2012, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society

19 "Tough" Questions for Libertarianism, Part 1

Around October 2011, Jon Stewart interviewed Andrew Napolitano, a prominent US “libertarian” on The Daily Show.

At some point, some libertarians put Stewart’s interview questions into a meme sometimes called “Jon Stewart’s 19 tough questions for libertarians.” My understanding of this is that Napolitano did not acquit himself well enough in their eyes. This doesn’t exactly surprise me, as Stewart is fairly well prepared for people he does not see eye to eye with, and I think a lot of his interviewees – having apparently never watched The Daily Show – come somewhat unprepared for actual questions. They think they are on Leno or something and… oops.

Anyway, here are the questions as outlined on reddit. Not all of them are questions, but rather statements that libertarians would be expected to counter.

  1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
  2. One of the things that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social safety net enhances freedom.
  3. What should we do with the losers that are picked by the free market?
  4. Do we live in a society or don’t we? Are we a collective? Everybody’s success is predicated on the hard work of all of us; nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are hung out to dry? For a group that doesn’t believe in evolution, it’s awfully Darwinian.
  5. In a representative democracy, we are the government. We have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise.. We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a democratic system.
  6. Is government inherently evil?
  7. Sometimes to protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather a group together to build a wall or levy.
  8. As soon as you’ve built an army, you’ve now said government isn’t always inherently evil because we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it’s that old joke: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We already decided who you are, now we’re just negotiating.
  9. You say: government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn’t work, and went to the Constitution.
  10. You give money to the IRS because you think they’re gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your house catches on fire, will come there with water.
  11. Why is it that libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems insane.
  12. Why is it that with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and there arechoices within the educational system.
  13. Would you go back to 1890?
  14. If we didn’t have government, we’d all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and broccoli would be ice-cream?
  15. Unregulated markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These regulations didn’t come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a system that they couldn’t fight back against.
  16. Why do you think workers that worked in the mines unionized?
  17. Without the government there are no labor unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or even sometimes the government.
  18. Would the free market have desegregated restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Marten [sic] Luther King have been less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would not have supported integrated lunch counters.
  19. Government is necessary but must be held accountable for its decisions.

And these questions have produced a Youtube video response (likely many more than one), but this is the one that introduced this meme to me.

As a recovering libertarian (7 years sober!), I feel like I can add to this discussion in a serious, rigorous way, without resorting to rhetoric that is so prominent in these debates down south. Hopefully, I can be fair.

My life as a libertarian

I was a libertarian – or someone with views similar to those of most libertarians but who didn’t necessarily identify as a libertarian – for about 3-4 years in my early twenties. Interestingly, this corresponded with most of my university education. For me, libertarianism was actually a step towards practicality as I was an anarchist – of the right-wing variety, for those of you who know what that means – in my first year of university.

University is an important time for many of us, when we encounter new ideas and new perspectives and learn how to get along with other adults. I was basically a fascist in high school and I was apparently looking for something new.

So, when I was exposed to the theoretically elegant idea of perfect freedom, I jumped at something so opposed to my former beliefs. (I did this as part of reinventing myself to escape high school and my bad memories of it.)

After about a year, I became aware of certain practical issues surrounding “pure” anarchism and I modified my beliefs to allow for some kind of state / government. At some point around this time, I discovered Robert Nozick and fell under the spell of Anarchy, the State and Utopia – still one of the most entertaining works of political theory I have ever read – which gave weight to my objections to anarchism and gave me a theoretical basis to maintain my libertarian views, even if I didn’t yet refer to myself as a libertarian.

A couple years later, having read Nozick’s book multiple times, and having become exposed to other ideas – particularly existentialism and certain basic concepts in psychology – I came to the reluctant conclusion that libertarianism was as untenable as anarchism. I began to refer to myself either as a “recovering libertarian” or as a “libertarian social democrat with a conservative streak”.

That latter appellation needs some explaining.

One of the things I discovered through both intensive reading of political theory and psychology (not to mention literature) but also the real life experience with other, less educated people, that I lacked in university that it is only ideologies that are “anarchist” or “libertarian.” Actual people don’t fit these molds, even when they label themselves as such. Only the most diehard adherents of an ideology hold most of that ideology’s convictions, and those people should be avoided at all costs, as they aren’t very nice to be around.

