Government Aggregates the Worst in Us


I take “man” in the following context to be of the “mankind” variety. Going forward to simplify the semantics, I’ll continue with “man.” The following is a Facebook status from libertarian historian Robert Higgs that I quite like and want to further muse about:

The typical man is an okay fellow. He is loving and dedicated to his family. He is kind and helpful to his friends and neighbors. He is reasonably competent on the job. He cares about others and engages in charitable and community activities.

But when he participates in politics, he becomes a monster. He supports politicians who promise to take other people’s money and channel it to him. He favors the suppression of other people’s liberties in countless ways. He whoops it up for the local government to smash minorities and for the national government to engage in the mass murder of foreigners. Indeed, no crime is too heinous for him to support, provided he can support it via political/governmental means.

Does this stark contrast not warrant our conclusion that something is terribly wrong with politics and the government actions that arise from politics?

First and foremost, this is not to say that man would be saintly without the aggregation of his ill-wills via the government and body politic. Rather, it is to say, it is only the aggregation potential of the government that makes those ill-wills more destructive than they otherwise would be.

The best representation of this is war. What other mechanism could so effectively propagandize men to go kill strangers they have never met? And not only propagandize them to want to do this, but actually have the means of making it happen?

The only other organizing mechanism that gets close is organized religion, but it lacks the vital component that government possesses: a monopolization on force. Both share the other necessary component, however: the buying in. That is to say, people buy into the organizing principle around whatever the religion is and people buy into the organizing principle around whatever arbitrary lines define a particular government. The difference then is that the latter can back up its “buying in” and perpetuate it through the monopolization on force it possesses, i.e., if others don’t buy in, it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?

That buying in gets people talking about collectives in vague ways, as if they have some higher-ordained purpose than the individual and therefore, power. Collectives like the “state” and the “greater good” or more aptly, the “common good.” Which, then when backed by coercion and the monopolization on force, can readily turn into the vile things like taxation at X percentage, entitlement to X, Y and Z, paternalism and then the far more vile things of xenophobia, racism, war-making and genocide.

There is no greater death machine than the aggregation of monopolized force that is the governments of the world (see: 20th century). Such large-scale human destruction as we saw in the 20th century would not have been possible without the a.) “buying in” I’ve discussed and the b.) monopolization on force. They are two sides of the same coin. Once one buys in, they buy into the goodness of wielding the monopolization of force in the manner in which they they think is best, often against their opponents or foes or perceived enemies and wrongdoers.

The worst folly is thinking one can better direct the death machine. That it’s not a fundamental problem of its aggregation ability for projected vileness, but that it’s simply been wielded in the wrong way by the wrong people and if we can only get the right people wielding it in the right way, then we can have human progress and human flourishing and “good government.”

Such is the fatal conceit of democracy and the madmen who advocate it.

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