“Government” is a monopoly of force. It is sometimes said that we need to give someone or some group this monopoly of force because all men are “depraved,” and will break out into chaos and lawlessness without the threat of government force hanging over them. Madison’s words in Federalist 51 are often cited against anarcho-capitalists:
“If men were angels we need not have a government.”
The quote is proffered as though Madison were writing against anarchists or others who proposed to abolish the State. This is not the case. Madison was a product of his times, and simply assumed that there would always be a State. He was not arguing for increasing the powers of the State against those who were trying to eliminate the State; Madison was arguing for diminishing the powers of the State, and checking them, balancing them, so that they would not expand uncontrollably. Ironically, Madison’s overall point was not that the government can be trusted (as opposed to the depraved masses), or even that the government was a necessity, but the reverse: that “power corrupts,” and the People must fashion a government with sufficient checks and balances to oblige the government to control itself. In short, Madison is saying in context, if men were angels we could trust the government; no checks and balances would be necessary.
A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Jefferson emphasized this same idea in his First Inaugural Address (1801):
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. [Bergh 3:320]
The Calvinist-sounding doctrine of “the depravity of man” is our presupposition. No man or men can be trusted with a monopoly of institutionalized force.
The State is without equal. The State can destroy any foe, and in a nuclear age, the State can destroy the planet. The State today is a monopoly of undreamed of violence. Updating Madison, Anarcho-capitalists are quick to respond:
“If men are devils we dare not have a government.”
“But without a State to control the people, won’t the masses break out into lawlessness and violence?”
They are more likely to do so if the society officially and publicly legitimizes force, which is what society does when it creates the State, which then models violence as an ethically legitimate response to the frustrations of life.
The Founding Fathers were virtually unanimous in their belief that the State was dangerous and could not inculcate virtue and self-control: this was the job of religion. The more we fear crime, the more we should strengthen those institutions of Gospel morality, and denounce the State, the Mafia, and all others who initiate force or violence.