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Government and Violence

How they're the same, and how to limit them.

by James Leroy Wilson
November 28, 2001

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Government and Violence_James Leroy Wilson-How they're the same, and how to limit them. One of life's ironies is the approach individuals take to the idea of violence and war, on the one hand, and the approach we take to government, on the other. Most of us, being minimally decent people, would refrain from the use of violence for personal gain, but would resort it out of self-defense or the defense of an innocent victim. As to war, we are similarly inclined to pacifism; Western civilization has, thank God, dropped territorial expansion, imperial colonization, and other aggressive use of external force for national prosperity and power. War, to most of us, is a device to deter and stop such aggression. In war, our purpose is to resort to violence in order to stop worse violence.

But the objective and rational reasoning moral individuals would choose personally, or what they would choose in regard to wars our nation may fight, is almost completely absent when they consider domestic political affairs. In regard to its own laws, policies, and programs, we the people become as petty, resentful, and, yes, violent, as the most frivolous romantic, shallowest social-climber, strictest religious extremist, or most cynical criminal.

That is, we fail to acknowledge the essence of government, that all government action is pure violence. Violence, as I understand it, is inflicting harm - damage or loss - on another. Violence does its work either through fraud, force, or threat of force. When I mean that all government is pure violence, I mean that, when it is not actually using force against its people by killing, jailing, and confiscating their property, its entire system of law is premised on the threat of doing these things. If an action is not voluntary, it is the result of coercion, which means it is the result of violence.

Why, then, should we have government? Ought not we rid the world of violence? I don't think so; we need the government, which holds what could be called a monopoly of violence over a given area, in order to guard against, deter, and stop even worse violence, whether it comes from forces of nature, foreign invaders, or those, whom we call criminals, willing to commit acts of violence on others.

So we require government, with its security infrastructure, its law, and its agents, to, in short, stop further violence. Government is to crack down on violence for the sake of security, which in turn brings liberty because it frees the individual from having to guard himself all the time. For what is security, if not freedom from violence? And what is liberty, if not freedom from violence?

Yet government's own violent nature can, and does, make itself a force for worse evil. If government is not driven by the well-defined goal of security, then its actions take the form of aggression against its own people, so that the people themselves lose both their security and their liberty. And it does not matter how supposedly noble or depraved the cause of expanded, aggressive government might be. If one's "cause" is to make the world a more just place, or to make it "better," filled with people with the right virtues, ideology, race, or religion, either by changing human nature or exterminating those who are different, all we get, in the end, is a people physically, economically, and worse, psychologically ravaged by violence. We get a people blinded by ignorance and prejudice, no matter how liberal and enlightened they are said to be. So afraid of the "risks" of personal liberty, so distrustful of those with different values, we have been raised to believe that government, in all its coercion and brutality, is a suitable institution not for security, but for some "greater" good. And the result, in order to achieve that "good," is compromise in the political arena.

One example: saying you are pro-life and then voting for the party that seeks taxpayer-funded abortions, priding yourself on not being a simple-minded "single-issue" voter. I have news for you. You are not pro-life. You can't be. Imagine you're a 22 year-old virgin woman working 30 hours a week and attending college full-time. Part of her taxes go to pay for some other young woman's abortion. Leaving aside the moral question of abortion itself, how can anyone call this "social justice?" Why not call it "psychological rape?" The young woman, after all, was paying her taxes virtually at gunpoint. Taxes are hardly voluntary.

Another example: You claim to believe in limited government, state's rights, and individual freedom. You vote for a Presidential candidate because he's Republican, not Democrat, yet doesn't propose one single roll back of an unconstitutional federal program. Your candidate becomes President and appoints a "conservative" Attorney General who proceeds to raid a medical-marijuana clinic in California and seeks to overturn the legalized prescription of lethal drugs to terminally-ill patients in Oregon. Both practices were against the expressed will of the voters in those states, but you probably don't have a problem with that, do you. That's because in your hierarchy of morality things like the Constitution and liberty aren't as important as "sanctity of life" or the "War on Drugs." Subordinating the rights of individuals to your moral preferences - making them means to your own ends - is what's really going on. The actions of the Attorney General and the President were predictable. You're the hypocrite because you helped put them in office.

The powers, whether they be of the state or of the federal government, are not ours to be used to carry out an agenda. As a Christian, I find the very idea increasingly preposterous. Using violence to impose morality? Worse, compromising on the morality in the vain hope that "our guy" will actually transform society in ways that will serve our ends? Please. Morality doesn't need the violent, coercive forces of government to triumph; those actually work against true morality. Better to seek a regime in which, by word and deed, not force, the "good" will be tolerated and hopefully copied.

We don't have to put up with the false choices of the Democrats and Republicans. We ought not. Their work is violence against the American people. It is in America's interest, and our personal interests, to vote for security and liberty for our country. This is possible to achieve in the next two election cycles, if we really want it.

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