The morality of government and its people

on Saturday, September 10, 2011

The people and government are always at odds with each other, and yet depend upon each other in order to make life better for everyone. A government's only income is taken from its people, and the people's only protection from war and invasion is provided by a centralized power. The only reason either can exist is by depending on the other.

Anarchists don't recognize the need for guardians (military, government), and communists don't recognize the need for merchants and private life. Socialists and libertarians fall somewhere in the middle, one desiring that centralized control be a large part of private life, and the other demanding that rulers stay as far from private life as possible. Almost everyone seems not to realize that the two will always be necessary, and somehow focus only on the faults of others' ideologies if taken to its logical extreme. Each faction is morally repulsed by the other, and I think that is because each abides by a different and opposite set of moral values. The morality of a merchant-trader is opposite the morality of a warrior, who views moral actions to include deference to authority, respect for hierarchy, honor, duty, and so on, and correctly views the use of a centralized, command and control organization as the best way to wage war.

A private citizen who engages in private production and trade holds a very different view of what is right and wrong. An honest businessman regards moral men as peaceful; he avoids violence and prefers to come to mutual agreements. He accepts outsiders and is tolerant of those different than him, he is honest in his business dealings, thrifty, efficient, creative. His morality is that of Ben Franklin, which in many ways is opposite the morality of a stereotypical warrior; a Samurai, for example. One welcomes violence, knows that deception and coercion are keys to success in battle, and defers to his superiors at all costs. The other shuns violence, knows that honesty is the foundation of success in business, and directs his own actions, considering other men his equals; none are entitled to dictate his actions.

Anarchists desire that all men live in peace by distributing power equally to all individuals, which will necessarily fail when men (peacefully) accumulate military power (perhaps also a religious following) and begin taking property by force from neighbors (who lack armies to defend themselves). A world without government control of territory is only possible if no man desires to take by force from another.

Libertarians recognize the need for rulers, but have a very specific and limited idea of their legitimate responsibilities and powers (generally military, police, courts). Libertarians regard government as a protector only of its citizens' freedom; their right to contract with each other as they see fit.

Communists believe that it is the duty of the ruler to both protect the people from violence, and also to direct the lives of individuals as if part of a military operation; something that never fails to enslave the people in the same way that a general commands and controls the actions of his troops.

I personally feel that the only necessary and legitimate role of government is in defense-based military functions. I feel that policing, laws and arbitration of disputes is easily handled by private merchants and privately-owned cities. The only thing that cannot be handled by individuals is their collective defense. Someone must be trusted with enough power to defend the nation.

I feel that rulers, in accepting the duty to defend, are trusted to avoid meddling in private affairs, to avoid abusing their great power by turning it against the people they have sworn to protect; a ruler's responsibility is only to defend against violent outsiders. Unfortunately, history has shown that the personalities of protectors and warriors are not often amenable to the idea that the most effective methods for protecting the innocent against an attacking army (with centralized control and physical force) are very different from the most effective methods for improving the lives of impoverished, sick, weak, elderly and disabled citizens.

A ruler's tendency is to use the same planning the coercion necessary for war in a futile effort to improve the lives of his people by force, forgetting that all of his weaponry and all of the comforts of life, all of the nation's medical technology and doctors' training, are provided by businessmen -- individuals engaged in private trade and production. A ruler and his army depend on the people they protect, and the merchants and producers dependent on the army just the same. It is and will be a necessary partnership until the day arrives when no man among us desires to coerce another by force. Until then we might pause to consider that the business of defense carries a different morality and methodology, and that its function is best kept separated from the morality and methodology of private life.

When the two join forces and borrow from each other we get corruption. A police officer, sworn to protect and defend innocent people, cannot be permitted to consider it moral to accept payments in exchange for the power he wields. A military leader cannot allow himself to be paid to wage war upon the request of the merchants who make the machinery of war. Similarly, private businessmen cannot permit themselves to engage in violence and coercion, cannot negotiate by force without devolving into gang-wars and mafia assassinations. Business people depend on honesty and trust; governments on violence and force. Each has its place, but trouble is always around the corner when those entrusted with power sell it to the highest bidder, or those trusted to avoid violence engage in physical coercion.