Government Is Force

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Posted on : 9/27/2010 08:20:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Kevin Williamson has a nifty little essay on government as force.  It is sort of a redux of a P.J. O'Rourke idea about deciding which government programs get funded by putting a gun to grandma's head and asking "do we give away day care or do we kill Grandma?"  That is not a direct quote, but the intent is there.

The resort to violence is what makes the question of what kind of things it is legitimate for states to do an important moral concern. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to stop him murdering, raping, or robbing. It seems to me entirely unreasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to extort from him money to fund a project to get monkeys high on cocaine. Those seem to me fairly reasonable distinctions. It is illegitimate for government to use force or the threat of force for projects that are not inherently public in character.

The question of how much illegitimacy a state may perpetrate before becoming generally illegitimate itself is of real interest and has been, of late, the subject of some spirited discussion between some of my colleagues here and me. (You probably can guess on which side of the fault line I stand.)

But I would like to make it clear that I am not indulging in a figure of speech: I think it’s a pretty useful heuristic: If you’re not willing to have somebody hauled off at gunpoint over the project, then it’s probably not a legitimate concern of the state.
Government is force.  At some point there will be government agents with guns knocking on doors with the intent of putting people in prison for "non-compliance".  As Mr. Williamson suggests, using force to stop bad people from abusing other people is a reasonable use of force.  The same cannot be said for other government functions.

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