Column by Jim Davies.

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There's a theory that holds that a government is okay provided that the people in its domain agree for it to exist and rule, and I thank David Eagle for my title, though the reasoning and conclusions are my own.
The theory seems to have two forms: One is the familiar "Constitutionalist" position that says that America was just fine when it was set up, but that bad people have snuck into government and corrupted it so that it no longer heeds the limits that charter set. That is true enough; it was G.W. Bush who called it just "a goddam piece of paper." Every limit listed in the Bill of Rights is now being trampled underfoot.
The other form this theory takes is that it would be quite in line with libertarian principles for society to fragment somewhat, with one part of America having no government at all, while other parts continue much as they are today, as the inhabitants wish. Possibly this division might take place along the borders of present states.
Does either of these variants make sense?
Take the second of them first, because it's the stronger argument. Libertarians are nothing if not tolerant, so if folk in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts really want not to run their own lives, who are we to try to stop them? (Even though that's a contradiction: a decision to surrender control of most of their lives is still a self-made decision. But let's not get too complicated.) Suppose that happens, but that they become surrounded by anarchist areas, of the former New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island--and even New York, over there in the far West. How will that work out?
All that I understand about free-market economics says that rather quickly, that free surrounding area will enjoy a fast-rising prosperity that will eclipse that of the remaining governed enclave. Within a few years, news of that will be known to all. Now consider the effect of that news on the two sets of people, and on the Boston government.
The free folk will be quietly satisfied with the burgeoning proof that our decision to manage on our own was exactly right. We shall not be surprised. Those in Massachusetts, however, will begin to wonder: “Were we wrong, after all?” Finally their government will be far from silent, for its members will recognize a threat to their continuing jobs. An action plan will be drawn up. Massachusetts faces crisis! Our way of life is in danger! Aux armes, citoyens!
It's hard to think of any government in history, anywhere, that did not resort to war when it perceived either an opportunity or a threat, and where waging it appeared feasible. War and government go together, always have and always will. So before long, the propaganda will flow, censorship will control its content, and weapons will be made ready. What will happen next is the most interesting part of this scenario.
The effect on MA will be strongly negative, for pouring resources into war preparations will prevent them being used elsewhere; probably that will be disguised by the printing of extra currency, and so inflation will take hold, to be "solved" by price controls and rationing. I kid you not; that is exactly what the US and other governments did during WWII. Now, since the population chose to live in a controlled condition, most of them will accept those deprivations, but some--at the margin--will begin to wonder. Is this all worth it?
Then the War Council will meet, to decide where to strike first and what to do with the people and territory conquered--for victory is assured (it always is, before the shooting begins) and everyone knows those peasants in New Hampshire don't even have an organized army. As the discussions go on into the night, however, the planners stumble upon a problem. There is no organized or socialized defense system in the surrounding societies, but intelligence reports have made it very clear that virtually no household is without a set of guns, and many have boxes in the basement full of RPGs, and who knows how much plastique is in private ownership? They also report that the old New Hampshire motto "Live Free or Die" has been dusted off, and that if an invasion takes place, no Massachusetts soldier will be safe from IEDs. Seems a few on the Council remember Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and even occupied Europe of the early 1940s. Occupation is very costly.
Furthermore, nobody can deny that having thrown off the ruling class, nobody in the target territories can be expected to work for the invader, to administer his conquest. If any gain is to be enjoyed, Massachusetts people--first the army, then others--are going to have to relocate and administer it all. The freshly-conquered freedom zealots can for sure be expected to ignore orders. Where, therefore, will be the net gain?
After days of fruitless discussion, the War Council will report that none can be foreseen. More will be lost than gained; war is not a feasible option. It's possible to conquer states, but not to conquer non-states, with any resulting advantage.
So--from the margin, inwards--the people of the governed state will gradually realize that they have bought a pig in a poke. They made the wrong choice, government is a dead loss. Their living standards will continue to decline relative to that of their free neighbors, and the brighter ones will emigrate to join them leaving the duller ones to suffer ever deeper poverty, and at some point--hopefully sooner, not later--even they will conclude that freedom is the better choice and Boston will be rid of government because nobody will work for it any longer.
So much for the "Libertarian" version of the theory that government is okay if it responds to its public. Now for a look at the "Constitutionalist" version.
The theory is that We the People delegated certain powers to the Feds and if only the latter had exercised them and them alone, all would be well. We can easily agree that all would be a lot better than in fact it is. I see a few things wrong, however, with this theory: (a) there was no such delegation, (b) the powers allegedly delegated were certain to be used to acquire other powers over time and (c) there is not the slightest hope that any real-life government will obey any limits to which it is supposedly subject, when it perceives an opportunity to exceed them.
I offered detail about (b) in Constitutional Rule, and invite anyone to contradict (c) by citing an actual example of a government that respected limits on its power when it didn't have to (for example, they often respect geographic limits but only because to violate them would involve war). So let's consider (a): the alleged delegation. Was it valid?
In Terms of Association, I reasoned that it was not, because there was nothing close to unanimity by the populations affected by the ratification. It was a majority vote by people who supposedly represented a few, select people. But there's an extra reason why this delegation of power was bogus: the population did not possess the powers they were allegedly delegating! And obviously, nobody can give away something he doesn't own.
Take the first "power" supposedly received by Congress: in Article 1, Section 8, it says it shall have the power to lay and collect taxes. Who delegated that power, in Constitutional theory? We the People. And which of They the People had the power to tax his neighbor? Not a single one of them. And nobody can delegate something he doesn't have. Therefore, the delegation of that power was bogus; Congress does not have the power to tax. Not validly or rightfully.
Apply the same reasoning to the other powers listed in that Section; which individual had the power, ready to be delegated, to borrow money "on the credit of the United States" or to "regulate commerce with foreign nations" (ha!) or to "establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization," and so on down the list of "delegated powers"? Not one person had any of them! So the entire delegation was impossible and fraudulent. In reality, on the basis of the theory that the Constitution endorses, Congress has no valid powers whatsoever.
What's true for the Feds is true for the other levels of government in the US. To the extent that it's pretended that government's powers derive from popular consent and delegation, not one of them has any at all. The whole system is a massive con job, a complete fabrication and fairy tale. Even if a "Constitutional" America, in whole or in part, could somehow be restored, it would be no more rational (or stable) then than it was originally.
Whichever version is picked, the conclusion is unavoidable: a minimum-government society is not a viable option. MinGovia is, and will forever remain, imaginary.


