Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. - George Washington
If I told you that an evil action became less evil with increasing numbers of participants, you would think me either mad or morally retarded; after all, we tend to view the actions of criminal gangs with, if anything, even more horror than the crimes of individuals. But the truth is that most people subscribe to a repugnant form of moral relativism in which evil actions, no matter how reprehensible, magically become “good” once those actions are agreed upon by “authorities” and sanctified by some ceremony involving sacred rituals, holy words, blessed costumes and (most importantly) baptism under euphemisms that cloak their true character.
Nearly everyone who isn’t a sociopath would agree that an individual who harms another commits a wrong; most of us also accept the existence of certain mitigating circumstances which might excuse such a wrongful action, such as killing in self-defense. And most of us would probably also agree that the violence was still regrettable, and therefore a thing to be avoided without serious provocation; the wrongful action never becomes actually good, but it can become a defensible, acceptable or even necessary evil. In any case, the factor which moderates the act is the motive, not the number of people who commit it: a crime committed by two people, ten people, forty thousand people or three hundred million people is still a crime, even if a majority of them agree to commit it; only a vital need can ameliorate the evil. No motive, however pure, and no consensus, however large, can fully transform an evil act into a good one; the best we can hope for is that nobody involved could see a better alternative at the time.
Some people wish to deny that this is so; they claim that if a majority of the inhabitants of a place agree that an evil action isn’t evil, then it isn’t. The trouble with this argument is that those who make it never really believe it. They won’t declare that slavery was right and good through most of human history, or that it’s moral to slaughter those who won’t agree to follow a conqueror’s religion, or that heretics and homosexuals should be burned at the stake and deformed babies set out to die…even though all of those ideas (and many others equally abominable) were accepted by majorities, often overwhelming majorities, in the cultures which practiced them. If you’re going to argue that confiscation of the property of unpopular citizens, or the abduction and enslavement of others, or the abrogation of some people’s rights, or the overruling of some people’s choices, are OK for the “greater good”, you had better also be prepared to sign off on enslavement, torture, purges, lynchings, pogroms and genocide, all of which were sanitized by the same monstrous excuse in many times and places over the past 12 millennia.
It’s fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way to watch the spastic mental dance people perform in order to get around this grim equation; they declare that “democracy” excuses collectively-committed crimes (except of course for those committed by other people’s “democracies”), ignoring the fact that our ancestors assigned the same divine right to their kings that moderns assign to the majority. Or they make childish pronouncements about “The Law”, as though it had been handed down by an omniscient sky-deity on stone tablets in full view of assembled Humanity and was renewed unchanged and inviolate in every generation since we climbed down from the trees. Some of them will even enthusiastically condemn any and every social grouping – families, gangs, fraternities, corporations, religions, political parties and even local governments – for their sins and abuses, yet declare their national government (or, even more bizarrely, the United Nations) a positive good.
A government is just a group of people, selected by some arbitrary means according to some arbitrary rules agreed upon by some group powerful enough to impose its own views on the rest of the population without instantly triggering revolution. That’s all it is, and it doesn’t have any special Divine Right to make decisions for everybody else. As Washington pointed out, a government has no power to enforce its decrees except via threat of violence, and that automatically makes it an evil no matter what the motivations of those who control it. This does not mean Mankind can do wholly without government at this stage in our evolution; far from it. One would have to be a naive fool to believe that a completely anarchistic society could long survive without degenerating into chaos; however, it would be equally foolish to declare that dressing thugs in interesting costumes and giving them fancy titles makes them anything but thugs, and that calling “might makes right” by euphemisms such as “law enforcement” and “the justice system” somehow makes it moral.
My point is not that we should abolish government entirely; it is that our love affair with it, and our passive acceptance of the lie that it is good and holy, endanger every living thing on Earth and imperil the continued survival of Western culture. Oncologists and cancer patients are under no illusion about the destructiveness of chemotherapy; they recognize it as a poisonous, dangerous procedure only slightly better than the illness it treats. I daresay nearly everyone would be happy to abandon it as an obsolete barbarity were there a better and less destructive therapy available, and I cannot imagine any sane physician’s enthusiastically supporting the use of it for other diseases, especially not non-terminal ones. But with government it’s the exact opposite; many people seem to consider it the solution for every problem, and deny its danger despite ample evidence to the contrary. We would rightfully distrust a physician who lied about the danger of chemotherapy, who insisted on giving the patient as many sessions as possible whether necessary or not, and who prescribed it for every ailment from bullet wounds to insomnia; yet, we accept the word of career politicians who make the same sort of claims about government. Right now, government is the most widely-accepted way to secure individual rights and prevent oppression of the weak by the strong, just as chemotherapy is the most widely-accepted means of combating cancer. But neither of them is a good solution, and until we can find something better both must be used as warily and sparingly as possible lest they inflict more harm than the ailments they were intended to remedy.
One Year Ago Today
“Their Lips are Moving” presents examples of the lies police tell against whores and clients, including a short-lived attempt to blame the Long Island killings on the members of an escort review board.