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Evaluating and justifying government

30 September, 2015 - 16:09

Our basic relationship with government is an involuntary association, and in this sense we are justified in saying that government is an involuntary association. Actually, as we have seen, people are associated with the organization called government in many different ways. Some of our associations with government are voluntary, others are trusts, and still others are involuntary. But the involuntary associations are fundamental.

Through involuntary associations, government obtains most of the resources enabling it to induce people into voluntary associations with it. The policeman is hired by government-as-contractor I; as an employee, his relationship with the government is a compound-voluntary association. But government obtains the money used for his salary via the power of the sword. People who refuse to pay taxes are forcibly deprived of liberty or property, though not, in the current US, of life.

The idea that government is basically an involuntary association is neither new nor generally rejected. True, social contract theorists have argued that government is a voluntary association, as if it were a voluntary association, or ought to be a voluntary association. Social contract theory has been influential in America ever since the "Mayflower Compact". However, contract theorists have always foundered on the fact that not everybody subject to a government consents, or has consented, to be governed by it. A contract, like any other voluntary association, requires mutual consent of all the parties, not just a majority of them. But when a government imposes sanctions it does not require unanimity. To execute someone in the US requires unanimity of the jurors and judge but not the unanimity of all parties, which would include the defendant!

Various philosophies recognize that government is essentially an involuntary association. Mao Tse-tung, Chinese Communist leader, wrote: "All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."5 Anarchists, assuming that all involuntary associations are bad and seeing that governments are involuntary associations, conclude that there should be no government. St. Augustine, quoted earlier, bears repeating: "Justice being taken away, what are kingdoms but great robberies?" 1