I’ve always found it fascinating at how governments always and without exception move towards totalitarianism, immediately hacking away at the liberty of its citizens. It’s almost like some automatic process of nature, with government employees not even truly aware of what they’re doing. It would be interesting, if possible, to travel through history and observe every single action on the part of a governing class that slowly built the structure that would eventually be used against their own people. It sounds far more interesting that bird-watching at least, which reminds of this quote from Baltasar Gracian:
“Many people spend time studying the properties of animals or herbs; how much more important it would be to study those of people, with whom we must live or die.”
Today, of course, we have somewhat of a more complete record of the genesis of the post-9/11 National Security State. The wheels that were set in motion, the money spent, etc. But the strange this is, the wheel was already there, awaiting a crisis. Power grabs always happen amid turmoil and national fear, and after 9/11, to say that the power was grabbed would be something of an understatement. Seventeen years later we have what you see: a Middle East burning like a toxic waste dump, a trillion-dollar Surveillance State getting itself organized and aimed at every US citizen like some digital Eye of Sauron, a supplicated Silicon Valley eagerly constructing the technology for total omnipresent, all-encompassing surveillance, and a civilian class not caring a whit. Like I said, I’d love to observe the history of the past two decades as some kind of invisible time-traveler, not only watching the chain of decisions that has led to our present predicament, but also the facial expressions, any sign of moral injury or wavering. Maybe I just want to believe that the people who created this mess were actually human, or people who were capable of feeling a fragment of distress about their decisions.
I would probably be disappointed. Every government in history has been comprised of people, just like you and I, and yet they still found within them the will to unleash mass murder and enslavement upon a many other people.
So the flaw within government is the flaw within us. Power over others leads to all manner of cruelty and evil. Political power, that is. The power to command the police or the military to commit an atrocity is what I mean. The power to murder and enslave. And it seems that, throughout history, wherever that power has existed, it was put to use.
And it also seems that, wherever some small amount of that power has been granted, it continually seeks to expand that power. The liberty of the citizens is a roadblock to greater power, and so it appears as an enemy to government. And that is something that should probably always be kept at the back, if not forefront, of every individual’s mind: liberty and government are mortal enemies. Their coexistence is unnatural, and has always been a fleeting phenomenon throughout history. Tyranny is the rule, not liberty.
Government is just a collection of people. BUT, but. They are a collection of people actively working to diminish liberty in the service of power expansion. And also remember, every diminishment of liberty, no matter how small, is a step toward slavery. And, to put it plainly, that is the only state of affairs that would feel “natural” to government. Everyone tagged, sorted, surveilled, ordered around. Every step a government takes, wittingly or not, is a movement in the direction of that more “natural” state.
This is what we resist. Government is the institution of force, and force is antithetical to liberty. Liberty is cooperation, voluntarism. Civilization depends on the existence of such voluntary behavior. Which in turn means that government, for the most part, is decivilizing. Societies that suddenly embrace an ideology of government force as the path to civilization rapidly descend into slavery, mass murder, mass starvation and totalitarianism. Just look at the rubble of the 20th century total states of Russia and China. Their embrace of Marxism, which does nothing more than baptize government force, led directly to the deaths of millions upon millions of civilians.
Government is unnatural to liberty. But do we need it, in some form? How to we enforce a voluntary society? How do we protect voluntary behavior from the emergence of force in some organized form?
And that’s a can of worms that centuries of treatises have been aimed at. I’m not interested in writing a treatise here. But these are questions that must be rolled around with an honest mind. How is liberty to be defended once it’s restored? Do we need to create a government to protect against the rise of government? Does that even make sense? These are the fundamental questions at the heart of a theory of liberty. And of course answers have been offered up, but none that really offers up anything new on the subject.
The most fundamental question probably is this: which is more sustainable, tyranny or liberty? And for liberty to exist in any form, must we create the very institution that at its core is motivated to destroy liberty, and civilization along with it?
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