by Rick Flame
From a young age, I have always had a strong desire for freedom. To me, the concept of liberty instinctively seemed to be a natural part of the human condition and as essential to a healthy life as fresh air and exercise. As I grew up, I learned more about the economic, philosophical, and moral arguments in favor of liberty. Government seemed to be the largest and most dangerous enemy of liberty, but countless people seemed willing to defend it.
I remember one of my economics professors in college was giving a lecture about deadweight loss, the inefficiency and loss of wealth that occurs whenever the operation of a free market is hindered in some way. The professor was demonstrating through supply versus demand graphs how deadweight loss results from government taxation and price controls. The professor stated that even though deadweight loss results from these government actions, the actions themselves are nevertheless justified because they contribute to the good of society. This seemed like a blanket statement made without justification, so I asked him for further explanation after class. The professor seemed perturbed and said that the “experts” in government know what they are doing, and shouldn't be questioned. It baffled me that an educated man such as my professor could be so quick to support government and withdraw from rational discussion. Since then, I've discovered that a rational study of human action pairs better with economics than positivism and hasty assertions.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that government was an unnecessary and undesirable element of a truly free society. When I first tried to explain this position to my family, they listened to me, but rejected the position that same afternoon without much thought. When talking with a friend about the nature of government, he suggested that I work within the system by voting for change. Why was it that even those close to me quickly rejected what seemed to be an important discovery about the nature of liberty? Why is it that liberty is ultimately rejected so often, even in countries where people claim to value freedom so much?
This book examines the rejection of liberty and attempts to answer some of these questions. We will start by considering the basic arguments against government, before moving on to the psychological reasons that people might reject these arguments. This book will challenge readers who are new to the freedom philosophy and will provide insight and persuasive tools to readers who are already advocates of liberty. Either way, you will end up with an increased understanding of freedom and appreciation for liberty. You'll have the peace of internal consistency that comes from the thorough examination of an issue, and will have the opportunity to reduce the amount of violence in your own life.
Arguments against government can be separated into three distinct categories: economic, philosophical, and moral. We will now explore these three different types of arguments.
Coercion, or the initiation of force, defines government. There is no such thing as a voluntary government, for the moment coercion is removed from government, it ceases to be a government and becomes something else altogether (perhaps a business, club, or religion). By contrast, free markets exist in the absence of coercion. This makes free market activity inherently fair. In a voluntary transaction, each person benefits. Otherwise, they wouldn't have agreed to the transaction! Coercion is a distinguishing feature between government and the free market.
Free markets are more dynamic and able to respond to change more quickly than government. Let's say a hurricane wipes out a large number of houses in Florida. Statists might complain about the rising cost of lumber in the area and call for government to take action against “price gougers”. However, this increase in the price of lumber is actually a good thing. There is only a limited supply of any given resource at any given time, including lumber. Because of the high price, only those who need lumber the most will purchase it. The increase in the price of lumber encourages people unaffected by the hurricane to put off their less urgent projects, such as plans for a new deck, and helps ensure there will be enough lumber for hurricane victims to rebuild their homes. The spontaneous order created by the free market organizes and distributes resources to the areas of highest need more efficiently than government could ever do.
Consider two vehicles: a car you rent and a car you own. Which do you drive more carefully? Which do you think would be in better condition after a year of use? People tend to take better care of things that they own than things that are simply passing through their hands. Free market property rights utilize this basic fact of human nature to address environmental concerns better than governments. Consider international whaling. Due to the absence of property rights, whalers try to catch as many whales as they can as quickly as they're able. They don't want somebody else to get to the whales before they do! This hunting frenzy endangers whale populations. But, if each whaler had property rights to a certain number of whales (or the whales in a certain region), they would be sure to leave some of their whales in the sea so that they could have a catch for the next year. Whale populations would be as secure as cows or chickens are today!
Free markets institutions would replace government institutions in a free market society and perform better because of competition. Private defense agencies could replace the military and police. Arbitration and contracts could replace the court system. Seller rating systems, similar to those implemented by eBay, could replace burdensome regulations. Information about a person's past dealings would be readily available and a concern for reputation would keep sellers satisfying their customers. Customized goods and services would be provided at a higher quality and lower price than one could ever find in an economy under government control.
Free markets allow human creativity and innovation to flow unrestricted and benefit humanity to the fullest extent possible. When it comes to efficiency, fairness, and value, governments pale in comparison.
Government is undesirable from an economic point of view.