I noticed that I still had libertarian views – of the civil libertarian variety only – but that I lacked the dispassion to ignore the consequences of unfettered capitalism (hence both the social democrat side and the conservative streak).

For a better explanation of the kind of cross-ideological views I hold – and I believe most people hold to some extent or other – please check out “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist: a Credo.”  (Please note, that I don’t mean to say most people are Conservative-Liberal-Socialists in the sense that I am or Kolakowski was, but rather that most people hold views form all three major branches of ideology, whether they will admit to it or not.)

So now that you have the personal background about my libertarian past – my apology as it were – let’s get down to business.

Is government the antithesis of liberty?

An anarchist would certainly answer yes. Libertarians traditionally acknowledge the need for some small amount of government but grant it begrudgingly and certainly imply that it is the antithesis of liberty.

When I originally began to write this I planned to include each response from Stefan Molyneux (in the video above) and respond to both Stewart’s question and Molyneux’s response, but Molyneux’s first response is so ridiculous it’s tough to dignify.

Before responding to Molyneux’s rhetoric: a serious attempt to answer this question would ask “what is liberty?” and “what is government?” Now, that might seem overly philosophical to some, but it’s important. People in different cultures define liberty in different ways. And we throw the word “government” around like an epithet without really understanding what we are talking about (at least many of us do).

The Weberian definition of government, the most famous one, is that government is the institution that monopolizes the use of violence in a particular area. But that is just an explanatory definition – though it is correct – and not a normative one. It doesn’t answer the question “why government?” which is certainly implied by any objection to government action.

To answer that second question, and therefore to get into the heart of the problem with this first question, we have Michel’s poorly named “Iron Law of Oligarchy”: whoever says organization says oligarchy. That is, when human beings create organizations, they create hierarchy and ruling classes.

Why would human beings create organizations in the first place?

Human beings are social animals and, beyond very, very small groups, need to coordinate their activities to prevent various ills and to create various goods. But beyond questioning the why of it, just look at history: societies from the agricultural revolution on are organized. Even those that at first appear unorganized – at least to those of us who experience mass organization – are in fact organized; otherwise they wouldn’t be societies. And they have hierarchy, no matter what we want to believe. I am aware of no anthropological or biological evidence that proves the popular leftist claim that human beings are socially or politically equal even in the so-called “state of nature” (which, of course, never existed).

So organization is a fact of human existence. And so is oligarchy. And at some point one organization will be at the top of the hierarchy in a given area and then it will monopolize the use of force in that area and it will be government. And that’s roughly what happened in human history, independently, in various parts of the world.

So that’s what government is: historical contingency. Nothing more.

Liberty is something totally different: an ideal. It is ideal that means something different to virtually every person on the planet, just like justice, equality, and other similarly metaphysical ideas.

So to respond to Stewart’s question: No, government cannot be the antithesis of liberty because they are completely different things. And Molyneux has it backwards: it is not government that doesn’t exist, but it is liberty, as an absolute thing, that does not exist. Absolute freedom or liberty is a metaphysical belief and nothing more. (Or, to put it another way, it is the ability to play god, which is, of course, impossible.) Government does exist, in the sense that all human institutions exist. Liberty can only be practically conceived of as a relative thing – whether we call it “freedom from” or “freedom to,” these things must be in a specific context and are therefore relative.

And so liberty, as a metaphysical idea, can also not be opposed to force, except as force is conceived as a metaphysical idea. But physical force is a real and tangible thing and people experience degrees of force – depending on how you want to define it, i.e. if coercion is force? – which may or may not affect their personal liberty.

Again, depending on how liberty is defined: if liberty is defined in a relative manner and not as a metaphysical ideal, then force does indeed affect liberty. It’s elegant in theory, to say force is the antithesis of liberty, but there is no world free of the use of some kind of force – whether it be natural forces, physical violence, psychological manipulation, etc – and so in the most abstract sense, as I have already implied, there is no liberty. (To put it another way, there is no absolute liberty.) So again this juxtaposition becomes tenuous.

And Molyneux’s rhetoric only makes the whole thing more absurd. Sure, one can claim government as a specific type of force, if one is willing to write a very broad definition of force as a metaphysical concept (which includes coercion, tacit acceptance, and the like).

