Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Necessary "Evil"

Yesterday I looked at the moral premise that underlies the belief that taxation is necessary. Today I will look at an implication of that view--that government is a necessary "evil".

On a daily basis we can observe individuals voluntarily purchasing the values that their life requires--such as food, cell phones, gasoline, and furniture. No government mandates are required. The self-interest of individuals--their desire to sustain and enjoy their lives--provides the only motivation necessary. Why then, is it believed that coercion is required to pay for the service provided by government?

Certainly, the fact that government has expanded far beyond its proper role of protecting our rights plays a part. Many, if not most, individuals would not voluntarily pay for welfare programs and other interventions. Coercive taxation is necessary to fund these illegitimate operations. But this is not the context to which I am speaking.

Most people believe (if they have thought about the issue) that even if the size of government was greatly reduced taxation would still be necessary. They claim that even if government was a fraction of its current size, individuals would not voluntarily provide the financial support required. Unlike bread, I-Pods, and vacations, individuals would not voluntarily pay for government. Government, they imply, is not a value--it is a necessary "evil".

Government is certainly necessary, and, while government can be evil, it is not inherently so. Government has a legitimate and proper purpose. Indeed, government is literally a matter of life and death. A proper government establishes and protects the social environment in which individuals can pursue the life-sustaining values that their life requires. An improper government turns the individual into a slave, whose life is disposed of as the state sees fit.

Absent government, individuals would have to arm themselves to protect their property and person. Each individual would be judge, jury, and executioner, with no recourse but to defend himself from criminals. The result would be gang warfare, or Somalia.

Those who claim that government is a necessary "evil" fail to identify the proper, life-sustaining purpose of government. They see the harm that government can inflict, accept this as a fact that cannot be changed, and then want to quibble over the victims of that harm. While numerous ideas contribute to this conclusion, two are worth mentioning.

The first pertains to man qua individual. Rather than view man as an independent, sovereign entity, they see the individual as a cog in the wheel, a cell in the organism of society. "No man is an island," they claim. "Each must contribute his "fair share" to society." According to this view, the individual has no right to his own life, but is subservient to the needs of "society". This flawed view of man's nature logically leads to altruism--the belief that it is proper for the individual to self-sacrificially serve others.

In one accepts these premises, one must conclude that government's purpose is to reign in man's selfish desires. The individual must be compelled to put aside his own self-interest for the good of "society" and government's role is to insure that all serve the "common good".

Consider the moral inversion that occurs: A necessary "evil"--government--is required to achieve the "good". It is hard to imagine a greater perversion, yet this is the fraud that most people accept. And it is repeated as a mantra that is above question--for to do so is to be selfish.

Flawed premises lead to flawed conclusions. Those who believe that government is a necessary "evil" have drawn an erroneous conclusion. To correct that error, they must begin by checking their premises. They must begin by correcting their view of the individual.

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