Jeff Nadel | Neighborly government
Give Me Liberty | Why do we uniquely grant politicians and bureaucrats the permission to murder, steal and lie?
February 21, 2013, 11:47 pm·
Give Me Liberty
We’re at an Ivy League school, but it seems we’ve forgotten the applicability of kindergarten’s most basic lessons.
Esteemed libertarian scholar David Boaz, inspired by Robert Fulghum’s bestselling book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” laid out three simple rules that should guide our conduct:
1) Don’t hit other people.
2) Don’t take their stuff.
3) Keep your promises.
Imagine a person. This person is your neighbor, living just a few houses down the street from your own.
One day, as you drink a soda, the neighbor stops you: “That drink has way too much sugar. It’s just not healthy for you.” With an air of certainty, he reaches out his hand, signaling for you to turn over what he clearly perceives as liquid death-in-a-can.
You are perturbed by the neighbor’s sanctimony, but you tolerate it. He must, you figure, just be genuinely concerned about your health.
The very next week, after a long day’s work, he approaches you again, this time with a group of other neighbors — the “Neighborhood Association,” they call themselves — in tow. “I’ve been thinking,” he says. “We see how you spend your money. We just know we could spend it better. We promise to only spend your money in ways that will benefit you.”
Unable to decide whether this man and his posse are laughably confused or thuggishly intimidating, you shake your head and let them know that you’ll be just fine making your own financial decisions.
A cold, almost pedantic smile appears on the neighbor’s face as he shakes his head: “You don’t have a choice in the matter. You will give us the percentage of money that we demand to spend as we see fit. If you give us trouble, we will take you from your home and your family and lock you behind a barred door.”
The point of this mental exercise is to force us to imagine government as what it truly is — to overcome the tendency we have to view it as something altogether different than any other group of people assembled for a common purpose.
It’s not that we can’t differentiate between the government and the “Neighborhood Association” — most of us do — but we must ask ourselves this: why do we tolerate actions perpetrated by the government that we would not endure if undertaken by strangers, or even our neighbors?
A common pro-government argument goes something like this — politicians are democratically elected, so any actions they take are essentially actions taken by the majority of people themselves. In sum, democratic theorists would posit that politicians are, by proxy, acting on our own behalf.
It is critical that we disabuse ourselves of the notion that “we” are the government.
As political theorist Murray Rothbard said, “The government does not in any accurate sense ‘represent’ the majority of the people. But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority.”
Put differently, it is absurd to suggest that we consent, by virtue of our participation in a professedly democratic society, to whatever abuse the government may dole out. Abuses perpetrated against people are just that — they are not, as democratic theorists might argue, actions implicitly sanctioned by the victims themselves.
Being part of the government does not grant to any individual an otherwise unattainable moral sanction that allows him to defraud, steal or murder. Government is nothing but the individuals that constitute it.
As someone who holds individual liberty as the highest political and moral ideal, I advocate for a neighborly government — one that is empowered to administer justice, defend the country and enforce just laws, but not dictate to us how to live our lives, steal from us or murder with impunity.
Should bureaucrats and politicians be exempt from the most basic tenets of kindergarten good behavior?
If you think so, at least ask yourself why.
Jeffrey Nadel is a College sophomore from Boca Raton, Fla. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @theseends. “Give Me Liberty” appears every other Friday.