On the Necessity of Government

Emily Kennedy

In a world of vast resources, humanity is still beset by starvation, poverty, and suffering. The masses still toil for barely enough to sustain themselves while others must do without entirely. In the midst of this suffering, still others live in luxurious excess with wealth that could not be spent in a lifetime. Many theories have been offered as to the cause of and solution to this problem. The theories are so diverse that some do not even see it as a problem in need of a solution. An effective solution must be directed to the root cause, which in the case of economic inequality is systems of competition and privately owned property and the governments that support such systems. Still, people are reluctant to abolish the systems that oppress them and enforce their poverty and suffering, believing that governments are necessary. We do not need governments, because human nature is naturally good in that we tend towards compassion and affection, and the undesirable traits of human nature that necessitate governments can be minimized with the elimination of the competition and inequality that many governmental systems are designed to support.

This assertion is not without its detractors. Some argue that private property is a natural right, and that freedom is defined by the ability to compete for property. Others argue that humans are naturally violent and wicked, and that violence and chaos will prevail in the absence of government. But in reality, human societies can thrive in the absence of government, and humans are more than capable of organizing and maintaining social systems that will provide for the needs of all. Governments hamper individual freedom and serve only to maintain systems and structures that channel wealth to the few at the great expense of the many. Government and property ownership are inextricably entwined, and one must be rid of both institutions in order to realize freedom.

The first step in considering the necessity of governments is the examination of whether governments serve and benefit the governed.  Governments, while providing minimal services in order to placate and deceive the governed, do not exist to serve the governed population as a whole. Rather, governments exist to protect private property and serve those who own it.  With the existence of private property and competition come the “social and political constitution adapted to it” and the “economic and political sway” of the owners of private property (Marx 717). Further, “jurisprudence is but the will” of the property owners “made into a law for all,” the “essential character and direction” of which “are determined by the economic conditions of existence” of property owners (Marx 723). “A vast array of courts, judges, executioners, policemen and gaolers is needed” to uphold the privileges of the ruling class, which in turn leads to “a whole system of espionage, of false witness, of spies, of threats and corruption” (Kropotkin 17). Kropotkin, well before Chomsky, noted that “millions [are] spent on propagating pernicious doctrines” that favor parties, politicians, and capitalists (22). Thus, the system of economic competition has always been supported by governments for the benefit of the owners of private property rather than the majority of people.

While supporting the owners of private property, governments also seek to expand their own power. In Plato’s The Republic, Thrasymachus asserts that governments in power promulgate a moral system that keeps said government in power, creating laws and societal rules that benefit the governments, and that no matter the form of government, each has superior strength and creates laws that suit its own interests (39). Governmental power is typically expanded at the expense of the governed, who receive no benefit from such expansion.

In addition to failing to serve the populace, governments can harm them by demanding obedience and stifling dissent. Thoreau points out that obedience to an unjust government can in turn make the subject unjust, by supporting an unjust war, for example (246). Wars are waged by “comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool” (Thoreau 246). Private property owners, in their insatiable lust for new markets to conquer, use the government to do their bidding and thus create many instances in which a subject may be forced to support injustice. Government exists as organized oppression and robbery to the detriment of the governed (Thoreau 247).

While people suffer in poverty, great amounts of money are spent on the “paraphernalia of so-called justice,” when crime could be reduced by a slight alleviation of the “wretchedness of our great cities” (Kropotkin 22). Governments oppress the people and charge them, via taxes, for the favor. Kropotkin notes that wars are waged in order to secure markets for capitalists, and the government, in waging these wars, accrues vast supplies of armaments, supplied by taxes that fall heavily on the workers (16). The poor must pay with their bodies, the “blood-tax” as Kropotkin calls it (19). Kropotkin observes that competition is the source of poverty and starvation in the midst of plenty, and he also realizes that “this problem cannot be solved by means of legislation,” and that “neither the existing governments, nor any which might arise out of possible political changes” can solve the problem. Thus, government as it exists now does not serve the people and is incapable of solving the problems that plague humanity.

Governments do not serve the interests of the majority of people, and in many instances may harm the people or force them to support injustice. The competitive economic system upheld by governments does much to harm the people and further their suffering. Yet, many people question whether we can do without governments and the alleged security they offer.

