Defining "Government"

  1. The Nature of "the Government" -- Force
  2. Representative definitions
  3. Taxation
  4. Prison/punishment
  5. War vs. Criminal due process
  6. "anti-government?"
    1. trust no one
    2. McManus/Gow letter
    3. "privatize" = eschew criminal acts
    4. Hodge
  7. Service: A "Well-Governed" Society.

1. The State: The Institutionalization of Violence

The word "government" can be used in different ways. We can speak of "self-government." The owner of a business imposes a form of government on his employees. In family, school, neighborhood association, and groups of all kinds, there is "government." But only "the government" ("the State") claims the right to seize the property of others, have those who resist beaten and raped, and kill all those who get in the way.

George Washington is reported to have said,

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. . . .

"Private" persons and businesses can only raise money by persuasion. A business can entice a customer to exchange his money for the goods and services produced by the business. A charity can persuade donors to give money voluntarily. But the State raises money through force and threats of violence

2. Representative Scholarly Definitions

Political scientists and scholars in the field of political economy agree with George Washington. The essential feature of "the State" is its use of force to achieve its objectives.

Ludwig von Mises, the most influential political economist of the "Austrian" school of economics, gives us this definition of a "State":

The state is essentially an apparatus of compulsion and coercion. The characteristic feature of its activities is to compel people through the application or the threat of force to behave otherwise than they would like to behave.

Government Equals Force by James Bovard

Suppose I come up to you and say, "If you murder anyone I'll kill you." I am compelling you through the application or threat of force to behave otherwise than you might like to behave; am I a "State?" Not necessarily; Mises continues his definition:

But not every apparatus of compulsion and coercion is called a state. Only one which is powerful enough to maintain its existence, for some time at least, by its own force is commonly called a state. A gang of robbers, which because of the comparative weakness of its forces has no prospect of successfully resisting for any length of time the forces of another organization, is not entitled to be called a state. The state will either smash or tolerate a gang. In the first case the gang is not a state because its independence lasts for a short time only; in the second case it is not a state because it does not stand on its own might. The pogrom gangs in Imperial Russia were not a state because they could kill and plunder only thanks to the connivance of the government.

Consider this question: under Mises' definition, and based on the account in Genesis 14, was Abraham a "State?" It would certainly seem so.

Paul (Romans 13:1) commands us to obey "the powers that be." How does this find expression in Genesis 14? Were there no "powers?" Was Abraham "the powers?" Was it a more complex situation? Was Abraham fighting "the powers" by fighting the "United Nations Peace-keeping Force," this demonic alliance of kings? It seems clear that in Abraham's life there was no earthly "State" outside of himself, and this situation is acceptable in the eyes of God. (Nevertheless, to advance our thesis, we will never call Abrahamic Patriarchies "states." "State" will be a term reserved for non-familial or supra-familial systems of social structure.)

"The State" is thus a group of individuals who can steal from and kill a selected target of people without expecting any other group to be willing or able to stop them.

The essential point of this Thesis is that God in the Bible nowhere gives any individual or group the right to steal or kill, even if they call themselves "the State." Being a politician does not make taxation less theft, or war less murder.

More definitions.

3. Taxation

When a business in the "free market" needs to raise money, it must use persuasion to entice the voluntary support of others. By contrast, when "the State" needs money, it takes it by force. This taking is called "taxation." (Other forms of taking, such as fractional reserve banking, asset forfeiture, and debasement of the currency, are also used. These "revenue enhancement" devices are, like taxation, also immoral.)

4. Prison/punishment

When the target refuses to "contribute" its money to "the State," the target is threatened with prison. Such threats are calculated to create "voluntary compliance."

Suppose Jones wants some extra money. He asks Smith for some money and Smith refuses. Jones threatens to lock Smith up in the Jones Basement for five years with a violent sociopath, who will beat and rape Smith every day for the next five years. Smith pays up. That this form of coercion is at the heart of the State's "criminal justice system" is seen in this opinion from the Los Angeles Times in June of last year (before any allegations of cooked-books or any other illegal conduct had been made against Enron):

     Here's what California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said at a press conference about Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay: "I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey.'"
     Here's why Lockyer should be removed from his office of public trust: First, because as the chief law enforcement officer of the largest state in the nation, he not only has admitted that rape is a regular feature of the state's prison system, but also that he considers rape a part of the punishment he can inflict on others.
     Second, because he has publicly stated that he would like to personally arrange the rape of a Texas businessman who has not even been charged with any illegal behavior.
     Lockyer's remarks reveal him to be an authoritarian thug, someone wholly unsuited to holding an office of public trust.
     But his remarks do have one positive merit: They tell us what criminal penalties really entail.
     Contrary to some depictions of prisons as country clubs, they are violent and terrible places.

Tom G. Palmer,
'Hi, My Name Isn't Justice, Honey,' and Shame on Lockyer
L.A. Times, Wednesday, June 6, 2001 || more

"The State" is "a violent and terrible" idea.

5. "War" vs. Criminal Due Process

The State claims the right to kill. The State is symbolized by the sword for this reason.

Osama bin Laden was accused of conspiring to vandalize the World Trade Center and murder its occupants. Instead of being pursued by law enforcement agents, in accord with Constitutional procedures, the power of "the sword" was invoked. War does not observe constitutional limitations. Thousands of non-combatant Afghanis were killed in "the war on terrorism."

6. Is this an "anti-government" attitude?

a. "Trust No One" -- An American Ethos
John Adams wrote in 1772:

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

Should libertarians have more confidence in their government? Thomas Jefferson, 1799:

Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power. In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

James Madison warned the people of Virginia (1799):

the nation which reposes on the pillow of political confidence, will sooner or later end its political existence in a deadly lethargy.

Trusting government, having "confidence in government," is un-American.


b. McManus/Gow letter
c. Religion as "Private" = failure of public criticism of criminal acts by the State
In the modern world, the State claims to be "neutral" with respect to religion. "Religion" is said to be "private." It is religion that says "Thou shalt not steal," and so by privatizing religion, the State avoids criticism based on its violation of Divine Law. Requiring the State to be "under God" is derided as "imposing religion on others," or violating a mythical "separation of church and state." Criticizing the State based on religion is (conveniently) undignified and inappropriate.
1. "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."
2. The Myth of "Private Religion"
d. Hodge: Moral Revulsion
This thesis is not rooted in hedonism or antinomianism. Our desire to abolish the State is motivated by the fact that (to adapt the words of Princeton professor A.A. Hodge in 1887) the State is

the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.[*]

In particular, the State engages in more theft, murder, and kidnapping than any other group of people, including the criminals from which the State promises to protect us. The State is, without close competition, the greatest thief and mass murderer on the planet. The 20th century, marked by the final destruction of Christian localism and the rise of the secular State, has been the century of mass death on a scale unparalleled in human history.

[*] A.A. Hodge, Popular Lectures on Theological Themes, Phila: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1887, p. 280, quoted in R.J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education, Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1963, p. 335. Hodge was referring to the government-run school. But all of government, as propagator of law, is an educator. See R. Lerner, The Supreme Court as Republican Schoolmaster, 1967 Sup. Ct. Rev. 127. Legal systems educate the masses. They set the agenda for private citizens (see "private religion," above)


7. Service: A "Well-Governed" Society

There are several features of a well-governed society. All of them require attitudes of service. None of them require theft, violence, or threats of force.

  1. The Education of Children
  2. Employment and Vocational Training
  3. The Care of the Elderly
  4. Care of the Fatherless
  5. Care of the Ill and Handicapped
  6. Freedom of Conscience


The Nature of Government

What is the "State"?

The State as Criminal

Order without Violence