But to then equate the compulsion of government to, say, wear a seat belt, stop at a stop sign, or pay a tax, with the act of one human being raping another human being is to completely misunderstand the natures of liberty – something that is a metaphysical idea until actual people interact with actual other people – and force – something that is, at bottom, a physical reality: you are not flying off into space as you read this.

And that there are different types of force, one of which is physical violence, and, within that broad category of violence, there are far different types of violence. (I was once punched in ear and I would never, ever argue that getting punched in the ear had the same impact on my life – morally, mentally, physically, or otherwise – as getting raped would have. If these two things are categorically different – and they are – then being forced to wear a seat belt by law is clearly far, far different than being raped or being punched in the ear.)

This is actually a familiar libertarian argument but it is usually phrased – no less absurdly – as “taxes are akin to slavery.”

The problem with “taxes are akin to slavery” is simple to the non-libertarian: “No, they are not. Moreover, to suggest they are proves that the libertarian has no experience of slavery or any conception of it.”

Nothing about paying taxes is on the same level – morally, mentally, physically or otherwise – with slavery, especially with race-based slavery. This is obvious and shouldn’t require an argument. It is a false analogy and that’s that.

Please watch the following video. Please note the definition of slavery at approximately 6:15.

I completely agree: slavery entails ownership of one person by another. This is not the same as anything else, even serfdom.

Certainly, paying a small portion of your income to an institution as a tax is much more like a mandatory tithe than anything else, including slavery. So you might fairly call taxes tithes in a derogatory fashion, but you cannot make the comparison to slavery. Similarly, you cannot equate the threat of potential physical force – and the constant compulsion to do certain things, pay taxes, stop at stop signs etc, entailed by that threat of physical force – to rape, or some other actual exertion of physical force.

So taxation is not slavery and the use of the threat of force by government – rather than the category of force-as-government, so conceived by Molyneux – is not rape, not is it assault, nor is it harassment (at least most of the time, for most people).

So, what do we think of this question “is government the antithesis of liberty?”

Well, it’s a bad question, at least from a theoretical perspective, as it equates two entirely different things as opposites. But it is useful when asked of libertarians, anarchists, and their like in the sense that it helps draw out the theoretical issues of their ideologies when at first glance it only seems like these ideologies are theoretically consistence but practically problematic.

And so, putting aside theoretical difficulties, the answer to this question becomes “No, government is not the antithesis of liberty”. Nor is force.


In the coming weeks I hope to address the remaining 18 “questions” of this internet meme, and hopefully with the thoroughness of this first question. Please stay tuned.

26 Comments

  1. Much enjoyed. I’d really like to hear what you think of my post on the contradictions inherent in a Libertarian Capitalism if you have the chance.

  2. Much enjoyed. I’d really like to hear what you think of my post on the contradictions inherent in a Libertarian Capitalism if you have the chance.

  3. “…Sure, one can claim government as a specific type of force, if one is willing to write a very broad definition of force as a metaphysical concept…”

    So if I stop paying taxes tomorrow because I object to funding the government’s illegal war of genocide (or just because I want to decide how much I spend each week funding the government’s illegal war of genocide), will force be used against me or not?

    It’s either one or the other.

    1. It isn’t “one or the other”; that is just a rhetorical trick used by people who favour extreme ideologies based on absolute opinions. I don’t live in the UK, but in Canada, if I don’t pay my taxes for the fiscal year 2012, there is a long drawn out process that results. What it does not immediately result in is someone showing up at my door with a weapon and throwing me in jail. That may be a likely eventuality, based on choices I make after the government learns of my unwillingness to pay my taxes, but it isn’t the immediate outcome. Don’t pretend otherwise.

      But regardless, saying that the government uses force to enforce its laws doesn’t somehow prove that the libertarian point of view is in any way correct or, especially, realistic.

  4. “…Sure, one can claim government as a specific type of force, if one is willing to write a very broad definition of force as a metaphysical concept…”

    So if I stop paying taxes tomorrow because I object to funding the government’s illegal war of genocide (or just because I want to decide how much I spend each week funding the government’s illegal war of genocide), will force be used against me or not?

    It’s either one or the other.

    1. It isn’t “one or the other”; that is just a rhetorical trick used by people who favour extreme ideologies based on absolute opinions. I don’t live in the UK, but in Canada, if I don’t pay my taxes for the fiscal year 2012, there is a long drawn out process that results. What it does not immediately result in is someone showing up at my door with a weapon and throwing me in jail. That may be a likely eventuality, based on choices I make after the government learns of my unwillingness to pay my taxes, but it isn’t the immediate outcome. Don’t pretend otherwise.

