What Makes Government Different?

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Recently Rollo had a nice blog post/twitter exchange with Matt Bruenig of www.mattbruenig.com (You can read Rollo’s posts here, here, and here).  I’ve just been sitting around, half amused and half annoyed at my vibrating every time @MattBruenig mentioned us in another tweet.  I didn’t read the entire exchange, or Rollo’s most recent post, but it seems like the argument was over property rights and/or theory of entitlement.  I got the sense that Matt was saying if property, by its nature, is coercive then you cannot say taxes are wrong for the same reason that property is right.  Matt brought up a few philosophers and books to read and I’m sure they’re all great to read (I actually own a copy of Anarchy, State, and Utopia but I haven’t read it yet).  However, my answer to all this is, “Who cares?”

I’m not a philosopher.  I’ll never come up with any new theory of entitlement or the meaning of life or whatever.  But I do remember in my college philosophy classes I learned about some really smart people  all throughout time, who thought day and night about that stuff. Every guy I read about in philosophy was probably smarter than everyone reading this blog post, at least 99.9% of the readers anyway.  Well guess what, just about all those really smart people have been proven wrong.  I remember learning about several philosophers who claimed they totally proved the existence of God.  There were guys who proved slavery is ethical.  I even remember learning about someone who said matter does not exist, that it is all in our mind.  So why do we suddenly think in 2014 that we got it right?

There are certain things we can all agree on and certain things that can be debated.  It doesn’t matter if you’re democrat, republican, libertarian, anarchist, or whatever, just about everyone of sound mind agrees it is unethical to attack someone for no reason and take all the money out of their wallet.  Even the drug crazed attacker usually agrees that what he did is unethical.  It doesn’t really matter why the person who was robbed was entitled to his money, in fact, the theories on entitlement we have today will probably be different from the ones we have 300 years from now.  But I think we can pretty much all agree this is unethical.

So my question is, what makes the state so special?  Where does the state get its authority?  Why is it that the state can do things that if any other person did the same thing, that person would be a considered a monster?  If any individual or group of individuals decided to tax their neighbors, it would be considered extortion.  If Bernie Madoff runs a Ponzi Scheme, people say he is a scumbag who deserves to be locked up forever.  If I decide I want to prohibit certain drugs but not others and went around grabbing people at gun point and throwing them in a cage for a few months, people would say I’m deranged and need to be stopped.  What would happen if slightly over half the people in my neighborhood decided that every child has to go to school, so we demand money from everyone in the neighborhood and force their kids to sit and listen to whatever we want to teach them?  Even if I started a legitimate charity that actually fed, sheltered, and helped the poor get jobs, no one would say it is acceptable to go around demanding money to fund it.  Oh, and if you don’t pay I’ll demand more money.  If you don’t pay that I’ll grab some friends and come to your house with guns to lock you in a cage.

I haven’t ever heard a compelling reason as to where the state gets its authority and why we have to obey literally everything they say just because they say it.  This idea is so absurd.   No where else do you have to obey someone just because that person tells you to do something.  Sure, I’d say you’re obligated to obey your boss or football coach, but only in matters that pertain to work or football.  If your boss tells you to clean his house on the weekend, you are certainly not obligated to do so.

I know there are several theories that try to explain the state.  None of the explanations are very compelling.

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Greg N.
Guest

“I actually own a copy of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, but I haven’t read it yet.”

“I know there are several theories that try to explain the state. None of the explanations are very compelling.”

Given the first statement, are we expected to take the second one seriously?

slappyjones2
Guest

It probably would have been better for me to write that none that I have heard are very compelling. I will probably never claim that I have heard every single argument for the state. Either way, Anarchy, State, and Utopia is next on my list. Maybe it will convince me?

Rollo McFloogle
Guest

Have you heard every argument for dissolving the state? And if you haven’t, does that disqualify your opinion?

Also, just because you haven’t read a book doesn’t mean that the argument would be unfamiliar to you.

Ethan
Guest

Great stuff, I get tired of all the “theorizing” (which is really just nitpicking) that can’t possibly mean a thing in the real world. It’s so useless. There is no changing the world, the question is how do you DEAL with the world in which you’re not pissing people off by stealing from them or voting to steal from them.

Greg N.
Guest

Not having read “every argument for dissolving the state,” and not having read *the most famous philosophical defense of the state in the modern era* are not the same thing, I’m afraid.

(And while I can’t say I’ve heard every argument in favor of dissolving the state, I’d be surprised to come across a new one.)

slappyjones2
Guest
I’m being honest when I say I look forward to reading it. I will read it with an open mind, but I do live in the real world. I see one group of people doing things that if any other individual or group of people did, those actions would be a serious, egregious offense. I don’t know that any philosophy in the world, no matter what anyone comes up with to justify the state, can explain why it is acceptable for one group of people to run a Ponzi Scheme, but when another person does it he is considered an… Read more »
Steve
Guest
“The most famous philosophical defense of the state in the modern era…” Wow, sounds awfully authoritative. Of course it’s also completely subjective. Have you read MY PERSONAL musings regarding the perils of growing government and benevolent despotism? I argue that my opinions are the greatest political ideas of the past 25 years. So how can YOU argue on behalf of the state without knowing what I’ve written? The sarcastic comments above only stand to make the point that reading or failing to read a single book does not invalidate a person’s thoughts or opinions on a subject, You can’t dismiss… Read more »
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