The Tragedy of Political Government
by Carl Watner
From Number 79 - April 1996
Tragedy - "A lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; a disaster or
"What is tragic about political government?" you might ask. Let us
return to that question once we have examined the nature of political government
and the State. In order to distinguish between government and other institutions
in society we must look at the ways human behavior can be organized and human
needs and desires satisfied. There are only two ways: peacefully or coercively.
There are no other alternatives. If people rely on peaceful cooperation, they
must necessarily offer products or services for which other people are willing
to trade. If people use coercion or fraud, we call it obtaining goods or services
under false pretenses, robbery, or larceny. However we label it, the basic contrast
remains the same: one relies on voluntaryism or one relies on force.
A stranger knocks at your door and, upon opening it, he requests money He represents
the March of Dimes, and is asking for donations to support its activities. Unless
you feel generous, you dismiss him. You have no particular obligation to support
his cause, and the fact is you have already contributed to other charities, such
as the United Way. Unless the stranger is a blatant thief, he leaves. He doesn't
deal with you by using force, or its threat, to collect the money he is soliciting.
Compare this to what happens every April 15th in the United States. Granted,
most "good citizens" send in their tax payments to the Internal Revenue
Service. The IRS does not need to send out a representative to collect the tax;
and if there is any need to do so, he generally needn't carry a gun or make any
direct display of force.
Why don't people dismiss the IRS in the same manner as they would the solicitor
who is collecting for a private cause? Many would, except they know that there
is a big difference between the March of Dimes and the IRS. The March of Dimes
organization is a group of private individuals assembled together for the common
purpose of overcoming polio, muscular dystrophy, and birth defects. They do not
use force, or the threat of force, to accomplish their goals. Should they, we
would have no hesitation in calling the March of Dimes, and its solicitation
The IRS, on the other hand, represents the government, which - when all else
fails - uses force to accomplish its goals. If you do not voluntarily pay your
taxes, your property is confiscated, or you are jailed. The amazing thing about
our government in the United States is that it rarely has to resort to force.
There are tax resisters, but they form a small percentage of the population.
Except for these few people, no one calls IRS agents criminals even when they
brandish guns, confiscate property, or put people in jail. Despite the fact that
they engage in the same type of behavior as the private thief or kidnapper, it's
seldom that their behavior is called criminal. Why is this so?
Government is the only institution in our civilized society that is able to
cover its coercion (and its use of threats) in a shroud of mystique and legitimacy
There are other individuals and groups in society that use force: individual
criminals (the lone burglar, rapist, etc.), and groups of criminals (the Mafia
or gangs of thieves, etc.). But none of these claim their activities are proper
and useful. Government is the only one of these coercive groups that claims its
use of force is legitimate and necessary to everybody's wellbeing.
Government is the institutionalization of conquest over the people and property
in a certain territory The stated purpose of government is protection. In reality
it is exploitation: to extract resources which otherwise would not be voluntarily
handed over to the governors. Governments excel in the use of force and threat
- the political means of survival - by combining military conquest and ideology.
Though throughout history, governments have been of many different types, their
reason for being and modus operandi have never changed. Governing requires that
those who govern authorize or commit criminal acts, - actions which, if used
by any but the agents of the government, would be deemed criminal.
Governments seek the voluntary obedience of their populace. The continual use
of physical force is not only expensive, but often of uncertain results. If the
governors can get the governed to accept their conquest as being consistent with
widely accepted norms and standards, there is little need to use raw force to
continually compel submission. The primary tools which governments use to establish
their legitimacy are:
- the use of nationalism and patriotism to inculcate the belief that the entire
nation is a single community with a manifest destiny;
- the use of mass public "education" to socialize the younger generation
and instill "acceptable" values in them;
- the use of psychological warfare to "brainwash" the populace into
supporting the government at all costs.
The truth of the matter is that governments
use every means at their command to insure their control over society. Other
methods include support of special interest groups with legislation and subsidies,
celebration of national holidays, frequent elections, use of the secret ballot,
sustaining foreign enemies to help maintain internal control, and the full panoply
The main tragedy of political government is that few people realize it is an
immoral and impractical institution. Nor do they realize "that the power
of any government is dependent on the cooperation of the people it governs, and
that government power varies inversely with the noncooperation of the people."
They have been conditioned to accept government as a natural part of their environment.
After being raised in a culture in which "politics" is the norm, and
after attending years of public school and being taught that political government
is a necessary component of society, most people place government in the same
category as the weather - something they complain about, but can't change. As
people accept the structural trap called politics, they fail to realize that
their actions support and undergird the State. Their demand for government services
- from Social Security benefits to police protection - is what fuels the State.
Most people are capable of high values and responsible behavior, but once they
enter the seductive garden of politics, they no longer notice that its wonders
cannot be reconciled with individual responsibility and their own personal moral
values of honesty and hard work. It is not usually apparent that what they are
doing or supporting is vicious and would not pass the test of ordinary decency.
So long as the criminality is veiled by the political process, most people accept
it because they do not see that it conflicts with their basic values. The main
tragedy of political government is not only that the voters are the ones pointing
the gun, but, most importantly, that the indecency of this act is concealed from
them by the political process. It is the concealment that is the tragedy. The
concealment is not the result of some conspiracy by some distant elite: it is
inherent in the political process.
Perhaps the tragedy can be made more plain. Look at the daily news. At least
half of every day's news consists of accounts of one pressure group or another
noisily appealing to the government for greater support of its special agenda.
The tragedy is that the people making the demands do not perceive that it's their
own neighbors from whom they are stealing and sacrificing in order to support
their special programs. The political process -purposefully- is an impersonal
one. The secret ballot and the use of majority vote obscure the fact that it
is the struggling family next door or the bachelor down the street who are being
threatened at gunpoint if they do not fill the government's coffers or follow
its mandates. The resources for every government program come from hundreds of
millions of people across the United States - most of them personally unknown
to those who campaign for these programs. Few people would directly confront
their neighbors with such demands ("Your money or your life!"), but
the structure of politics permits this to be done anonymously, and allows the
supporters and perpetrators to conceal - even from themselves - the evil nature
of what they are doing.
Such is the tragedy of political government.
[Author's Note: John Kreznar suggested and assisted in the preparation of this