I have a point of view about politics and “government” that puts me at odds with many of my family, friends and people I meet.
It’s uncomfortable. I don’t like the distance it puts between me and people I care about. Of course, I would love to change their minds to bring them around to my viewpoint, and Lord knows I’ve tried. But fairness demands that I be open to changing my mind on the matter.
So, I’m going to give out the key, right here, to getting me to abandon my most basic convictions in regard to politics. Turn that key, and I will readily drop beliefs I’ve held for forty years.
Before I get to what the key is, I need to state an important moral principle that I hold.
That principle precedes politics, and is not really debatable. You either agree with it as being self-evident or you don’t. I’ve noticed that most people do tend to act in conformity to it in their personal lives. This suggests to me that it enjoys widespread acceptance, at least as a practical operating rule.
Here’s the principle: It’s never morally right for one person (or group) to aggress against another person (or group).
Rape, robbery, stealing, assault, kidnapping, murder: These are acts of aggression because they’re neither consensual on the victim’s part nor defensive in nature. Most entail violence or the threat of violence. Based on the principle above, that makes them morally wrong, even if you can conceive of scenarios in which someone has a “good” reason to commit them.
Common criminals and gangsters employ the aggressive use of force in their activities, so they obviously violate the principle.
However, what most people call the “government” — the state — also uses aggressive force, in everything it does. Its myriad of laws and regulations are not suggestions. They are mandates, backed by threats of fines, property seizures, jailing and worse. Ultimately, those dictates are enforced by men with guns. The state’s employees do not ask or require your consent to hurt you.
My bedrock political conviction then is this: Because the state employs aggression, constantly, its every activity violates the moral principle stated above as surely as the criminal or gangster does. Therefore, the state (“the government” as we currently know it) is illegitimate and should be dissolved.
What would replace it? It would be something based on voluntary interactions and exchange, but that’s for a different discussion. The point is, when a criminal gang is dominating and terrorizing a city (as an example), I don’t have to have a detailed plan for what would “replace” it before I call out its illegitimacy and insist it be disbanded.
In a real sense “the state” does not exist now. The term is really just shorthand for a web of coercion which traps us in a million ways, from taxes to traffic tickets to war and war’s blowback. It’s only because most of your fellow humans (and perhaps you) believe in its reality and legitimacy — or at least its inevitability — that we continue to be pummeled by those acting in its name.
So here’s the key to getting me to change my political stance: Show me that the state is not coercive. Show me that the state’s laws are not backed by the threat of initiated force against those who violate them.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Successfully turn that key, and if your goal is to get me to change my most fundamental beliefs about “the government” — beliefs that place me outside the fold vis-à-vis most of the people around me — you will win.
If you succeed, I’ll probably still lean libertarian. I’ll probably still advocate freedom, for utilitarian reasons. But it will no longer be a moral issue with me. I’ll even be open to discussing political solutions to problems, working within the state framework that now exists.
But that’s a big “if.” Who’s up for the challenge?
P.S: Don’t bother telling me about the good things you think “government” does, or how we need it for defense or crime control or welfare or to make sure everyone pays his “fair share,” or that without it blood would run in the streets, etc. Those things are for a separate debate. None of them touch the question I’m asking:
Does the state operate by coercion — or not? Do state employees through their actions violate the principle that it’s never morally right for one person to aggress against another — or not?
Oh, also: Please don’t say that the state’s aggressions are not aggressions because we get to vote. If I rounded up a dozen people to vote to take my next-door neighbor’s possessions or to force him from his home, would that make it not aggression? (See I’m from Alabama, and I Don’t Care about the Alabama Senate Race.)