Brad Miller

Can you chain down the devl? Exploring the notion of limited government

In True nature of the State on July 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Limited Government: Utopian Dream or Acheivable Goal?

The entire history of humanity, with a few exceptions, is the story of the expansion of Government Force and the subsequent reduction in the exercise of Individual Liberty. The most notable of these exceptions of course was the American Revolution.

For the main tenet of the Revolution was that individual rights did not come from the State,  but from God. This was an earth shaking revelation. It was a declaration for the first time that by our very existence, we have the God given rights of Life, Liberty and Property.

Government’s purpose for those who favor limited government is to protect these rights. This is  sometimes refered to as  a “NightWatchmen State”. One that is constituted to serve a purely defensive function of preserving life, liberty and property.  But as Murray Rothbard points out time and again, in order for Gorvernment to perform this defensive function it must violate the rights it was instituted to protect. It violates it’s stated purpose of propecting property because it forcibly plunders property in order to protect it.  

For me the ideal world would be one of voluntary exchange devoid of external coercion, that is the Free Market Society or Anarcho-Capitialist society.  The only difference is that the “NightWathcmen”  will be private enterprises selling its defensive services on the Free Market. Why wouldn’t  indivduals pay for police, courts etc, monthly like they pay their insurance premiums or their cable bill? 

There are a lot of smart folks who I admire who advocate for a minarchist or minimal level of government, or the “NightWatchmen State”. They include Ludwig von Mises, Leonard Read, Frederic Bastiat and Ayn Rand. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the ideas of Liberty from these folks. But even they fail to articualte in my opinion a satisfactory definition of “limited” or “minimal” government. This leaves the door open to “unlimited” government which we are rapidly advancing towards in this country.

The solution for me is to eliminate any question of how small or limitied government should be by eliminating it all together. Murray Rothbard and others who pioneered the Anarcho-Capitalist Society developed this idea not to counter the “left” and Collectivism, but rather to counter the growing conservative statism that had been developing since WWII. The current crop of those on the Right (those excluding the minarchists – or libertarians like Ron Paul), have gone way beyond advocating for even the “NightWatchemen State”. They embrace fully the idea of Social Security, Progressive Taxation, and Eminent Domain. They offer only a slower trek down the “road to serfdom” then those who advocate for total government control of society.

 And when people say that the Constitution will “chain down government” it reminds me of the beginning of  Milton’s Paradise Lost where the devil is chained in Hell by God. But  still the devil broke free. If the devil exists, then I believe its a much better option to eliminate him rather then run the  risk  of having him break free of his chains. I think the same theory applies to government.

I find it fascinating to listen to politicians or talking heads when they speak of “small” or “limited” government. It is always in the vaguest of terms because they know like God, that you can’t chain down the Devil.

Liberty is not divisible. Government can not protect Liberty by violating it. That is why I advocate for Maximum Individual LIberty which for me can only be acheived within a Free Market Society devoid of the State.

And that’s my take.

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