While advocates of governmental existence often point to the crimes and violence that plague present-day society as a reason to maintain a strong governing force to maintain security and protect individuals, it is actually the case that humans are naturally good and tend towards non-violence. Humans in the state of nature are characterized by compassion, and an “innate repugnance at seeing a fellow-creature suffer” (Rousseau 424). Rousseau notes that compassion is present in other animals as well, exemplified in tenderness exhibited by mothers towards their young and in grieving behaviors in cattle (Rousseau 424). Moreover, compassion is the source of other desirable qualities, such as generosity, clemency, humanity, benevolence, and friendship (Rousseau 425). Compassion, writes Rousseau, is a “natural feeling” that “will always prevent a sturdy savage from robbing a weak child or a feeble old man of the sustenance they may have . . . if he sees a possibility of providing for himself by other means” (Rousseau 425). “Nothing,” writes Rousseau, “is more gentle than man in his primitive state” (432).

It seems contradictory to human nature, then, that there would be crime or violence in our societies at all. Rousseau explains how competition and the idea of property lead to societies plagued by vices such as crime and violence. As civilization was introduced to humankind, the idea of property took hold, and would become the source of untold crimes, wars, murders, horrors, and misfortunes. Notions of property led to those of convenience, preference for certain possessions, and reputation. These were the beginnings of inequality, which brought with it vices such as vanity, contempt, shame, and envy. With the development of agriculture came slavery, misery, and the ruination of humanity. Property eventually contributed to “insatiable ambition” and the accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of a select few. In civilized societies, usurpation, robbery, unbridled passions, avarice, and ambition were rampant. “All these evils were the first effects of property, and the inseparable attendants of growing inequality.” Multitudes starved while others amassed great wealth. Desiring to maintain this inequality, the wealthy suggested the institution of rules for the protection of all, and thus governments were created (Rousseau 428-35). In reality, laws and the governments that enforce them were created solely for the protection of the wealthy; after all, the poor had little to protect.

This system of property and competition created the ills that plague society and maintains them as well. The relationship between the worker and the owners of property results in the alienation and enslavement of the worker in the name of competition, which further distances humans from their compassionate nature. The bourgeoisie, writes Marx, has destroyed social relationships and “has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment,’” and has “resolved personal worth into exchange value” (715). A human is no longer a human in the capitalist system, but merely a cog in the machine. Humankind is reduced to yet another commodity (Marx 717). Mutual competition between people interferes with their ability to cooperate (Marx 719). This dehumanization leads to the vices of humanity.

These vices, brought into existence with the creation of property and sustained by government, may be swept away with the abolition of those institutions. Humanity, in its natural state of abundant compassion is capable of governing itself. However, it is imperative that systems of property and competition for resources be eliminated as well. For capitalism without government leads only to rapacious exploitation or even open warfare against the property owners who no longer have a government to protect them and their interests. The creation of government “irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labor, slavery, and wretchedness” (Rousseau 436).

Therefore, if the creation of government meant the destruction of liberty and the creation of inequality, it follows that in ridding ourselves of the shackles of government, we shall regain liberty and equality. In ridding ourselves of competition, we shall realize that there is plenty for all of humanity. We have plentiful resources and there is no need to compete over them. We do not even consume all of the food we currently produce. Without competition and its government, production would be motivated by the needs of society rather than profit and competition. Kropotkin writes that the “immense capital accumulated by those who have gone before” is “more than sufficient for all the wants of humanity” (9). We will realize that we are truly “far richer than we think” (Kropotkin 10). We think that we are not rich because we are forced to compete for resources that we see as limited, when in fact, the cooperation of all could produce more than enough to provide a comfortable and stable existence for all members of society.

In the presence of abundant resources, others believe that such abundance ought to be available for people to compete over. Locke asserts that property rights are natural and divine, and that freedom means the freedom to acquire property. Locke states that the earth and the resources upon it were given to humans to make use of (370). The fruits of the earth must be appropriated before a particular person can benefit from them, and since a person has exclusive rights to his or her own labor, the addition of this labor to the various resources of the earth creates private property owned by the laborer (Locke 371). If consent of the community was required to obtain personal property in this way, Locke argues that we would starve (371). Property rights are limited to what one can use without waste (Locke 371). From these property rights, rights to trade and currency naturally arise as a method of preserving property without spoliation (Locke 373).

