It occurred to me that government legitimacy is based solely on coercion and violence, on the federal, state, and even local levels.
A blatantly obvious example is the violence committed by police against citizens protesting the Dakota pipeline. A less obvious example, due to media silence, are the continued wars in the Middle East; including the destabilization of regimes through the armament of radical groups, drone strikes, and other covert operations.
Coercion occurs when a citizen is arrested for growing a marijuana plant, or when a citizen is fined and risks jail for not buying into the national healthcare program, social security, or paying taxes. Violence occurs when a president we support authorizes a drone strike that kills hundreds of civilians in a hospital.
That which is codified as law is not necessarily moral. Slavery, segregation, and the internment of Japanese Americans were all legal – to name just a few atrocities committed by the State. Yet, many Americans revere the State in an almost cult-like fashion; justifying governments mandated coercive actions by saying “Well, it’s the law.”
Curiously, we hold our children and each other to an entirely different standard. We punish theft, physical assault, and murder. We denounce stalking, spying, or infringing on another’s privacy. We do not condone aggression of any kind: in short, we expect members of our society to coexist morally and peacefully.
But government is not held to this same standard: indeed, it is given the legitimacy and the power to act above and beyond it. Police officers can and do use violence to contain protests, and to harm people merely suspected of crimes. If police officers are later accused of wrong-doing, they are judged by their peers rather than a neutral and unbiased third party.
The NSA and CIA act almost entirely beyond congressional or judicial oversight; spying on both our allies abroad and citizens here at home. Morally dubious actions, such as coups abroad and gross breaches of privacy here at home, are considered necessary for “national security”.
And this violence is not limited to one political party: it is embraced by both Democrats and Republicans.
The War on Terror
The Republicans under George W. Bush began the fifteen year “War on Terror”.
Barack Obama, a more charismatic neo-conservative, sold the former anti-war left on his wars by lumping them in with a focus on social issues. He expanded our interventions abroad to a total of seven countries.
In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone, the Physicians for Social Responsibility conservatively estimated a total of 1.3 million people have died as a result of the War on Terror. Naturally these numbers do not include our involvement in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
Under 3,000 people died on 9/11; as recompense the U.S. and its allies have taken 1.3 million lives, and the Middle East remains destabilized.
These numbers also fail to include the almost seven thousand American soldiers killed, and fifty-two thousand wounded since 2003 (see “Casualty Status PDF” under “News”). Sadly, their sacrifices have not made us, or the rest of the world, safer or freer.
The War on Drugs
Both Democrat and Republican politicians support, or simply ignore, the cruel reality of the “War on Drugs”: the incarceration of millions of Americans (the highest in the world), the destruction of families, and the increasing power of drug cartels.
Both parties ignore the steady militarization of the police; allowing the Pentagon to sell weapons and armored vehicles to police agencies all around the U.S.
As horrendous as the Boston Marathon bombing was, it was shocking to see police officers armed like soldiers, patrolling the streets of Boston. Initially I thought they were pictures of streets in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other of the seven countries where we are conducting military operations. No, these were American streets – occupied by a de facto military force.
Even if we can ignore these blatant examples of violence; one look at government altruism shows that it is also inherently grounded in coercion, and violence. Programs deemed beneficial to society such as the national healthcare program, social security, and welfare are all funded by taxation. If I as a citizen refuse to pay taxes, I will be fined. If I refuse to pay the fine, I can be arrested and jailed — even shot, if law enforcement officials arbitrarily deem that I am resisting arrest and threatening their own lives.
The lesser of two evils
Conservatives and liberals, seemingly divided over every other social and political issue, will undoubtedly unite beneath the age-old statist dogma of the “social contract”.
They argue that, as a citizen enjoying the benefits and privileges my country offers, I am duty-bound to pay taxes; and it is my responsibility — no, my obligation to vote for these politicians.
Yet, I cannot perform these duties – and still maintain a functioning moral compass – when I see my taxes used to maintain an indefinite state of war. I cannot condone the use of taxes to bail out financially insolvent banks and give subsidies to already huge and influential corporations. Why should I support taxation when the government’s wasteful spending resulted in the largest debt of any nation in the world? How can I approve of taxation when it is used to fund violence at every level of society?
I cannot vote when my options are truly limited to two political parties. The “lesser of two evils” argument is the greatest delusion embedded into the fabric of every election, no matter which party you support, it is still grounded in evil. They will use your vote and support to continue the agenda of federal centralization, the expansion of the surveillance state, the waging of indefinite wars, and the perpetual devaluation of the U.S. dollar among other problems. Even if I choose to vote third party, I am still legitimizing this unethical and immoral system which, under the guise of democracy and representation, plunders the people of their wealth.
I believe the solutions to this paradox of a problem lie within the philosophy of Voluntaryism. This is the natural and logical evolution of libertarianism, which states that all relationships and associations between people should be inherently voluntary, without the use of violence or coercion. I hope to expand on these new ideas in a subsequent post.
* William Breckenridge is a libertarian/voluntaryist/anarchist hybrid presently living in Goto, Nagasaki, Japan teaching English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. He applied to this program last year after graduating from college in 2015 and managing a gym for two years. He enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and downing an expensive glass of craft beer. Like many libertarians he joined the movement after following and rallying for Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. In recent months he discovered voluntaryism by liking too many memes on Facebook. He is particularly enthused with voluntaryism as he thinks it contains many solutions to the problems the federal government created and cannot seem to fix.