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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Glock27's picture

Greetings Jim,

Nice scenario. What actually captured me is the Bush reference "...its nothing but a goddamned piece of paper". For so long I have believed legislatures have viewed the Constitution in this manner. My divide comes from the idea that as a collective of people there must needs be a guiding principle. We have to recognize that not everyone is going to think alike even in natural rights and natural law. Given the opportunity they too will be twisted like the Constitution has been and continues to be. If I am not mistaken, I believe each state voted whether to accept the new piece of paper or not, so collectively, dokie moi (seems as if), the people of that period made the choice to accept it and ergo it has continued on. What would happen if the whole of the Constitution was put up for a vote again.? Would it receive the necessary votes to continue its principles?

The biggest fault with the Constitution is not the Constitution, but the gum heads voted in to theorietically speak for the people.

What kind of guiding principle would be used by libertarian or anarchist or voluntarist put in place, Natural law/natural rights-- and what would guarantee it would actually be followed? I notice that Washington was the first to violate the rights during the whiskey rebellion. What is to guarantee that any new piece of paper would receive any better respect. We all are trapped in the "Human Condition of Variable with no constant".

Everything seems so futile.


Jim Davies's picture

Hello Glock. There is no such thing as rational government, so yes; on the premise that government must exist, everything is futile indeed.

But watch that bit about the gum heads. If you follow the two links in the middle of the article, you'll find others that suggest that the the biggest fault with the Constitution IS the Constitution. And while the States voted it in, yes, it claims that "the people" did; but the people did not.

Paul Bonneau's picture

"There is no organized or socialized defense system in the surrounding societies..."