In opposition to Locke’s view on the subject, Kropotkin argues that the earth remains common property and that capital was built by all and stolen by the few. “There is not even a thought, or an invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present” (Kropotkin 13). Locke might argue that he applies his labor to the trees by chopping them, and thus, the trees belong to him alone. However, the soil, water, and air that sustain the trees were a divine gift to all, and the axe and saw used to chop the trees are community inventions. The very method by which he chops the trees is likely not his own creation, but a method that embodies “the genius of man” as a whole. Therefore, since Locke relies so greatly upon community property to apply his labor to the trees, the trees are in fact community property to be used for the good of all. The same is true for fields or factories or any other endeavor of production. The activity is actually a social one, not an individual one as Locke contends. Kropotkin writes that every “new invention is a synthesis,” an amalgam of all the inventions, ideas, and labor that came before to make that invention possible (14). Simply put, “all belongs to all” as a social creation (Kropotkin 18). Locke himself acknowledges the importance of labor, writing that the value in most things is owed to labor (373). Applying one’s labor to natural resources simply gives one the right to receive the benefits of community property in accordance with one’s need.

Yet, Locke suggests that property in common is synonymous with property that is uncultivated and unavailable for the benefit of people (372).  But community property can certainly be used for the benefit of people, and for the benefit of a great number of people rather than a small number of private owners. Locke contends that property must be appropriated and others must “no longer have any right to it” for a person to benefit from said property (371). Property from community sources will benefit individuals just the same. An apple grown on a communally owned orchard will provide the same nourishment as an apple grown on a privately owned field.

Locke argues that property is a divine right, gifted to humanity by the heavens above. Therefore, the divine gift of property ought to be shared by all of humanity rather than sequestered away by a select few. In Locke’s view, a person is perfectly justified in using her labor to acquire goods that she then trades for money, which she can accumulate vast amounts of without fear of it spoiling (373). This seems to be a loophole in which one may accumulate more than he or she needs as long as that accumulation is in the form of money. While resources are plentiful enough to provide for the needs of all, they are limited, and the hoarding of money and resources deprives others of the ability to own anything at all. As Marx writes “private property is already done away with for nine tenths of the population” (722).

In response to Locke, Marx would argue that property only seems natural because this is the way it has been through much of human history (714). The “history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against the modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeoisie and of its rule” (Marx 717).

While Rousseau argues for the natural compassion in humans, Hobbes argues that humans are naturally competitive and violent, and therefore a strong, authoritarian government is necessary to check humankind’s natural tendencies to overpower one another. Hobbes writes that if two people desire the same thing and only one can have it, they will inevitably become enemies and “endeavor to destroy or subdue one another” (1). Hobbes argues that we fight for three reasons: competition, diffidence, and glory (2). If such arguments are true, it is difficult to argue for the abolition of government. Indeed, Hobbes concludes that without a common power, humankind will revert to a state of war, or at least the tendency towards fighting one another (2). Further, Hobbes argues that we demonstrate this natural mistrust with our actions, by carrying firearms and locking our doors (2). Hobbes writes that while states themselves may demonstrate a “posture of war,” since they uphold the “industry of their subjects” the subjects are not subjected to the violence and “misery which accompanies the liberty of particular men” (3).

Hobbes describes the violent nature of human beings, but humans do not express these tendencies naturally. Hobbes notes that humans are constantly fighting to take from one another, but without competition and perceived scarcity of resources, there is no reason to fight and nothing that needs to be taken. Government maintains the systems of competition that cause tension and violence, and without it, humans would be free to work together and meet their needs on a collective, cooperative basis, leading to a reduction in violence and plunder.

Hobbes writes that there are three “principal causes of quarrel:” competition, diffidence, and glory (2). Hobbes notes that competition leads to the use of violence to increase one’s resources, diffidence forces people to use violence to defend themselves, and glory leads to violence to defend one’s reputation or the reputation of one’s family, friends, nation, or profession (2). Upon further consideration of these three principal causes, it becomes clear that they are all very closely related to the first. If people are no longer forced to compete for resources, competition-based violence will be all but eliminated. Similarly, there will be no need to use violence to defend oneself from competition-based violence. Glory, inasmuch as it is desired as an aid to increase one’s competitive ability and ability to gain more resources, will lose its desirability, and therefore, violence used to maintain or gain glory will dissipate in a non-competitive system as well. With the removal of competition for resources, Hobbes’ three principal causes of quarrel no longer have any basis.

Hobbes argues that a mighty government is needed to subdue the violent, thieving tendencies of humanity. But one needs only look at our current society with its vast and mighty government to see that violence and theft, perpetrated by both individuals and governments, are not eliminated. The issue is not the presence of government or the strengthening of governments or the increasing of punishments and fear. The issue that leads to violence and plunder is the system of competition that alienates individuals and pits them against each other while owners of property accumulate ever greater wealth, depriving those at the bottom strata of society of the ability to provide for themselves. This is what leads to violence, and government is helpless to prevent it, even if it desired to do so. Additionally, governments themselves commit acts of violence against citizens of other nations as well as their own citizens. Moreover, competition, as upheld by governments, commits acts of violence against individuals far more efficiently than could be committed by other individuals. According to Chomsky, “violence, deceit, and lawlessness are natural functions of the state, any state” (126).

Some may argue that in absence of a strong government, warlords would run rampant. Proponents of this critique fail to acknowledge the extent of the social and cooperative nature of humans. Social reproach is a powerful deterrent if used early and often, and may prevent the rise of a warlord, or if said warlord is of the antisocial, sociopathic variety, will prevent others from joining him or her on a quest for domination and destruction. Further, the aspects of isolation and alienation inherent in the capitalist system and perpetuated by government contribute to the existence of such behavior. In the absence of the ills of government and capital, such mental maladies would be far less prevalent, just like violent tendencies would be reduced in the absence of competition. Of the will of the strong over the weak, Rousseau notes that this tendency is prevalent in civilized societies with their competition, but he does not see how this would occur in the state of nature. In the event of a strong person attempting to over power a weaker person for his or her benefit, Rousseau writes that it would be easy to escape, and the strong would ultimately expend too much energy to make the venture worthwhile for the stronger (Rousseau 428).

Rousseau argues that Hobbes’ calculation of humans in nature is entirely erroneous. Rousseau sees the state of nature, “in which the care for our own preservation is the least prejudicial to that of others,” as “consequently the best calculated to promote peace” rather than a state of war (Rousseau 424). If humans were truly as Hobbes sees them, “there is no extravagance he would not be guilty of,” including violence against one’s own family members (Rousseau 424). It seems that humans would fight each other to extinction, and the “human race would long since have ceased to be” (Rousseau 425). Rousseau maintains that while humans engage in brief violence as a reaction to what they see as “an injury that might easily be repaired,” such conflicts would lack the bloody nature that Hobbes describes (Rousseau 425). Further, fighting to overtake another’s possessions would entail a “desperate battle” that is often not worth it in the end (Rousseau 430). Thus humans are not naturally inclined to fight one another in the absence of competition.

In sum, governments do not serve the needs of the governed, and we do not need them because human nature is compassionate and tends towards cooperation. Humans exhibit destructive tendencies because of the existence of systems of competition and privately owned property supported by governments. Liberty for all requires the abolition of these oppressive and injurious systems. With plentiful resources, humankind can provide for the needs of all using communally held resources. This is the ideal of the anarchist.

Upon acceptance of this view, the true challenge is the reconciliation of the anarchist ideal with the reality that we live in a government-ruled capitalist society. While it may not be possible to usher in revolution today, we can each welcome miniature revolutions in our own lives. We can join co-ops, live in communes, arrange for sharing of goods, trade services with each other, volunteer in our communities, and so forth. We can work to improve our existence within the framework of our current system, while dreaming of a new society built in the ashes of the old.

 

Works Cited

Chomsky, Noam. “The Manufacture of Consent”, in The Chomsky Reader, ed. James

Peck (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987).

Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich. “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, in Karl Marx:

Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (NY: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Hobbes, Thomas.  Leviathan: with Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668, ed.

Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994).

Kropotkin, Peter. The Conquest of Bread (UK: Penguin Random House, 2015).

Locke, John.  “Second Treatise of Government”, in Locke: Political Essays, ed. M. Goldie,

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Plato. The Republic, trans. John Llewelyn Davies & James Vaughan (Lanham, Md.: Rowan

and Littlefield Publishers, 2005).

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.  Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Trans. G.D.H. Cole

(Everyman’s Library, David Campbell Publishers, Ltd.)

Thoreau, Henry David.  Civil Disobedience (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1957).

 

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