NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Anarchism without anarchy

Today I posted the following comment to this post on Ann Althouse's blog, responding to her observation that "Private citizens and business get stuck with the application of general laws, which they don't write":

All this thinking about politics and its inherent depravity will turn you into an anarchist yet!

Seriously, though, recognizing that our government has no inherent right to exist and that the "majority" has no natural right to rule over the minority does not necessarily as a practical matter entail quixotically advocating the immediate abolishment of the government. If the government prevents or punishes a genuine crime (e.g. murder or robbery, but not smoking pot, prostitution, gambling, or other mere vices), there is no injustice, even though the government has no real authority of its own, because it's not doing anything anyone else wouldn't have the right to do in the state of nature. And I think we can probably all agree that it's in fact preferable to have such justice carried out by a generally recognized "due process" than by vigilantes or private armies.

Does it have the right to take property from some in order that others don't starve? Maybe, on the theory, recognized by Thomas Aquinas among others, that stealing food from the bounty of others when there is no other way to prevent the starvation of one's self or one's family is not really theft at all. The government has no right to do what a private citizen has no right to do, but in this instance could be said to be doing what a starving poor person would have a right to do, on their behalf. But assuming this hypothetical poor person had a choice (as the government acting on his behalf presumably does), would he be morally justified in stealing from somebody who was himself struggling to make ends meet, when he could just as easily steal from someone with enough money in the bank to pay his own grocery bills many lifetimes over?

The most fundamental way to prevent poor people from starving in the first place would be to restore to them what they have a right to in the first place and what government has taken from them: a free and equal share of the earth and the earth's natural resources, or its equivalent in the form of a "Citizen's Dividend," funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources. (A Google search will turn up several good explanations of these concepts.)

In these concepts is also found the only means by which this enterprise known as the government, which has non-consensually arrogated to itself the business of dispensing justice and protecting us, may legitimately pay itself for the "services" it bestows upon us. Since the unimproved value of land (even of that land which has improvements attached to it) belongs to every member of the society equally, the government is justified in collecting on behalf of society the "rent" associated with this value, in the same way that the government (like any private citizen in the state of nature) would be justified in recovering and returning to its rightful owner stolen property. (Inheritance taxes on property "owned" by a dead person and therefore by nobody could be justified on similar grounds.) Since this rent could not be collected and distributed in the absence of a government-type organization, the organization would be justified in skimming off the top its costs in collecting and distributing the rent, which presumably would include the necessary muscle to collect the rent and to maintain itself in existence against enemies foreign and domestic. Since that money would be coming out of each of our "Citizen's Dividends" to enable the collection of such Dividends, what we'd really be paying for is the protection of our property (and personal) rights -- and that's how a police, a military, and a "welfare" system (more precisely, a substitute for the welfare system grounded in justice rather than charity or policy) could be founded on a technically non-consensual but nevertheless just basis.

To reiterate, I'm well aware that the "utopia" I've sketched is ages away from the oppressive travesty we live under, and I'm not interested in vainly frittering away my life railing against something so brutal, stupid, and unresponsive to pleas for real justice. But culturally I think we would do very well to leave off our delusions and our myths, and to recognize the plain fact, just as our forefathers recognized with respect to the British Empire, that our present government has no "right" to rule over us. We "owe" it neither our allegiance, nor our "patriotism," nor our respect, nor our labor nor the fruits of our labor. Prudence, not duty, may dictate that we submit to its robberies (just as the convenience store clerk held at gunpoint may find it prudent to hand over the cash), until either the wider culture outgrows its submissive infantilism or the whole sorry mess collapses under the weight of its own corruption, as other empires and other tyrannies have before it.