Each of us is a self-owner. This fact is self-evident. If you don't own your life, who does? Even if you are religious and seek to serve God, most faiths hold that God gives free will. You have responsibility for your actions, and may choose to follow or reject God. Therefore, you have freedom and free will as gifts from God and are a self-owner.
No other person or group of people owns you, and you do not own the lives of others. As self-owners, we may run our lives in any way that we choose. Any attempt to violate the self-ownership of a person goes against our nature as human beings and therefore produces negative consequences.
It is important to respect the self-ownership of others in order to avoid the negative consequences that come with self-ownership violation. You may protect yourself, but may not initiate force or ask others to initiate force on your behalf. Live fully according to your nature and allow others to do the same.
Government is undesirable from a philosophical point of view because it violates self-ownership.
As discussed earlier, coercion, the initiation of force, defines government. If you, as an individual, were to imitate the actions of government, your actions would properly be taken as immoral. However, when government carries out these same actions, they are viewed as moral. If you were to carry out your own taxation, it would rightly be called theft. If you were to imitate the actions of a combat hero, you would be considered a murderer. If you were to attempt to circumvent the free market by enforcing your own regulations, it would correctly be considered enslavement.
If it is immoral for you, as an individual, to carry out these actions, then it is immoral for a group of people calling themselves a “government” to carry out these actions. In fact, it is immoral for individuals to ask the state to carry out these actions on their behalf.
Government coercion manifests itself through charred bodies, prison rape, and execution. But, the consequences of coercion are not only found on foreign battlefields or in remote prisons. They can be seen in the mom and pop store that is forced to shut down due to the cost of complying with onerous regulations and in the faces of the frustrated youth who have shunned education after being forced to attend boring, propagandistic schools. The complete register of immoral actions that come from the state grows everyday and is too voluminous to recount in entirety here. However, observant readers will notice these immoral actions around themselves everyday.
Institutionalizing violence through government masks the evil in an air of legitimacy, corrupting culture and encouraging private acts of violence. Through this mask of legitimacy, the meanings of words such as “freedom”, “justice”, and even “morality” are easily twisted and changed. For example, the prison and court systems are not concerned with the compensation of victims, but with vengeance and the exercise of power. Rather than repay their victims for items they have stolen, thieves languish in prison. Meanwhile, the injured parties are sent away with, at best, a thank you. This system is called “justice” and is funded by tax money taken under the threat of force.
Not only is government undesirable from a moral point of view, it is completely unacceptable because it embodies force, coercion, and violence by definition.
Although humans are always free by their very nature, it is only in the absence of coercion, only in the absence of government that they can thrive as free individuals. For this reason, arguments against government are arguments in favor of liberty. When a person chooses to accept government as legitimate, they reject the fullness of liberty that can be experienced in its absence.
After exposure to the various arguments against government and in support of liberty for mankind, a person may still choose to reject them and therefore reject liberty as a virtue that is desirable universally. This rejection can take place even if the case against government is well thought out, and rational. But, the rejection of liberty goes beyond a rejection of rationality. It is a rejection of the very freedom that makes innovation possible-for without an atmosphere free of coercion, great minds are stifled. It is a rejection of the very freedom that makes morality possible-for without choice, a person cannot be said to be acting morally. It is a rejection of the very thing that allows individuals to pursue happiness.
The reasons a person might reject liberty are numerous and complex. We will now explore some of these reasons.
A fear of chaos is one of the most common reasons that a person might reject liberty. When presented with an argument against the state, this type of person's head fills with images of looters raiding shops, murder in the streets, and children abducted from their beds. Politicians play to this fear of chaos by promising safety in exchange for people giving up some of their liberty. The politicians gain power without any real obligation to protect the people. If a destructive event occurs under a politician's watch, the politician can easily claim a need for more power to prevent attacks in the future and the “fearers” will gladly comply.
“Fearers” look to government to protect them from the chaos of violence. However, violence caused by private thugs pales in comparison with the mountain of wrecked lives and damaged bodies created by government. Professor R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii estimates that governments killed 262 million of their own citizens in the 20th century alone, not including combat deaths! It is difficult to imagine that any private thugs could cause such devastation. Professor Rummel attempts to put this number into perspective for us: “[I]f all these bodies were laid head to toe, with the average height being 5', then they would circle the earth ten times. [This number includes] 6 times more people than died in combat in all the foreign and internal wars of the century.”1
The very existence of a government in an area increases the vulnerability of that area to invasion by other governments. An imperialist government would have scant incentive to invade an area occupied solely by individuals. Household after household would have to be defeated and much of the property that could be claimed from a successful invasion would be at high risk of damage. However, If a government already exists in the area, the invading government need only capture the capital or force surrender and they have won the entire country! Governments also make an area vulnerable to invasion through their foreign policy. An aggressive foreign policy provokes in ways that individuals could never do.
