≡ Menu

Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 91 of the 1978 collection, edited by Eric Mack, of Auberon Herbert’s essays, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State; specifically, it’s from Herbert’s March 1884 Forthnigtly Review essay “A Politician in Sight of Haven”:

Moreover, physical force in a man’s hand is an instrument of such brutal character that its very nature destroys or excludes the kindlier or better qualities of human nature.  The man who compels his neighbor is not the man who reasons with and convinces him, who seeks to influence him by example, who rouses him to make exertions to save himself.  He takes upon himself to treat him, not as a being with reason, but as an animal in whom reason is not.

Government (so-called) is force.  Force has its place and uses – namely, to protect one’s self and one’s property from aggressions initiated by others.  In a world with people willing to resort to force to achieve their ends at others’ expense and without others’ uncoerced consent, force must be employed by non-aggressors to defend themselves against aggressors.  But nearly all that government actually does is unable to be explained, even through the most skillful legerdemain, as being consistent with this appropriate use of force.

Subsidies to farmers and to Boeing?  Tariffs on foreign-made clothing?  Prohibiting low-skilled workers from competing for jobs by offering to work at wages below the government-stipulated minimum?  Prohibitions on Uber?  FDA’s refusal to let individuals choose to use whichever medicines and medical devices they wish?  Taxing “the rich” simply in attempts to make the ‘distribution’ of monetary incomes more equal?  The vast array of occupational-licensing restrictions?

None of these, and not many other, government projects is a use of force to protect innocent people from the forceful aggression of others.  Each of these, and many other, government projects is the initiation of force against peaceful others in order to oblige those peaceful others to do, or to refrain from doing, as the force-wielders command.

In some cases the force wielders might indeed be aiming at ends that most people regard as desirable.  In most cases, however, the force wielders – though they always attempt to disguise their venal motives with fine words – have no goal in mind higher than to profit materially at the expense of others.  And in many cases, as Bruce Yandle famously explains (here and here), the force is wielded by conniving rent-seekers conveniently allied with people who fancy themselves to have ‘higher’ motives.  The latter are typically dupes for the former (as when, for example, professors and preachers, thinking themselves friends of poor workers, support minimum-wage legislation the benefits of which redound to higher-skilled workers or to the owners of relatively capital-intensive firms and the costs of which are inflicted upon poor workers).

Force is primitive.  It’s the way of the thief, the vandal, the arson, the kidnapper, the thug, the pirate, the terrorist, the warmonger, the rapist.  It’s the instinct of every ill-mannered child on the school playground who envies a schoolmate’s toy.  The first, because it most primitive, thought that occurs to the child is to snatch the toy from the schoolmate.  It’s such a simple solution.  No reason is involved.  The thought here of the child is practically identical to that of the dog, the weasel, or the shark.  But, of course, even a child is a human with higher intelligence.  He can form a coalition with other children, thus forming a stronger force against the children with better toys.  Negotiation among the gang involves some higher powers of thought; the gang – amongst themselves – compromise and exchange.  But when they finally turn their power against the weaker children whose toys will be seized, the gang of children act as animals.  No negotiation, no reason, just force.

Force is among the most primitive of human instincts and behaviors.  In essence, force is idiotic, for it is the primal urge of the idiot who demands to have his way.

And yet, we today, when such force is instantiated into a large gang and given the trappings of elections and flags and anthems and columned buildings, and its leaders given deceptive titles (“Hon.”), the force often becomes so powerful that, in most cases, it merely needs to be threatened rather than actually used in order that the gang gets from others what its members want.  And so we forget that it’s force.  We mistakenly call the state “government,” and we call its dictates “law.”

In this way, primitive, unreasonable, and uncivilized brutality is made to appear to be something that it is not and by its nature cannot possibly be.


Next post:

Previous post: