I originally intended this as a speech to the Educators of Liberty this weekend.
An Illegitimate Republic: The Moral Case Against a Republic
I have questioned if a republic is the best political form to protect individual rights. Some have stated they are confused by what I mean, so I have asked to speak before the body to clear up the matter. I want to take this opportunity, on the record, to explain why I believe any state-imposed government is antithetical of liberty and, therefore, illegitimate. Now when I said “the state,” I mean any political entity that claims the monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographic area. Or as Frederic Bastiat put it, “The state is the great fictitious entity in which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”
Morally, I oppose any initiation of force or coercion. As Ron Paul said, “The most important element of a free society, where individual rights are held in the highest esteem, is the rejection of the initiation of violence.” That is not such a radical claim, is it, that we should restrain from initiating force against out neighbors and that force should only be used in self-defense against such hostility? Yet, it is self-evident that the state constantly initiates force to impose its will. It is institutionalized violence.
But wait, a republic is different, you say. In its proper form, supposedly, it defends individuals against this abuse. But I disagree. Its most fundamental method of initiating force, the one on which its other powers rest, is the claim to have governing authority over all people within a geographic area regardless of a peaceful individual’s objection to do so. Even competing governmental services (such as for defense, law enforcement, judicial arbitration, and law making) must submit to and comply with these higher authorities or face violent retribution.
Rightly, most people would oppose an individual using force to be the monopoly supplier of a product or service. Yet, too often, most people accept the state’s aggression against every entity that threatens its monopoly. The most common method of initiating this force is taxation, allegedly the price you pay to live in civil society. How can a group of people that enforces its will at the end of gun be called civilized? How can a mob be called civilized?
The abolitionist Lysander Spooner summed it up: The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man:
“Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. … Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so.
As Bastiat pointed out: If every person has the right to defend even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. … Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.
Since no individual may justly use force to seize the justly acquired property of others, then no group—for the same reason—may justly use force to seize the justly acquired property of others. The state violates it’s own laws, and therefore, is neither a legitimate lawmaker nor law enforcer. Just and proper laws would be those that impose a “a mere negation. They oblige [an individual] only to abstain from harming others.” As Bastiat said time and again, “Law is force.” He added: But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed—then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.
Then I must be some kind of radical for questioning this. Quoting Bastiat again, “If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions, it is boldly said that ‘You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theorist, a subversive; you would shatter the foundation upon which society rests.’ ” He then continued, “Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect which it inspires? Still further, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law.”
Well, I confess. I am a radical. As Barry Goldwater claimed, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. … Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
So, if I don’t like the state, why not just leave? After all, am I not granting consent by staying put? Well, no. It is no more consensual than preferring to live in a neighborhood prone to burglary because I don’t want to live in a neighborhood prone to murder. The burglar is still immoral and a criminal. As Bastiat reminded us, “It was the fact that life, liberty and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” The question pre-supposes that the state and the burglar have some higher claim to my property than I do, but the state and the burglar have only come to power because of their past successful conquest and plunder.
I could more rightly ask, and I do, why doesn’t the state just leave? The state doesn’t own my property. The state doesn’t own my labor. The state doesn’t own my mind. I do. Then if I oppose the state, what am I in favor of and how do we achieve it? My ideal world is one in which human interaction is voluntary. That means individuals should be free to do as they consent so long as they do not violate the rights of another. That includes what competing governments, if any, they choose to be subject to and financially support, what they produce, what they consume, and how they live your life. Bastiat said, “If a nation were founded on this basis, it seems to me that order would prevail among the people … whatever its political form may be” [emphasis mine].
Again from Bastiat, “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.” Just because I do not want a state-imposed government, that does not mean I am blind to the value of voluntarily organizing a common defense and consolidating the rule of natural law, such has been the case for common-law judiciaries and the admiralty law at sea. Just because I don’t want the state to provide my education, that does not mean I want to be ignorant.
< br />Luckily, these ideas are not that foreign to us, not yet. Most governmental entities are voluntary, such as in business, non-profit organizations, and activists organizations such as this one. The people who are governed by them have consented voluntarily, and both parties have an opportunity to peacefully dissolve their relationship. And I support using the political process to work within the system, as one of many strategies. Until the time comes when the state’s coercive powers can be peacefully abolished, one of those temporary stepping stones could be a republican form of government, which I consider to be the least worst forms of statism, that is, the belief that sovereignty rests with the state.
But that is not the finish line. Liberty is the ultimate political means and the ultimate political ends. A limited constitutional republic, fundamentally, suffers from the inherent contradictions of violating individual rights in an effort to protect them. As Maximilian Robespierre, the French republican responsible for the “Reign of Terror” in revolutionary France said openly, “The principle of the republican government is virtue, and the means required to establish virtue is terror.” Deep down, we all understand this. If the state provided exactly what each individual wanted from it, as the market does best, there would be no need for its coercion.
Those governmental services would be available in the market because it is dynamic and responsive, while the state is slow and inefficient. It is because the state uses coercion to transfer wealth from one individual to another that slave masters were so receptive to forming its first primitive models. Inevitably, that contradiction of attempting to uphold liberty by initiating force will be exploited, just as every republic in all of history has been. Lest we forget, power corrupts, Lord Acton said.
Thus, a true republican government can only exist for a brief moment in time until its coercive powers are used to expand its reach. I believe an alternative approach that does not employ coercion provides for the greatest possibility of justice and liberty. Bastiat said, “Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent.” So I ask of you, is it not utopian to believe in a hypothetical republican form that has never truly existed, that will not exists because it cannot exist, that is contradictory to its purpose, and that would require a shift in the fundamental nature of human beings? Is that not madness?
Or is it more reasonable to believe that some individuals are good, some aren’t, and we should not entrust our lives and liberty to a structure that has violated them at every moment since its inception? Even still, some wonder if order and society would break down without this sweeping threat of force to keep others submissive. From that rationale, a world government is needed because every nation-state also exists in a state of anarchy with one another. It is easy to understand why some believe there must be a supreme international governing body to keep each national government in check. Paraphrasing Benjamin Tucker, just as it has been said there is no stop between Rome and Reason, so it can be said there is no logically consistent third way between international state socialism and liberty.
Thank you for hearing me out. If anyone has questions for me or would like to discuss what I have said, I will gladly give you my e-mail. The reason I wanted to write this is because I believe our philosophy guides our actions; however, there is no purpose in requiring that each and every person in the liberty movement agree point by point. What is important is that we can defend our means and motives as just. The economic and pragmatic cases for liberty are compelling and need to be told. Too often, though, I fail to acknowledge our most potent and successful principle, the moral case for liberty. I hope this does a little bit to make up for that. In the end, my belief in the perseverance of life convinces me that someday we will truthfully say “with liberty and justice for all.”