No socialized defense, agreed; but there is nothing preventing voluntary, organized defense. In fact it will occur to most people living in voluntaryist zones that such is probably needed, at least while neighboring statist societies exist.

"It's possible to conquer states, but not to conquer non-states, with any resulting advantage."

Unfortunately, I don't believe this is true. Anything is possible if the statists are willing to kill enough people. Vigilance will be necessary...

"So much for the "Libertarian" version of the theory that government is okay if it responds to its public."

Your envisioned outcome is the same one I have (although there are much more difficult cases, e.g. one small voluntaryist community surrounded by a sea of statists). Another case would be that voluntaryism might not yield more wealth than mild forms of statism. But assuming your outcome does take place, this does not invalidate the concept that government is okay if it responds to its public. It just means government is a temporary condition. But that is nothing new in human affairs; everything is temporary.

As to the constitutionalist view, I agree, however one might want to consider this point:

Suverans2's picture

Very well-written article, Constitution-bashing, a strategic error?, Paul Bonneau. I took particular notice of this:

    "...it would be an act of tyranny to force freedom on those who don't want it.

    When someone bashes the Constitution, the other shoe is somehow never dropped. That is, there is never any proposal as to what should replace it. There might be an implication that nothing at all should replace it, but how realistic (in the short to medium time frame) is that? Wouldn't that be tyranny, even if anarchists could pull that off (fat chance since we are on the order of 1% of the population)? We'd be betraying anarchy in the very act of imposing it."

Which is why I believe that Individual Secession is the only non-hypocritical alternative.

    As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state — to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying toward its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. ~ Excerpted from The Right to Ignore the State by Herbert Spencer
Jim Davies's picture

"Anything is possible if the statists are willing to kill enough people."

Thanks Paul, you make a strong point. Governments facing ruin cannot be trusted to act rationally to minimize the damage, and they certainly have no interest in preserving life. The example of Hitler comes to mind; in 1945, he ordered that the earth be scorched; happily for Germans, Albert Speer risked his life by disobeying.

Even there, though, there was an unusual factor in play: FDR's mad insistence on "absolute surrender." It meant that the Nazis had literally nothing to lose.

And it's exceptional. Other recent examples: Russia 1917. Germany 1918. Japan 1945. North Korea 1953 (though that was more a draw than a defeat.) The USA in Vietnam 1975. Iraq 1991 and 2003. The USA in Iraq 2011, and in Afghanistan 2013 (we hope.) In all these cases, once the cause was hopeless the loser "sued for peace" or just walked away, on the best terms he could get.

So in the article in the hypothetical case of a minority, statist MA surrounded by free societies, if I'm right and there is no way for a Boston government to win them, I suggest it's unlikely to begin fruitless wars with its neighbors.

The case is however hypothetical and IMO highly improbable; I wrote about it only to demonstrate that even if it came about, as some Libertarians think it might, it could not long survive. When the tide of freedom has persuaded a majority of people to scrap government, I can see no way it will stop; the idea of (say) 30% or 20% or 10% at that stage saying "No, we prefer a governed society" is just not going to happen. My "Transition to Liberty" (link at foot of article) has the cover illustration of an avalanche; once government employees quit in large numbers, it will collapse utterly.

Suverans2's picture

"Government is an organization that consists not only of those who are "given the mandate" to assume authority, but also of all the "citizens" who support the imaginary enterprise. The citizen is just as integral a part of the definition of government as is the King, President, Parliament, or whatever other fancy label some of the participating humans choose to affix to themselves. All governments must have citizens in order to exist.

If one calls himself a citizen, then he is actively choosing to participate in the government organization." ~ Excerpted from A Theory of Natural Hierarchy and Government by tzo

    As far as government employees, (which includes "citizens", in my opinion), quitting in large numbers --

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." ~ Upton Sinclair

Suverans2's picture

Mightn't a "voluntary, organized defense" also be called a "well regulated Militia"?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Suverans2's picture

While we are on the MinGovia topic, Jim Davies, how many government workers have you, thus far, led to an "honest life"?