      But regardless, saying that the government uses force to enforce its laws doesn’t somehow prove that the libertarian point of view is in any way correct or, especially, realistic.

      1. “…What it does not immediately result in is someone showing up at my door with a weapon and throwing me in jail…”

        Well, obviously. No government actually turns up with a van full of heavies demanding half our wages every week – “or else”. That would be far too obvious!

        However, force initiated after a two year legal process and force initiated immediately are both examples of force being initiated.

        I will rephrase my question: Will the *end result* of not paying taxes always be the initiation of force, or not?

        “…saying that the government uses force to enforce its laws doesn’t somehow prove that the libertarian point of view is in any way correct or, especially, realistic….”

        I don’t understand what you mean by ‘correct’ or ‘realistic’ in this context? Correct according to what criteria? Realistic relative to what exactly?

        Establishing that the government confiscates our wealth by force (which is the definition of theft) establishes the government as violent thieves. From this point we can then enter into a grown up discussion about whether or not we want society to be run by violent thieves or not. And if we do, whether we have the moral right to impose such a system on others by force.

        1. Of course your response is framed as if there is some kind of conspiracy to hide the true nature of government. That befits your ideology. The government does indeed use force to enforce the law, that is what governments to. The issue I had earlier was objecting to “force” (or as you and Molyneux put it, the “initiation of force”) in theory, which is like objecting to the any other reality of human existence, like the fact that we have to eat to live; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Government is; “force being initiated” is a metaphysical concept we have created to attempt to argue a particular belief system. But anyway…

          By correct I do not mean to imply that there is one particular right answer to this whole question of “why government?” (or “who governs?”) but rather that ideologies (such as libertarianism, but my criticism includes pretty much every ideology that claims exclusivity for itself) claim that their answer is correct. So by correct I mean in the eyes of those who you, as a libertarian, are trying to convert. You are trying to do that, aren’t you? That’s why you commented on my blog…I think. Arguing that government uses force to enforce its laws – a tautology – does not prove to those you seek to convince that your argument is correct.

          As for realistic, I think I was pretty blatant in this post or in my latest one about why libertarianism is not realistic, and the criteria I use is the that of human existence: history. Show me the libertarian society that has existed ever. Argue with me about an actual possibile libertarian society in the UK or somewhere else. How would that come about exactly? I tried years ago and that’s one of the reasons I abandoned this belief. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible. And there was a reason: it’s not.

          If you can design a legal process that lets citizens conscientiously object to wars their government fights by withholding their taxes – all the while preventing the inevitable tax abuse that would follow such a scheme – I would be all for it. Of course, since libertarians see taxation as slavery – I’m sorry, theft – then such a process wouldn’t even appeal to libertarians, as much as it might appeal to me.

          Your brief argument “Establishing that the government confiscates our wealth by force (which is the definition of theft) establishes the government as violent thieves” is based on numerous assumptions, some of which are untenable. Examples:
          – that government has no right to tax
          – that though you were (forcibly) born into this society (I’m assuming here) you do not have to acknowledge said society’s rules
          – that citizens (assuming again) have no duties
          – that this wealth was somehow acquired outside of this society’s rules and is therefore off-limits to that society
          – that you are somehow a sovereign individual not subject to government
          And so forth.

          People who work in government are people just like you and me. Whether you know it or not, you are likely a friend of or related to a government official and I strongly doubt that you would call this person a “violent thief” to their face. It’s easy to do it in the abstract and online, where you don’t have to worry about the consequences of such a claim (to your familial or social life, for example). Nobody (or at least very few of the people) in government is actually trying to steal your money and they sure aren’t doing it violently. Coercion and compulsion are not the same as actual violence and it would be good to remember that. Paying taxes is not like getting punched in the gut. They are not analogous, not at all.