It is ironic that “fearers” believe government will bring stability to a chaotic world. The economic arguments against government explain how truly free markets spontaneously organize goods and resources from around the globe to the areas of highest need. The quality of goods and services offered on the free market far exceeds those of comparable services offered by government. Free market goods are delivered in a more efficient and more convenient manner than government goods, without the deadweight loss caused by taxes, quotas, and price controls. The free market is much more orderly than any politicized economic realm.
“Fearers” reject liberty because they are afraid of an unknown future in a stateless society and the chaos they believe will accompany it.
Many people have favorite causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Having found a problem that lacks attention, a person may adopt it as their special charge and watch for opportunities to remedy the matter. This drive for problem solving, whether at a personal or social level, is positive and natural. However, sometimes problems solvers become convinced that the sole solution to their favorite problem lies with government. It is when they become convinced of this that problem solvers reject liberty and become a kind of “lobbyist” for their cause.
Start talking about the arguments against government and you will soon come up against objections by problem solvers who have staked their hopes on government solutions. They will ask questions such as “Who would provide the roads?”, “What about the criminals?”, and “How would we protect the environment?”. This type of person has become stuck in the “Government Solves Problems” paradigm and looks first to the state for solutions. The moral hazards in seeking coercive solutions over peaceful ones are tremendous, but these are easily dismissed from the “lobbyist's” perspective. If only the “lobbyist” would think outside of their paradigm, they could soon realize innovative ideas such as “private toll roads”, “private defense agencies”, and “contractual property rights” that were previously beyond their grasp.
The “lobbyist” rejects arguments against the state because they expect it to solve their favorite problem.
A person may become so set in their viewpoints that they reject new ideas without critically analyzing them. This type of person may evaluate new evidence in ways that favor their current outlook or even entirely dismiss new ideas that do not fit into their paradigm.
The public school system and even mainstream culture encourage this “analysis paralysis”. Coercion is a key element in the public school system. Children are forced to attend school under threat of various penalties that could be imposed on the children or their parents. Because of this use of force, the children come to resent the time they spend at school and discover that the easiest way to succeed is to quickly accept what the teacher says and commit it to memory. The public school system is designed for the rapid dissemination and acceptance of state propaganda, and this propaganda is regularly taught. Consequently, we end up with a culture where the majority of people accept the state as legitimate. A person can easily slip into “analysis paralysis” in this environment of intellectual homogeneity.
When a “paralytic” is presented with the idea that private toll roads could replace government maintained roads in a stateless society, the “paralytic” might respond, “I don't want to pay for roads!”. However, the “paralytic” has not analyzed the issue and isn't thinking about the high cost of government roads through taxes. “Paralytics” would rather allow government to take half of their income through taxes of one form or another2 than critically analyze the costs of government services versus free market services. Government services are not subject to the competition of services offered on the free market and do not benefit from competition's tendency to drive down the price down and the quality up. Because of competition, free market roads would most certainly cost less than government roads. “Paralytics” may reject similar valid arguments without examination simply because they have fallen into the habit of doing so.
The “paralytic” rejects liberty because of their refusal to critically analyze the new idea.
A person may reject arguments against government because they are afraid of the disapproval of family and friends. This type of person knows that their family and friends see government as legitimate and does not want to be thought of as a “radical”. Unfortunately, some advocates of a stateless society unintentionally encourage this kind of rejection of liberty by pitting liberty against family.
Some advocates of a stateless society claim that a lover of liberty must abandon family and friends if they persist in their belief that the state is legitimate. The “advocates” claim that this is a necessary step in order to maintain internal consistency and reject evil. Consistency is surely a good thing, and something for which this text argues. However, a love of liberty does not require a rejection of family to remain consistent. The family members of violent criminals often visit their relative in prison. This does not mean that the family members approve of the violent actions of their relative, only that they love the relative, wish to provide their support, and hope to urge the relative to abandon violent ways.
In the same way, a lover of liberty may choose to stay with family and friends who accept the state, rather than abandon them. The “lover” loves the family members, but despises the evil of the state. So, the “lover” remains true to liberty and attempts to convince family and friends to do the same. By pitting liberty against family, “advocates” are setting up an obstacle to liberty that is too much for some people to overcome.
