Questioning the Dispensation of State Violence

Imagine, for a moment, that your boss has been treating you poorly (for many of you, this may not be very difficult).  After weeks of abuse, you finally become so frustrated that you start to wonder whether you should finally quit your job and join the ranks of the unemployed.  Perhaps this might lead to something better, perhaps not.  But there is one thing that you know, and it is that remaining where you are is simply unacceptable.

This freedom to abandon your employer is oftentimes taken for granted, oftentimes forgotten in our modern world of anti-corporate rhetoric.  But while many leftists decry the abuses of the business-owner, they oftentimes forget that the governmental remedy can be more dangerous than the poison.

To understand why, let us now consider that a business, like a government, wields a certain amount of power over its beneficiaries.  But the two powers are very different.  While the power of the business-owner is negative, consisting solely in his power to cease funding of the employee, the power of the governmental authority is positive, consisting solely in its dispensation of violence.  And you cannot easily "quit" your nation.

Now, many leftists will argue that the government's purpose is not to dispense violence, that leftists promote a more peaceful government, limited by civilian oversight panels and committed to peaceful means of persuasion.  But consider what happens when, say, a person doesn't want to pay their child support, or when a person doesn't want to pay taxes, or when a person doesn't want to pull over, or when a person doesn't want to stop dumping toxic waste into the storm drains, or when a person simply wants to build commercial property on a site regardless of zoning.  At first, the state might threaten with fines, with sanctions.  But what if the person still refuses to pay, to pull over, to stop building?

Eventually, all forms of governmental law cannot function without the use or threat of violence, which means that government and violence are necessarily intertwined.  Therefore, it can be said that the more laws we create, the more violence we legitimize.  Taking this argument one step further, the ideologies which most openly promote an increase in government intervention--American liberalism, for instance--are the most threatening and violent ideologies.

Alexander Hamilton once wrote the following of state violence in Federalist Paper #15: "It is evident that there is no process of a court by which the observance of the laws can, in the last resort, be enforced. Sentences may be denounced against them for violations of their duty; but these sentences can only be carried into execution by the sword. In an association where the general authority is confined to the collective bodies of the communities, that compose it, every breach of the laws must involve a state of war; and military execution must become the only instrument of civil obedience. Such a state of things can certainly not deserve the name of government, nor would any prudent man choose to commit his happiness to it."

But despite what initially appears to be a rationalization of anarchy, Federalist Paper #15 was an argument in favor of a nationally legitimized violence, in favor of the United States' use of military force to maintain national order.  In the same article, Hamilton went on to say, "Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint."  So the answer to violence-threatening leftism cannot simply be "free peace good, state violence bad."  We've already seen enough of human history to know that law is better than anarchy.  No, the answer must be within the proper application and rightful boundaries of state violence, otherwise we end up looking just as foolish as leftists do.

As an example of this "conservative" brand of foolishness, the contemporary secular right claims an answer to the threat of state violence, manifested most concisely in Walter Williams' critique of socialism.  In his critique, he writes that if a widow lives down the street, and the neighbors unanimously vote to force you to mow her lawn, that action would be perceived as injustice.  However, he argues that when people vote to increase your taxes to pay for the widow's lawn maintenance, the action eludes public condemnation although having an almost identical affect, as the taxation forcefully harnesses your labor for the benefit of another.  In this philosophy, it is immoral to forcefully reallocate private funds (through taxation) if the reallocation benefits certain people and not others.  And if philosophical consistency is of any importance, this belief would radically reduce the size and scope of government intervention far beyond simple matters of taxation, completely dismantling the legal framework of an economically-crippling, poorly-labeled "social justice."

But logical consistency is also this philosophy's worst enemy.  What becomes of this theory, when a road needs to be built or maintained?  Certainly, we could argue that the road only benefits certain people, although taking taxes from everyone in that area.  Likewise, what becomes of the theory when building and powering street lights?  And what of hiring police officers for certain districts?  And spawning from the last question, just how localized should taxation be? And if the taxation can be proven to benefit the taxpayer in some way, does only this subjectively-determined benefit make the taxation moral?  It seems, then, in light of these questions, that the threat and use of violence must necessarily extend itself beyond these radically-libertarian boundaries if we are to have any functional form of government at all, especially on a federal level.

So, understanding the violent nature of an oppressive leftist state, and having rejected the principles of anarchy, what exactly are the rightful boundaries within which the state should dispense violence?  As a committed Christian, I understand the boundaries within which the government must be confined.   My question to my readers is, do you?  And if you do, what are those boundaries?

Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism.  He is the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.
Imagine, for a moment, that your boss has been treating you poorly (for many of you, this may not be very difficult).  After weeks of abuse, you finally become so frustrated that you start to wonder whether you should finally quit your job and join the ranks of the unemployed.  Perhaps this might lead to something better, perhaps not.  But there is one thing that you know, and it is that remaining where you are is simply unacceptable.

This freedom to abandon your employer is oftentimes taken for granted, oftentimes forgotten in our modern world of anti-corporate rhetoric.  But while many leftists decry the abuses of the business-owner, they oftentimes forget that the governmental remedy can be more dangerous than the poison.

To understand why, let us now consider that a business, like a government, wields a certain amount of power over its beneficiaries.  But the two powers are very different.  While the power of the business-owner is negative, consisting solely in his power to cease funding of the employee, the power of the governmental authority is positive, consisting solely in its dispensation of violence.  And you cannot easily "quit" your nation.

Now, many leftists will argue that the government's purpose is not to dispense violence, that leftists promote a more peaceful government, limited by civilian oversight panels and committed to peaceful means of persuasion.  But consider what happens when, say, a person doesn't want to pay their child support, or when a person doesn't want to pay taxes, or when a person doesn't want to pull over, or when a person doesn't want to stop dumping toxic waste into the storm drains, or when a person simply wants to build commercial property on a site regardless of zoning.  At first, the state might threaten with fines, with sanctions.  But what if the person still refuses to pay, to pull over, to stop building?

Eventually, all forms of governmental law cannot function without the use or threat of violence, which means that government and violence are necessarily intertwined.  Therefore, it can be said that the more laws we create, the more violence we legitimize.  Taking this argument one step further, the ideologies which most openly promote an increase in government intervention--American liberalism, for instance--are the most threatening and violent ideologies.

Alexander Hamilton once wrote the following of state violence in Federalist Paper #15: "It is evident that there is no process of a court by which the observance of the laws can, in the last resort, be enforced. Sentences may be denounced against them for violations of their duty; but these sentences can only be carried into execution by the sword. In an association where the general authority is confined to the collective bodies of the communities, that compose it, every breach of the laws must involve a state of war; and military execution must become the only instrument of civil obedience. Such a state of things can certainly not deserve the name of government, nor would any prudent man choose to commit his happiness to it."

But despite what initially appears to be a rationalization of anarchy, Federalist Paper #15 was an argument in favor of a nationally legitimized violence, in favor of the United States' use of military force to maintain national order.  In the same article, Hamilton went on to say, "Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint."  So the answer to violence-threatening leftism cannot simply be "free peace good, state violence bad."  We've already seen enough of human history to know that law is better than anarchy.  No, the answer must be within the proper application and rightful boundaries of state violence, otherwise we end up looking just as foolish as leftists do.

As an example of this "conservative" brand of foolishness, the contemporary secular right claims an answer to the threat of state violence, manifested most concisely in Walter Williams' critique of socialism.  In his critique, he writes that if a widow lives down the street, and the neighbors unanimously vote to force you to mow her lawn, that action would be perceived as injustice.  However, he argues that when people vote to increase your taxes to pay for the widow's lawn maintenance, the action eludes public condemnation although having an almost identical affect, as the taxation forcefully harnesses your labor for the benefit of another.  In this philosophy, it is immoral to forcefully reallocate private funds (through taxation) if the reallocation benefits certain people and not others.  And if philosophical consistency is of any importance, this belief would radically reduce the size and scope of government intervention far beyond simple matters of taxation, completely dismantling the legal framework of an economically-crippling, poorly-labeled "social justice."

But logical consistency is also this philosophy's worst enemy.  What becomes of this theory, when a road needs to be built or maintained?  Certainly, we could argue that the road only benefits certain people, although taking taxes from everyone in that area.  Likewise, what becomes of the theory when building and powering street lights?  And what of hiring police officers for certain districts?  And spawning from the last question, just how localized should taxation be? And if the taxation can be proven to benefit the taxpayer in some way, does only this subjectively-determined benefit make the taxation moral?  It seems, then, in light of these questions, that the threat and use of violence must necessarily extend itself beyond these radically-libertarian boundaries if we are to have any functional form of government at all, especially on a federal level.

So, understanding the violent nature of an oppressive leftist state, and having rejected the principles of anarchy, what exactly are the rightful boundaries within which the state should dispense violence?  As a committed Christian, I understand the boundaries within which the government must be confined.   My question to my readers is, do you?  And if you do, what are those boundaries?

Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism.  He is the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.