          Finally, insinuating that I am a child – “From this point we can then enter into a grown up discussion about whether or not we want society to be run by violent thieves or not” – is not constructive at all. I am the one who wrote the 2500 word blog post, remember? You cherry picked one sentence out of the entire thing and responded to that only. I am perfectly willing to have a discussion, but when your basic premise is that an institution that is a fundamental fact of human existence in society, and which uses coercion, compulsion, tacit acceptance, and various other things which are not actual physical force before resorting to that physical force – usually doing everything possible to get people to follow the laws of society before actually enforcing them – that this institution is actually a bunch of rampaging thieves; this position does not do you credit. It certainly is no way to begin a discussion. Premise: “The Government is organized crime”. Seriously? If your government is indeed what you say it is, don’t you have the choice to move somewhere else? Like a tax haven? I would take that up if I honestly believed the position you are espousing. But I gave up on it years ago, because it is untenable.

          There is no debate about the moral right to impose government on people. Government is not moral one way or the other. A government’s actions can certainly be good or bad, but the idea that “government” as an ideal type is good or evil is a religious / metaphysical ideal which does not stand up to scrutiny and does not apply to the world into which you and I were born.
          Deciding that you are somehow free of the societal rules you were born into and, as a result, anyone who taxes you is a criminal, will not change anything about the nature of your existence or your position in society (i.e. as a citizen, or what have you). Imagining the world to be different than it is never actually changed it.

        2. Abandon TV says:

          “…Of course your response is framed as if there is some kind of conspiracy to hide the true nature of government…..”

          Whether or not there is any kind of conspiracy is irrelevant. We’re not talking about conspiracy, we’re talking about definitions and moral principals. I was talking about the true nature of the actions of government (as played out in the real world) and not speculating about the abstract nature or motives of ‘government’ as an abstract idea.

          “…The government does indeed use force to enforce the law, that is what governments to…..”

          That is not an argument. It is just a statement. (Maybe you realised this). Raping is what rapists do. Clowning is what clowns do. Initiating force is what governments do. And so on.

          “….The issue I had earlier was objecting to “force” (or as you and Molyneux put it, the “initiation of force”) in theory, which is like objecting to the any other reality of human existence, like the fact that we have to eat to live; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense….”

          It might make more sense if you answer the question I asked two comments ago: Will the *end result* of not paying taxes always be the initiation of force, or not?

          If the answer is “yes” then that establishes that governments do indeed initiate force against us.
          If the answer is “no” then it establishes that taxation is a voluntary transaction and therefore indistinguishable from free commerce and/ or charity.

          “…Government is; “force being initiated” is a metaphysical concept we have created to attempt to argue a particular belief system……”

          ‘Force being initiated’ is when someone uses force against you in the real world. There is nothing metaphysical about it being locked up in a cage, tasered, beaten with clubs, shot, kidnapped, covered in white phosphorus etc.

          “….my criticism includes pretty much every ideology that claims exclusivity for itself….”

          In a free society based on the non aggression principal people would still be totally free to surrender their property rights (or any other rights) to a third party agency (such as a government) and have this agency control their life through the initiation of force, just as governments do today (or in an even more extreme way if you prefer!). You’d just need to find people willing to play the role of government for you – but with half your wages up for grabs I’m sure they’d be plenty of volunteers to play the role of ‘Big Gov’!

          The only thing you could NOT do is force you fetish for being forcibly controlled onto other people, such as me. But as long as you keep your guns, tasers, whips, chains, wigs, cages, waterboards, clubs and flags out of everyone else’s face there is no problem. Go for it and have fun!

          Any lifestyle is possible in a free society. You could choose to live in communistic commune if you preferred or a community run by dogs if that pleases you. The ONLY requirement in a free society is that nobody force their lifestyle choice onto anyone else.

          “…. libertarianism is not realistic, and the criteria I use is the that of human existence: history. Show me the libertarian society that has existed ever….”

          This is a logical fallacy because by definition things never exist until the time is right for them to exist. To explain, let’s travel back in time just over a century. I say to you “Powered flight has never existed, despite numerous (and hilarious) failed attempts. Therefore hundreds of thousands of years of history proves that powered flight is not a realistic endeavour for the human race – and it can never be achieved in the future.”

          This statement might seem reasonable in 1890, yet within a century we were able to build planes which could fly round the whole planet on a single tank of gas.

          When you think about it ALL human achievements are the result of people rejecting the flawed logic that it hasn’t happened yet , so therefore it will never happen. If we’d accepted that logic we’d all still be living in caves.