Unfortunately, problems may still develop in the most pro-state families. Even if the “lover” chooses to stay with family, the family may choose to abandon the “lover” over the “lover's” conviction for freedom. This is a truly sad occurrence, but the “lover” will by this point be familiar with the immorality of the state and will be proud to stand against such a coercive institution. The “lover” can take comfort in the peace that accompanies this moral consistency and look forward to a bright future enjoying the benefits of freedom and the company of freedom-loving individuals.
Family, particularly parents, can also influence the response of a person to arguments against government in another way. Parents are their children's first teachers and the manner in which they instruct their children can have a profound effect later in a child's life. Thoughtful parents may explain to their children the dangers of a hot stove, the immorality of initiated violence, and how to think for themselves. Less careful parents may command their children to refrain from running inside, to stop fighting, or to take out the garbage.
The difference between the two goes beyond syntax. A child who is taught to think and reason for themselves will be well prepared to face the world as an adult. A child who is commanded and ordered to follow a parent's whim has only been taught how to obey authority. When the “child” grows up, this obedience to authority is easily transferred from the parent to the state through the public school system. At this point, the “child” will reject arguments against the state because they are perceived as attacks against their parents.
A person may view the government as the embodiment of their values, ideals, and culture. This category of person sees no difference between the state and the culture in their area. In fact, this category of person identifies with the government and draws their own sense of satisfaction and belonging from the actions of the state. The outlook of an “identifier” is evident in phrases such as “We won the war” or “We are the best nation on earth”.
Everyone has needs for love and affection, in the deepest sense of the words. We want to share our lives with others and let others share their lives with us. We need to know that others see us, faults and all, and still love us. If these needs are not met, we may seek out more superficial types of support. A person who identifies with the government seeks validation through membership in a group. In this case, nationalism or jingoism offers the illusion that “we” in the nation are one. The person feels they have found a place where they belong.
As a person continues to identify with the government, the line between state and self continues to blur. Any criticism of the government may be perceived as an attack on the self and the culture. Military victories become a source of enormous pride, although the identifier may not have participated in any way. Having tasted victory, the identifier may desire more and urge the state to battle. They'll use phrases such as “These colors don't run”, “With us or against us”, and “Support Our Troops”. When a battle is inevitably lost, the identifier will be devastated and feel as if they're a failure, even if they had nothing to do with the battle personally. An “Us versus Them” mentality is easily fostered in this environment. This mentality and the requests of government that follow only enable the state further.
The state actions that raise and lower the spirits of a person identifying with the government do not always have to do with war. The success of the latest welfare scheme or the effectiveness with which a particular prohibition is enforced may also stir up the “identifier”. People who consume banned trans fats will be seen as breaking up the unified group and imposing costs on society.
In an article entitled “Identifying With the State”, Professor Butler D. Shaffer of the Southwestern University School of Law contrasts the relationship between an “identifier” and the government with the relationship between a customer and a business: “Only when our ego-identities become wrapped up with some institutional abstraction – such as the state – can we be persuaded to invest our lives and the lives of our children in the collective madness of state action. We do not have such attitudes toward organizations with which we have more transitory relationships. If we find an accounting error in our bank statement, we would not find satisfaction in the proposition 'the First National Bank, right or wrong.' Neither would we be inclined to wear a T-shirt that read 'Disneyland: love it or leave it.'”3
The moral problems and disregard for liberty inherent in government action is ignored by the “identifier” in an attempt to protect their esteem and a self image that has become intimately tied to “the group”. The identifier rejects arguments against government because they are interpreted as arguments against the self.
A person may reject arguments against the state simply because they don't want to upset the existing conditions in their lives. The transition in thought from viewing the state as legitimate to viewing the state as illegitimate is massive and takes effort and reflection. A person must look within in order to know themselves better and attempt to remove coercive behavior from their own life. Unfortunately, this takes a level of self-honesty and determination that disheartens many people. For this type of person it is easier to reject arguments against government and ignore the moral danger of such a decision than it is to accept any changes that come from living free.
Most of the reasons we've discussed so far that might lead a person to reject liberty have common elements. Fear and sloth combine with other psychological factors to result in the rejection of a freer future. A person doesn't want to think of new ideas or doesn't want to change and so dismisses the exciting prospect of liberty.
