Government and Violence

cowboysunset.jpgIn an kickass article posted at Mises.org last week, Ryan McMaken takes on the myth of the frontier West being violent.

It's a mistake to think that the already settled parts of the world are less violent than frontiers have historically been. Even if there is no violent action occurring, the threat of violence is there in magnitudes greater than at the frontier. This threat is what makes hundreds of millions turn over half their yearly earnings for the “greater good”. For the most part, not a shot is fired. Yet, the threat of violent consequences is the impetus that drives this appropriation without consent.

Violence on a massive scale, whether hidden or overt, is a product of big government. This is because government is the near costless tool by which one man can exert control over his fellow man. If Michael Bloomberg was simply an ordinary Joe who wanted to impose his will on people in bars and force them to stop smoking, he would have to gather as many of his friends he could find and threaten bar owners with violent consequences for not doing what he desires. He would have to convince his friends to go along with him, pay them, confront the bar owner, and make his threat appear convincing - no easy task, and one frought with risks for himself. Yet, as Mayor of NYC, the threat of these violent consequences upon the bar owners is a part of his very position. The machinery of violence is at his fingertips. He simply signs a law. The costs to control others are borne by the citizens of NYC in the form of coercive taxation used to employ police, judges, jail wardens, and prosecutors, not borne by Bloomberg himself. For him, the effort is nearly costless.

It’s no surprise that violence on a large scale – holocausts, wars, cleansings, concentration camps, firebombings, human liquidations, etc – is always a product of governments. Individuals external to government do not have this power. The 20th century is evidence for this fact.

Escape to the frontier is the means by which to increase the costs for man controlling his fellow man. As McMaken describes, the Federal Government was essentially invisible on the frontier. And what resulted was a peaceful society, based on commerce, free exchange, and voluntary associations. When the occasional control freak tried to impose his will on others, the result was sporadic, not systematized, violence. I'd rather take my chances in that environment than under the massive states we have today. The future of human liberty lies at the next frontier, whether it be physical or digital.

Imagine if Michael Bloomberg walked into a Old West saloon and tried to impose his preferences on everyone else there.

JW: "You a ‘mayor’?"
Bloomberg: "A man has to do something these days to earn a living."
JW: "Dyin' ain't much of a living boy!"

(Josey Wales of course)

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It didn't hurt that the

It didn't hurt that the native population had been completely devastated by imported diseases over the past few hundred years. If the West hadn't been massively depopulated, the influx of people attempting to appropriate land and resources might have been quite a bit more violent.

But the massive decline in the native population wasn't a genocide or anything, was it, because surely only governments carry out genocides. Apparently no Injuns were killed in the making of this Frontier!

And what's with the moral equivalence? 'Threat of violence' = 'Actual violence'? An envelope through the door from the IRS is the equivalent of a bullet through the leg? How terribly oppressed you must be feeling.

But the massive decline in

But the massive decline in the native population wasn't a genocide or anything, was it, because surely only governments carry out genocides. Apparently no Injuns were killed in the making of this Frontier!

Actually, yes, the Federal Government was instrumental in killing native americans; if you read the article by McMaken, you will see that the Indian wars of the 19th century were conducted by governments. No doubt that many were also killed by settlers, and that was obviously wrong.

And what's with the moral equivalence? 'Threat of violence' = 'Actual violence'? An envelope through the door from the IRS is the equivalent of a bullet through the leg? How terribly oppressed you must be feeling.

Acutally, yes, I do feel oppressed by the IRS. I don't consent to its theft. But let's not dress up the threat of violence from the IRS as simply a nagging nuisance.

If you don't pay your taxes, the IRS will send you a letter (if they catch the non-payment) urging you to pay. If you still don't pay, there will be a warrant placed for your arrest. If you don't turn yourself in, the police will come to your home to arrest you. If you don't let them in, they will force themselves in. If you try to defend yourself, they will shoot you.

So please don't downplay an "envelope through the door"; we all know what it represents. It is how the government keeps power, and it is what separates government from most areas of life - the threat of violence.