          “…How would that come about exactly?…”

          The same way all positive social changes come about. By a significant proportion of the population recognising and adhering to a universal moral principal – in this case the non aggression principal. (In the case of the abolition of slavery it was equality between the races and so on). Embracing a specific universal moral principal has to come first – the rest follows on as a natural consequence of that. It is usually a very messy business, but we get there in the end. (Again see the abolition of slavery, or equality for women etc)

          “…If you can design a legal process that lets citizens conscientiously object to wars their government fights by withholding their taxes – all the while preventing the inevitable tax abuse that would follow such a scheme – I would be all for it….”

          The legal process which would allow for such a thing (as well as the morality on which it is based) is already well understood and already in place. It is called ‘modern society’. Government taxation is the EXCEPTION to how the rest of our society ALREADY operates. Governments claim EXEMPTION from the legal framework which ALREADY organises the rest of society. Society only needs to EXTEND current existing laws (and the moral principals on which they are based) so that they INCLUDE the behaviour of governments themselves. If we did that then the problem would be solved.

          We basically need to carry out a minor tweak to the following assertion made by government: “Nobody else has the legal / moral right initiate force or steal but us.” so that it becomes “Nobody has the legal / moral right to initiate force or steal”.

          That’s the only thing which needs to changing in order to create a free society.

          “…that government has no right to tax…”

          If you’re suggesting government has an ‘automatic right’ to take people’s wealth by force then you’re defining government as some kind of God or earthly representative of God. In the 21st century we might respect people’s right to have religious beliefs, but I’m afraid we no longer accept the notion of ‘God given authority’. (as in, “My God demands X, Y and Z!”)

          If you mean government has some kind of legitimate *legal* right to be paid then all you need to do is show me the contract with my (or anyone else’s) signature on it. This is standard legal procedure when resolving disputes over payment in a civilised, modern society.

          “…- that though you were (forcibly) born into this society (I’m assuming here) you do not have to acknowledge said society’s rules…..”

          There is no such thing as ‘society’ in this context. ‘Society’ is just a convenient collective term for people. Being born ‘into society’ just means being born a person in amongst a group of other people. I *am* the society as much as anyone else is (no more, no less). Therefore there is no me vs ‘society’ (a ‘thing’ wholly separate from myself). The same applies to everyone. Therefore the only rules which make sense are those which respect everyone equally as people – as individuals. The non aggression principal and a respect for property rights are the two basic rules which DO respect everyone as equals – and it is how society is ALREADY organised, with one single, glaring exception: government.

          “…- that citizens (assuming again) have no duties….”

          Define duties please. Do duties include funding illegal wars? How about obeying Hiter’s government? Was it a good idea for the German people to fund Hitler’s Third Reich with their taxes? Was it their ‘duty’?

          How about NOT funding anything which violates the non aggression principal – is that a our duty? (Our duty to our children perhaps?)

          “….- that this wealth was somehow acquired outside of this society’s rules and is therefore off-limits to that society….”

          Babies born today are born already owing massive debts to private banks thanks to governments. The loans were taken out by government before they were born and in the future government will use coercion and violence to reclaim the money from these babies, once they are old enough to start earning wages and paying taxes and use it to pay the bankers back (plus interest). This is how governments fund their wars. Is this acceptable to you?

          The government KNOW full well they can’t pay back the loans they take out because governments themselves do not generate wealth, they only steal it, borrow it, print it out of thin air and spend it.

          I am not arguing that anyone should be allowed to live for outside of ‘society’s rules’. I am arguing that government should not be allowed to operate outside of ‘society’s rules’ (ie basic morality). Government taxation, government money printing and government borrowing are all examples of behaviour which is totally outside of this society’s rules. You or I cannot tax other people by force (we call that theft, coercion, violence), neither can we take out loans in the names of the unborn (we call that fraud), nor can we print our own money whenever we run out! (we call that counterfeiting).

          I am arguing that the same rules be applied to government – do you agree or disagree?

          “……- that you are somehow a sovereign individual not subject to government….”

          Please define ‘subject to government’. I do not understand. Subject to government what?

          “…Whether you know it or not, you are likely a friend of or related to a government official and I strongly doubt that you would call this person a “violent thief” to their face. ….”

          You’re right, I would not call them a violent thief to their face – not to begin with anyway. The question which I ask government officials is: “Would you ever dream of using intimidation and violence on me to force me to fund something against my will? Would you *personally* be willing to kidnap me and lock me up in a cage for refusing to fund an illegal war of genocide?”

