An Open Letter: On Extraordinary Evil and the State

December 1, 2007
 

Dr. Fred Emil Katz

2105 Avenue Road

Toronto, Ontario M5M Canada.

Dear Dr. Katz:

A number of years ago (in 1998), SUNY Press gave me permission to reprint pages 40-43 of your book, ORDINARY PEOPLE, EXTRAORDINARY EVIL (1993) in my newsletter, THE VOLUNTARYIST. This was your section dealing with the cunning of governments. (See Issue No. 91)

I just recently re-read your book and briefly wanted to comment on the connection between the modern-nation state and the extraordinary evil of genocide and world war. You define evil at page 5 of your text by writing: evil means “deliberately depriv[ing] innocent people of their humanity, from small scale assaults on a person’s dignity to outright murder.” At page 10 you write that extraordinary evil “is defined as this kind of behavior on a huge scale, … .”

Every law of every government is backed by it ability to command the use of physical force and violence. If you do not obey a judge’s order (to send your children to government school, for example), a court marshal will come to seize you or your children, or if you choose to resist turning them over to him, he will arrest you for resisting an officer of the court; and if you resist at this point, he will try to subdue you in order to carry you off to jail. If you continue to resist forcefully (in order to defend yourself from the violence of the marshal), the marshal will escalate his use of force until such point that he must kill you or you kill him (if you choose to resist violently to the point of death). The moral of my example is that the state and agents of the state must use violence to enforce their edicts if the peaceful citizen chooses not to obey. [Query: Has the parent initiated violence against anyone by not sending his child to school?]

In a similar manner, I have often tried to explain that taxation is theft because taxes are not paid voluntarily. They are paid under threat of confiscation of your property and/or imprisonment of your person if you choose to resist. It is only because most people believe in the necessity of the state and because most people have been taught to accept the teachings of the state (that taxes are a necessary component of social living, etc.) that more outright violence is not required on the part of the state to collect its revenues. This is part of the cunning of government, of which you wrote. Government cunning is focused on legitimizing and sanctifying its own existence and activities, so as to blind its citizens to its inherently violent nature and into turning them into obedient subjects (upon which it is not necessary to inflict overt violence). It largely accomplishes this by relying on generic religious beliefs which justify its existence, and by requiring compulsory schooling of all subjects, and then using the public schools as a means of inculcating beliefs in the necessity of the state.

The point is, as a friend has pointed out to me, that “technology (advances in chemistry and physics, computers, cars, guns) makes extraordinary evil possible, but it doesn’t follow that technology [itself] is inherently evil.” Rather government is evil because it inflicts violence upon innocent, peaceful people. It matters not whether one citizen is murdered or has his property confiscated, or whether millions are murdered: both actions are evil actions of the state and its agents. The major difference is in the scale of the attack on the innocents.

At page 119 of your book, you wrote “The lesson … is that extricating oneself from participating in evil actions is most feasible if one acts right away upon recognizing the situation. After that, …, it become increasingly difficult to do so.”

My position (which I believe you, and most other people, share) is that evil actions are wrong and that I (and others who share my belief) should not participate in evil actions. In my view, governments are evil because their authority rests on violence and/or the threat of violence to impose their laws over peaceful people who have caused no one any harm. Hence, to be an agent of government and receive a salary from the government (for example, an office holder at any level, a bureaucrat, a policeman, a judge, a government health worker, etc.) is inherently an evil act. As soon as one realizes the evil of such employment, one should resign (or as you describe it, extricate oneself from participating in evil actions).

It is my conclusion that the participation of ordinary people in an evil institution (the modern nation state) is what makes extraordinary evil possible. If people resisted at the beginning (the demands of the government for their money and the minds of their children), governments could not command the tremendous resources or territory over which they dominate. National leaders, who then take control of their respective countries, would then not be able to direct the resources or people which they require to engage in war against ethnic groups within their own countries or against leaders of other similar nations. Without participants to enforce its will (and conversely without citizens who choose to obey), the state is nothing: it is powerless.

You may think this analysis is both simplistic and anarchistic; both of which may be true. However, neither of these designations necessarily invalidates the logic on which the analysis rests.

I hope this letter finds you well and still interested in the theme of extraordinary evil, and that you may choose to comment on my ideas. I have great difficulty in convincing people of my argument (that the state is an evil institution) and would like to find out if you agree or disagree with me that the state is the major component of social life which makes possible the existence of extraordinary evil. Evil may reside in the heart of every person, as Solzhenitsyn, points out in your front piece. However it is my belief and argument that whatever evil may reside in each of us cannot turn into extraordinary evil, without the existence of the state.

Sincerely,

Carl Watner