What Exactly is Government?
In a word, government is violence, or at a minimum the threat of violence. Specifically a government is that entity which has a monopoly of violence in a given geographical area. The clearest thinker on the nature of the state was a scholar named Franz Oppenheimer. An extended quote from his work The State is worth the space:
The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner. Wherever a reliable tradition reports otherwise, either it concerns the amalgamation of two fully developed primitive states into one body of more complete organisation, or else it is an adaptation to men of the fable of the sheep which made a bear their king in order to be protected against the wolf. But even in this latter case, the form and content of the State became precisely the same as in those states where nothing intervened, and which became immediately ‘wolf states’ (p. 15)
All this may seem cynical to those who believe in the civics class definition of “good government”. They claim that government is what we do when we come together. It rests upon consent, at least in the democratic parts of the world. I will leave for another essay the impossibility of actually determining political preference via a vote. Kenneth Arrow put a stake in the heart of that idea.
I would simply say that work, church, ministry, philanthropic efforts, PTAs and backyard BBQs, and little league are what we do when we get together. “Getting together” via government is like congregating in a prison yard, only with less charm. Yes, there is “consent” at some primal level, if only because there is always the alternative of revolt. History is full of examples of such revolts. Yet, when a situation gets so extreme as to produce a revolution one can conclude that the range of choices has become so narrowed as to represent an unfree society built upon violence. We as faithful people are not called to be such rubes as to fall for the do goody good bullshit civics class propaganda.
The Physics of Government
The purpose of government as we can see is to control others. The proper analogy to explain this control is the world of physics. In order to control an object, or move it in a desired direction, one needs to apply force to it. Force is just a scientific word for pushing or pulling. Obviously, the more you wish to move, or control something, the more pushing or pulling (force) is needed. The more you want to control a population, the more government (force) you will need.
This force is manifested in higher taxes, more government agents, more rules, regulations and more adjudication. All of their activities force the population into actions that they would not otherwise take, even if their own choices were consensual and nonviolent. Contrary to the good government argument, you cannot square a circle. You cannot have all the government you want without more force. In the final analysis, this force is backed up by violence, and the threat of violence. Ignore any law you can think of, then think about how long it will take the man to throw your ass in stir. Government without force (violence) is like a cake without calories.
As an aside, the other thing these “good government” types should consider is that if you build up a vast reservoir of governmental power sooner or later the “other” side will gain control of that power and turn it against you and your tribe. Were he not as dangerous as any power wielder, it would have been laughable to watch all those “progressives” lose their shit when Trump took over.
History Does Confirm
To see the application of this logical truth of the nature government we need only look to history. We have seen plenty of anecdotal evidence of late. The murder of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 occurred because he was committing the heinous crime of selling loose cigarettes on a sidewalk. Had the government not possessed the power to control a voluntary exchange they would not have been able to exert deadly force upon this man. The drug war motivated murder of Breonna Taylor in 2020 is another prime example. Of course the murder of George Floyd for a potentially petty offense also speaks to the enormity of governmental force.
However, there is much more than anecdotal evidence to support the thesis that more government means more force (violence). In a seminal work, Death by Government the late political scientist RJ Rummel detailed just the twentieth century effects of governmental force on human life. He touches on earlier history, with much the same conclusion, but the data is so much more available for the twentieth century. The evidence is clear, more government equals more murder. Rummel painstakingly analyzes the data and shows in case by case that where the government has more power massively increased deaths occur. These deaths are not as a result of war, though that is one way government kills a lot. No, the deaths that Rummel analyzes are from the ordinary course of a large, intrusive and powerful government going about its business. A more hideous fable about the nature of government could not be worse than this truth is.
Certainly the good government types will argue, the US and the western world are not like the totalitarian regimes Rummel dissects. Mao’s China, Stalin’s Soviet Union, NAZI Germany, and Nationalist China were nothing like the western democracies. Tell that to the 10 million the Belgians slaughtered in the Congo between 1885-1908. In fact, tell that to any of the various parts of the colonial empires ruled by western Europe. Or consider the recent reports of 4.5 million war and war related deaths in the US led “War on Terror” since September 11, 2001. That the western democracies have not turned their maximum force on their own populations does not negate the thesis. It simply means that domestically the democratic governments have not gotten strong enough to do so…yet. We see disturbing signs in the US of a willingness of both main tribes to use violence upon the other. It is not coincidental that this upswing in violence has gone hand in hand with the growth of government.
There is Only One Nonviolent Direction From Here
If there is to be any hope of a more peaceful, and just society then there is only one direction we can take. We must lessen the size, scope, and therefore power of government. Only by reducing the spere of the political, which is dependent upon force (violence) can we hope to spread more peaceful relations through society. We need to reverse the physics if you will. If we have less need to move and control populations then we need not apply so much force. Less force in this case means less violence. That means more cooperation and consensual interactions. In reducing the force needed by vastly reducing the size of government we can free ourselves from the iron law of violence that is part of the warp and woof of government. Oh, and we will become materially more prosperous at the same time because we know that liberalized markets deliver the goods.
As faithful followers of Jesus the Christ we should be in the forefront of this movement. There is no reason that we should not seek to create a society that is peaceful, and cooperative. It is simply the elevation of the Golden Rule to a societal level, treating others the way we wish to be treated. We can witness to our faith in the Prince of Peace by leading the way in this endeavor, while posing no threat to those among us that do not believe. Remember our Lord’s example, use the force of love to witness to God’s immeasurable grace.
Praise Be To God