          Everyone always says no. They are all horrified at the idea. I ask them if they would ever advocate for a third party to act on their behalf and treat me that way, and again they always say no. Then I ask if they would advocate, fund, vote for, or even work for a third party called a ‘government’ to treat me that way.

          At this point the colour usually drains from their faces.

          This is what is so destructive about government. It is evil spread out among so many people that it is hard to pinpoint that evil onto one person. Government is like a group of school boys, Everyone who votes is by definition voting for coercion and violence to be committed in their name, on their behalf, by their elected representatives.

          “…… It’s easy to do it in the abstract and online, where you don’t have to worry about the consequences of such a claim (to your familial or social life, for example)….”

          It’s easy to vote for a government to steal from your neighbours and kill a million civilians in Iraq – you don;t have to worry about the consequences of such voting. But if every voter (and every government employee) was suddenly made *personally liable* for any crimes committed by government (theft, murder, fraud, deceit, coercion, assault etc) then no one would vote and no one would work for government.

          If voters were simply required to PAY for their chosen parties policies then no on would vote! Most policies are paid for by the government stealing from future generations (via government loans). To vote is to literally ask for various policies (not least war) and public services paid for NOT by yourself but by future generations. As the economy continues to crash if those generations ever figure this out you’d better be ready with an apology…. I don;t think they will believe you if you try to claim ignorance – where the HELL did you think all the money government bribes voters with actually comes from?

          “…Nobody (or at least very few of the people) in government is actually trying to steal your money and they sure aren’t doing it violently…..”

          Receiving stolen goods (including wages) knowingly is a crime – is it not? Of course I do understand that most government workers do not view their government wages as stolen money. But when they figure out that it is stolen money then we will not be too many years way from a free society – because most people have the morality to reject this system, once they understand it. At the moment they are confused and indoctrinated.

          “…Paying taxes is not like getting punched in the gut….”

          Not paying taxes is though. People do literally get put inside a cage – if they resist they WILL get punched in the stomach, or worse.

          “…I am perfectly willing to have a discussion….”

          My definition of a discussion involves no violence. I respect your right to fund or not fund any government program you wish. Do you respect my right to do the same – or will you use violence and intimidation to force me to fund certain things, even if I consider them immoral?

          If you advocate for violence and intimidation against me then this is NOT a discussion and to be honest (rather than a coward) then you should probably tell me in no uncertain terms that you DO advocate for violence and intimidation to be used against me, not in an abstract fuzzy way but in a boot-on-the-neck, taser, handcuffs, back of the van, thrown in a cage type of way. Then at least I would know where I stand.

          If we are on a date and you spend all night sweet talking me and telling witty jokes it is NOT a date IF your intention all along is to use violence and intimidation at the end of the evening in order to force me to sleep with you. The intention to use violence at the end of the evening overrides any pretence of it being a civilised ‘date’.

          In the same way, we cannot be having a philosophical discussion – a debating of ideas – if at the end of it you are going to advocate for violence to be used against me anyway.

          “…Premise: “The Government is organized crime”. Seriously? …”

          A mafia takes money (‘tax’) from people using intimidation and violence. In return they get ‘protection’ and certain ‘services’.

          A mafia takes money (‘tax’) from people using intimidation and violence. In return they get ‘protection’ and certain ‘services’.

          Now, if a mafia ever got so big it managed to take over a whole country I’m sure it would probably expand the range of its ‘services’, increase its ‘ taxes’ and take over the running of more and more aspects of society, including education, where it would train the children to call it something other than ‘the mafia’ and perhaps even train the children to pledge allegiance to it everyday.

          “….A government’s actions can certainly be good or bad, but the idea that “government” as an ideal type is good or evil is a religious / metaphysical ideal…”

          I agree. There is nothing fundamentally good or bad about a government in the sense of it being an agency (or collection of them) designed to help better organise society. But like any other agency in society a government is simply made up of people, as is society itself. Therefore the same moral principals (as reflected in law) should apply to government as they do to everyone else and all other agencies.

          After all, we’ve established that government and the rest of society are BOTH composed of people (not gods, not divine superheroes, not slaves – just ordinary people) and so all I’m suggesting is that the same moral principals (as reflected in law) should apply to equally to people (government) as they do to people (society). How can basic morality not apply to people, but apply to people? If moral principals apply to people then they MUST apply to government.

