to pay for his defense. If he is sentenced, they will have to house him indefinitely. On the other hand, with a private security force, if they don’t control real crime they will be fired and replaced with someone who will actually do the job. There incentive is to prevent crime.

    If taxation was truly beneficial to the tax payer, it would not be taxation. It would be a voluntary transaction. It was to be extracted by force because the perceived benefit is not worth the cost.

    Comment by Mike — 11. March 2011 @ 16:51

  2. You bring some interesting suggestions to the table, but I believe the problem with our justice system, particularly, is that it is not a system of justice. We do not execute the criminals who by the mandate of God must be executed, and we further victimize victims by making them pay for a prison system, when we should have a system without prisons, based upon reparations and corporal punishment (when execution is not required). In short, the solution to everything is not privatization: it is strict adherence to unalienable rights and divine law.

    Second, in regard to the issue of roads, you may have a good point. But I do not believe your theory would either be efficient or thorough enough to provide any serious structure to our system of transportation. I suppose you are correct, in that we would be most free if we were to voluntarily choose which funds to pay and which to not. But what becomes of this choice when a monopoly arises? A governmental institution allows the citizenry to vote to change practices. A private institution — particularly one which is maintains a monopoly — answers to the public by services which support their existence, not by any peripheral services. In short, while that voluntary taxation would be given through the purchasing of products and services, it would not necessarily grant any right to services beyond those, or any right to redress, and would thus place the company’s dependents in a position worse than they would have been under a state government.

    Comment by admin — 14. March 2011 @ 15:38

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