Friday, August 30, 2013

The Revenge Order

What is the real purpose of government? Why do we think we need one? We do not need government to engage in mutual trade. We do not need government to create money. We do not need government to create technology. We do not need government to discover scientific facts. We do not need government to discover mathematical truths. We do not need government to create art and literature. We do not need government to have religion. We do not need government to have philosophy. We do not need government to be philanthropic and charitable. Indeed, government more often than not gets in the way of all of these things. So what is government for?


Government cannot really be around for self-defense in the literal sense. If you are attacked, it is pretty much up to you to defend yourself then and there. But if you cannot defend yourself? If someone robs, rapes, assaults, kidnaps, cheats, or murders you? The government can then come in and exact revenge on your behalf, or on the behalf of your friends and relatives (if you've been murdered). The threat of exacting revenge is the closest to self-defense a government can engage in.

But revenge is corrupting. Revenge makes us into what we are seeking vengeance against. We know that on some level, and thus seek to create governments so we can outsource our vengeance, keeping ourselves morally clean in the meantime. This is why the areas of government most directly engaged in the exacting of vengeance tend to be the most corrupt. We sacrifice the moral lives of our police and military to keep our own moral lives clean.

Governments thus are not spontaneous orders of justice; it is when we act justly toward each other that a spontaneous order of justice emerges -- the common law. Governments, rather, respond to injustice with vengeance.

Given the fact that government is created so we can outsource our vengeance to keep ourselves morally clean, we can begin to see why governments have taken on certain roles. The envious, for example, seek vengeance against those whom they envy. This is the source of much of our class warfare/welfare state rhetoric and policies. Progressive income taxes do not bring in nearly the amount of money as other kinds of taxation; the reason we nevertheless have such a tax system is because the envious are enacting vengeance against those whom they envy with such a tax system. Indeed, the vengeance of the envious is precisely what drives all redistributionist policies. And it is why we find the government engaging in such policies. Redistributionist policies and progressive income taxes are forms of vengeance and, thus, appropriate for the government to engage in. This assumes, of course, that one thinks the envious enacting vengeance is itself just behavior. Game theory has demonstrated, unfortunately, that envy is a deep primatological trait.

Libertarians are distinct in the fact that they apply individual morality to the actions governments. If private individuals cannot rob, rape, assault, kidnap, cheat, or murder, then neither can an individual if they are associated with the government. However, if one is going to enact vengeance, then one is likely to engage in any one of these. A fine is robbery; one is assaulted and kidnapped when one is arrested; one can be killed while being arrested, if not given the death penalty. However, these are things we have the government do to those who have proven themselves unjust in their actions against others. That is, they are acts of vengeance.

If we are going to remain untouched by the corruption inherent in vengeance, we are going to have to continue to outsource our vengeance. But that means the creation of institutions which are inherently corrupting. The best we can do, perhaps, is narrow down as much as possible those activities for which we think vengeance ought to be exacted. If government must necessarily be corrupting, then we should give it as few tasks as humanly possible.