          Therefore I am not advocating the overthrowing of government, I am suggesting we bring government (ie the people who act on its behalf) into the same moral and legal framework which the rest of us are already operating in – after all they are just people too, like you and me.

          Government are just service providers. That’s all they are. Just like insurance companies, telecoms providers, private security firms, bakers, candle stick makers….

          Why should these service providers be permitted to operate above the law and below the morality which the rest of us recognise and adhere to?

          It is a utopian fantasy to imagine that we can allow one small group of people wield near absolute power and weaponry and that they will, in return, serve our interests in a benevolent and competent way.

          I’m suggesting we get back to reality (before civilisation is completely destroyed).

          If you lock your house when you go out, if you lock your car when you park it, if you keep your bank cards and passwords a secret, if you take out theft insurance, if you don’t carry lots of cash with you while walking in rough areas at night, if you don’t hire employees without a proper legal contract and decent references, if you ask for a receipt when you buy stuff, if you insist on contracts when you sell you house, and surveys when you buy a new house…. then you understand why it’s important to guard against the potential immorality, negligence and incompetence of others.

          In that case you must agree that a government which is accountable, bound by proper legal contracts and not permitted (contractually) to violate basic moral principals is also absolutely necessary ….. and actually, when you think about it, to insist that governments act within basic morality is not the least bit revolutionary at all.

        3. It is very clear to me that you and I have some very different basic assumptions about the nature of reality. Since assumptions are at the level of belief, this argument is looking rather pointless. But I will try to explain you why I find this absolutely frustrating and why I am giving up.

          You said: “Well, obviously. No government actually turns up with a van full of heavies demanding half our wages every week – “or else”. That would be far too obvious!”, which implies conspiracy, or some attempt at hiding motives (governments obviously hide some motives some of the time, but you are implying they always hide their motives about everything.”

          To which I responded: “Of course your response is framed as if there is some kind of conspiracy to hide the true nature of government”, which I believe was fair given the heavy implication that government hides its true nature; i.e that a group of people in government are conspiring to deny to citizens the true knowledge of government.

          You then replied: “Whether or not there is any kind of conspiracy is irrelevant. We’re not talking about conspiracy, we’re talking about definitions and moral principals. I was talking about the true nature of the actions of government (as played out in the real world) and not speculating about the abstract nature or motives of ‘government’ as an abstract idea.”

          How am I supposed to take this seriously? “Definitions and moral principles”? What exactly about “No government actually turns up with a van full of heavies demanding half our wages every week – “or else”. That would be far too obvious!” qualifies as a “definition” of government or a “moral principle” which people are supposed to adhere to? If you want to define government for me as something other than something which hides its true nature – which is all that the subsequent sentence seems to imply – the I might be willing to continue this discussion. But stop relying on rhetorical tricks. I have decided not to read the rest of your answer as a result of this opening response.

  5. “….What exactly about “No government actually turns up with a van full of heavies demanding half our wages every week – “or else”. That would be far too obvious!” qualifies as a “definition” of government or a “moral principle” which people are supposed to adhere to? …..”

    My point is that the surface behaviour is irrelevant to the morality of the core behaviour. Forcing a woman to have sex after a lengthy courtship involving lots of meals out and flowers is still rape. It is no less rape than some man raping a stranger in a dark alleyway.

    Let’s look at two scenarios for taxation.

    Scenario one: We take home our full (untaxed) wages on a Friday evening. The government is waiting for us with a bunch of heavies. They demand half those wages. If we refuse to pay them they kidnap us and lock us up in a cage.

    Scenario two: We get to keep our earnings but the government then demands in writing that we send half our earnings to them. If we fail to send this money they will send threatening letters, then take us to court. If we still refuse to pay them they will kidnap us and lock us up in a cage.

    Scenario two may *seem* less coercive on the surface, but it is no different than scenario one in terms of the end result and the morality of the threats, coercion and violence used.

    In both scenarios threats and then (if necessary) actual force is used to make us pay. This is the very definition of theft, extortion, terrorism etc.

    Without the initiation of force being used in this way taxation would become a voluntary affair making it a form of commerce or charity. What specifically differentiates taxation from commerce or charity is the initiation of force.

    Force is force no matter how much it is disguised with euphemisms and lengthy procedures.

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