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Culture / History / Politics / Sociology

Is Government Good?

This post is part of the series Why Government?

Other posts in this series:

  1. Are Taxes Moral?
  2. Is Government Necessary?
  3. Is Government Good? (Current)
  4. Community Assistance
  5. Coercion and Rights

I have given an argument previously for the conclusion that government is an institution that is impossible to avoid having. I have also claimed that there is a difference – at least commonly speaking – between a good government and a bad government. But even if we accept these things, it is still possible to claim that government is ultimately evil. There are also all of the moral arguments that anarchists have against the existence of government. So unless these issues are dealt with, there is still some plausibility to anarchism itself. There are three independent arguments against the goodness of government generally. Governments may abuse power, coerce wrongly or do immoral acts of necessity

The first argument for anarchism proceeds by claiming that there is no moral justification for any of the special powers government claims to have. These include the power to tax, the power to imprison, the power to kill (capital punishment) and the power to make war and make treaties binding on both individuals and the state. One need not believe that the government have all of these powers. But it must at least have the power to tax in order to pay for its existence. The argument for this claim comes in two parts. First, individuals as such who performed actions most similar to these (above) would not be morally justified in doing so. Second, if an individual cannot be morally justified in doing something, then an organization composed of such individuals cannot be morally justified in doing that either. Therefore, governments cannot be morally justified in doing these actions. But since they must do at least one of these things in order to exist, all governments must participate in immoral acts by nature.

The second argument for anarchism proceeds by examining coercion. Coercion requires moral justification. If it is not justified then it is a case of kidnapping, issuing threats or theft – all of which are crimes. But kidnapping is similar to the use of jail time, theft is similar to fines and issuing threats is similar to a court order (or threat of such). So in order to be moral, there must be a moral distinction between such things as jail time and kidnapping. This distinction cannot be the fact that private citizens do one and the government does the other. If that were the distinction, then the argument would be question-begging against the anarchist. This argument claims that there is no such distinction. Since government must coerce in order to exist as a real power, it follows that government is immoral.

The third argument for anarchism proceeds by experience. It is the experience of many people that the government is inefficient, acts immorally, is full of corrupt and dishonest politicians and judges and ignores the needs of the populace. In many cases, this is because the government holds too much power and enables corporations to hold too much power as well. Lord Acton’s claim that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is viewed as a literal truth by anarchists. Governments are a moral problem because they hold power and seek to increase their power. But there is no way to make a government that lacks this problem. Therefore, governments are immoral.

I believe that any other argument for the morality of anarchism would count as a version of one of these arguments. I believe that all of these arguments fail. But I shall have to demonstrate that elsewhere.

Continue reading this series:

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