In fact, these traits are not characteristic of a free, self actualized individual. The person voluntarily enslaves themselves by giving their implicit consent to government. If only the person would work for their own betterment and stop supporting their own oppression they could reclaim their life and live the freedom that is naturally their own. If you have found any of the characteristics mentioned in this segment in your own life, it is not too late to accept liberty for yourself. You have been illuminated, a better life waits!
There are two additional categories of people whose rejection of liberty is an exceptional case.
The first category of people rejects arguments against government for religious reasons. They believe that governments are established by God for the good of man or that God asks his people to be obedient to governments. Some of the aforementioned reasons in this segment for the rejection of liberty may contribute to the persistence of such a belief. However, a conviction that the belief holder considers moral or mandated by God is very difficult to change. I would encourage such a belief holder to prayerfully consider that text from holy books may be interpreted in a variety of ways. The text that you believe legitimizes government may in actuality contain a different message.
Some faiths, such as the Catholic Church, hold that there may be legitimate disagreement amongst members on matters of how best to achieve or obtain stated moral ends. The Church has authority in regard to moral matters, but not matters of economics, science, or crochet! In other words, while the Church may declare that it is a moral good to help the poor and less fortunate, it may not say that the government should raise the minimum wage and increase welfare payments in order to do so. It seems reasonable that the use of government to achieve moral ends and the legitimacy of the state would, at a minimum, both fall into the domain of legitimate disagreement amongst Church members.
If you are a religious person, the moral arguments against government should make you cautious about accepting such an immoral institution and show that there is room for God apart from the state.
The second category of people rejects liberty because they want to play the government game to get ahead of others. This type of person might be involved directly in the government or simply use the system to their advantage by obtaining special favors for themselves and restrictions on others. This kind of “gamer” knows exactly what they are doing and ignores the moral consequences. They trade actual happiness for power and material wealth.
After coming to see government as the illegitimate institution that it is and having gained an increased appreciation for liberty, a person might wonder, “Where do I go from here?”. This section provides some actions to consider going forward.
The first thing to do is withdraw your support from government. This can be accomplished by canceling your voter's registration and looking to replace any government employment or contracts.
Voting can seem like a way to make a difference. People may suggest voting as a way to work within the system for real change. However, it is pertinent to consider that the odds your single vote will change the outcome of any election are slim to none. Also, working within the system for change makes no sense when you consider that it is the system itself that is the problem. By voting, you are taking part in the system and lending your approval to the process. You are stating that you will view the outcome of the electoral process as legitimate, whoever is the victor. More seriously, by voting you are asking the government to initiate force on your behalf. You are saying that you would like your candidate's policies enforced, under the threat of violence, on all voting and non-voting people in your area. Voting is morally hazardous and puts your name on the list of government supporters. By removing your name from the voter rolls, you can reduce the amount of violence in your life and even decrease your chance of getting called for jury duty!
Working for the government or accepting government contracts directly supports the state and is morally hazardous. This kind of work, even if it provides a service that would be valuable in a free market, furthers the idea that initiated force should have a place in society. I encourage you to look for replacements to any government jobs or contracts that you currently have. This may seem like a large undertaking, but changing jobs is not as difficult as it sounds if you plan carefully. When you finally make the transition to the private sector, you will have the peace of internal consistency and feel good that you have reduced the amount of violence in your life.
Next, seek to replace coercive solutions with voluntary ones. Consider homeschooling your children rather than sending them to public schools. You and your child will be able to spend more time together on a daily basis, you will be able to tailor lessons to your child's interests, and your child will gain a love of learning. When practical, consider using private services as substitutes for government services. You might choose to patronize private shipping, security, or education firms for your needs. Consider trading in gold and silver or private currency backed by these metals. Gold and silver are great substitutes for government currency, as they hold their value and aren't as vulnerable to inflation.
Finally, seek a deeper understanding of liberty by reading books and articles and talking with liberty-minded people. I recommend visits to http://www.lewrockwell.com and http://www.strike-the-root.com. Both of these websites post daily articles about freedom and free markets and are great starting points for learning about liberty. You'll soon come up with a list of books to read after talking to people on the forums and reading the latest articles.
At the same time, seek a deeper understanding of yourself. Learn who you are and what makes you tick. Build the confidence to follow your dreams and live free!
2Beth Cody's articled entitled "Giving Half Your Income to Uncle Sam" presents an excellent explanation of this statistic. The article may be found at http://www.press-cit izen.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080409/OPINION01/804090303/1018/OPINION
3Professor Shaffer's article may be found at http://www.lewrockwell.com/shaffer/shaffer159.html