"Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain." ~ Frederic Bastiat
Primary Day in the Trash
Here in New Hampshire, anyway, September 14th was the day good political zombies were supposed to turn out and cast a vote. And the previous day at my Town Dump (what better locale?) a lady approached to remind me of that fact.
I thanked her for her reminder, but said that I didn't believe in government.
The shock of hearing that from an otherwise normal-looking and soft-spoken dumper of trash (and driver of a Saab, no less!) seemed to grip her vocal chords. "Oh," she said sotto voce, as if such things ought not to be said out loud, "but we have to have something to hold the country together!"
Perhaps she was a Republican (I didn't ask) and didn't want other dumpers to know that the country is on the brink of falling apart, or perhaps feared that the surrounding leaves might whisper it to each other from tree to waving tree, or that the birds might give wing to the word that her main reason for wanting a government was to furnish society with glue.
At any rate, on the moment's spur I didn't debate whether any such adhesive is required, but asked instead "Tell me, where does government get its authority?"
Right on cue, straight from her gov-school civics class Lo! these several decades ago, came her reply "From me!" - meaning, from her and every other member of We the People.
"But surely" I asked, "you don't have any authority over me?" - to which (interestingly!) she replied at once: "No, unless you come on to my property with a loaded gun." We agreed that she would have the right of resistance if I were to aggress. But her key word was the first: "No." In ordinary circumstances, she would have zero authority over me and my life, nor I any over hers.
"So how could you delegate to government an authority you didn't have?" I rejoined.
And then she said, "I see what you mean." And right or wrong, at that point I decided to leave her with her new realization, and said that that was why I didn't believe in government, and that I hoped she would reconsider her own faith in it, and left her among the garbage.
The whole encounter lasted no more than three minutes, yet it revealed to me how utterly shallow is the foundation of even political activists, never mind voters. Possibly this will help others reading this to inject an element of doubt into the minds of our Statist neighbors, i.e., that nobody, but nobody, can delegate a power he does not possess: to interfere in the peaceful life of another human being.
The good lady might, had she been more pious, have answered my question, "Government gets its authority from God." That would not have conformed to American political orthodoxy, but it's a common enough idea, and has been ever since Paul wrote that appalling passage at the end of Romans 12 and the start of Romans 13. How might we address such an alternative response?
It's not quite as easy to deal with. My instinct would be to invite her to prove that God has any more objective substance than Santa Claus, and then to repeat the original question; but that would not have won me friends or influenced people. In her mind, she would then have safely written me off as a godless atheist who was certain to have all kinds of other weird ideas.
So if I'd been able to think fast enough, I think I'd have done better to ask for clarification: "Okay, I see, and would that apply just here, or in every country?" (Presumably, everywhere.) "Then how come the same good and loving God leads one of His governments to slaughter the people controlled by another of His governments?" - giving a few examples like US vs. Iraq, US vs. N Vietnam, France vs. Prussia, Germany vs. France et al, etc etc ad naus.
It wouldn't have knocked the prop under her favorite myth clean away, but it might have eaten away at its foundations over the coming months. And I suppose that few if any of us came to see government as the myth it is all in a single day, so we may have to rest content with performing our intellectual sabotage one nibble at a time.