The Utopianism of State Protection

On it’s face, it hardly sounds plausible. The government needs to take your resources by force to protect from others doing the same. The claim is that inherently evil or crazy people exist who will violate your rights by committing some violence, fraud or theft, and so there must be an agent or organization that presents such an overwhelming threat of force that no one would dare cross it.

But how can that be? If the people that this government is guarding me against are inherently evil or crazy, such an argument would have no sway. What good is a government, let along a government that maintains its monopoly protection by force, going to do to cause irrational people to act rationally? Simple, it creates a police state. Waiting until someone acts is too late, the geographic area of protection is too large, and the means of acting can be too unidentifiable, especially with the existence of modern communication over the Web and by cell phone.

We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian. — Lionel Trilling

A totalitarian government that monitors and criminalizes thought really is the only solution. Of course, this government would be quite expensive to pay for the legions of regulators, police and jails. Individuals in this powerful government would hardly be accountable for any mistakes or mischievous acts. That really is the heart of it, isn’t it? In all likelihood, the very people it is claimed are necessary for protection from will head the government. Liberty-minded folks who respect other people’s decisions how to live their lives do not find value in regulating others and bossing them around. But for someone who does find value in that, whatever the pretext may be (to protect the environment, the children, you name it), of course they would seek out positions in the only organization with the legitimized power to govern others by force.

There’s even a term for it called regulatory capture — when the regulated become the regulators. Those busybodies will seek to expand their control by looking to precedent, reinterpreting past constitutional or legal restraints, and finally passing new laws if the other techniques haven’t worked.

For small government types, the utopian belief in violence via government to solve problems should be obvious if it hasn’t been already. This utopianism, an “impractical, idealistic scheme for social and political reform,” really hampers the intellectual progress necessary for actual reform. It would be like refusing to escape torturers after freeing yourself from their leg shackles. I say run free and open your stride.

For big government types, the utopian belief in violence via government rests further on the imaginary belief in the ability to change human nature. That will have to be tackled at another time.