I’ve always been taught that Government protects individual liberty. Government creates the laws for society and Police enforce them. This is how society remains orderly and people can be productive. If it weren’t for Government and Cops society would succumb to chaos and disorder. Theft, murder, rape and extortion would pervade society, eradicate civility, and undermine completely the generally peaceful association people under the authority of a Government exhibit. Man-made laws are simply a requirement of any civil society.
Despite its widespread acceptance, I have come to question the validity of the claim that peace and freedom are owed to a ruling class who, by consent of the governed, assume a general obligation and authority to enact rules and carry out punishment for those who deviate from them.
It is important to realize that this pro-man-made law, pro-government argument, by presenting very limited possibilities, is framing the discussion in its favor. Either accept man’s laws and punishments or live in a state of complete war and fear. Well of course, presented with only these two options, any rational person would choose to live in peace. There is, however, no reason to assume that the future of peace and freedom rests on society’s willingness to accept this ultimatum. This tactic of limiting the possibilities to prop up an assertion is a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. Recognizing it as such frees the individual to search for the best choice amongst all conceivable possibilities, escaping the lesser-of-two evils mentality.
What’s behind door number three?
There is indeed another option to consider. The option I am referring to asserts that peace and freedom are not the result of Government, but rather, in all cases, as an entity of force and coercion, Government is in direct conflict with individual liberty; That for Government to exist in any meaningful way it must steal from its subjects by way of taxation; That law enforcement is at its core the initiation of aggression against society; That peace and freedom is only truly obtainable in a stateless society, free of man-made laws and rulers; That the feared state of chaos, used to rationalize Government, is actually a result of its presence.
Don’t misunderstand. This by no means should be construed to imply that a society without Government, man-made laws, and law enforcement would be void of Law or that I am insinuating that man should be permitted to act in whatever manner he desired in a free society. No. Man’s actions are always subject to Natural Law – the natural order of reality. This is the option they don’t want you to understand.
What is Natural Law?
Natural law is deduced by man through reason, by reflecting on the reality of the world in which he lives. Natural Law states that the ultimate purpose of life is to live. This axiom must be true since in order to achieve any other purpose in life, life itself must be maintained. I can’t imagine that anyone, upon reflecting on the matter, would suggest otherwise. In such a light, it is evident that certain actions are not conducive to the purpose of life. Such actions lead to premature death, the ultimate punishment for violating natures underlying order or Natural Law.
Based on this simple truth one can extrapolate other truths. For instance, to live, one must eat. To eat, one must produce. To produce, one must labor. Our labor produces property. This train of truths starts to reflect the reality of our existence as living people.
Where do Property Rights come from?
Property rights are based on the principle of self-ownership. Who but you rightfully owns your body, controls what your body does, and dictates what actions to undertake and which to forgo to best preserve life? No one! It is this ownership in one’s body, actions, and life that confers the ownership into the outcome of our labor. We own our body. We own our labor. Therefore, what our labor produces we call our property. This is true whether labor produces a basket or payment for producing a basket.
Property rights insist that the owner has sole discretion over how property is utilized to best fulfill the purpose of life. Absent this right of the owner to dictate how property is utilized, there could be no such thing as property.
Does Natural Law permit self-defense?
Denying an owner the right to determine how their property is utilized is an act of aggression called theft. A thief violates the natural order by undermining the owner’s right to the life sustaining property his/her labor has produced. Since the purpose of life is to live and production is required to sustain life, a property owner can justly defend against acts of aggression on his life and property. Defensive action against aggression is permissible under Natural Law precisely because not defending one’s life and life sustaining property, runs counter to the purpose of life. A free man may opt to forgo defending property if it is believed that to do so would endanger his life further. This is obviously not a violation of the purpose of life. However, a free man may also, at a later time, decide to employ force against those who stole from him in order to regain his property.
Who will take care of the poor?
Of course the property owner may choose to give property away to aid others. This is charity. Charity is only possible when and if the producer has invested sufficient labor and capital to produce what is considered to be more than what is needed to sustain the life of the producer and dependents such as family. Charity can only occur out of a surplus of property. Surplus is wholly determined to be such by the property owner, no one else. Ultimately each person is responsible for their own life and doing the necessary work to ensure survival. No one is owed another person’s property simply based on need. It is not hard to imagine though that individuals would be charitable in a free society. We see amazing acts of kindness in our world today, despite the fact that there is less to give as a result of the costs of Government.
I have no reason to doubt that the poor would fair far better in a truly free market. Government regulations, tariffs and taxes create scarcity and funnel wealth away from producers to the politically well connected. It’s not rocket science to see that the more stuff that people produce, the less need there will be. Also, it’s generally the case, the more stuff is produced, the lower the prices will be for the stuff people want and need. This will benefit the poor greatly and without the violation of Natural Law that is present in redistribution and legalized theft.
So we don’t need Government?
It is easy to see how, with reason, we can determine for ourselves why theft, and all acts of aggression for that matter, violate Natural Law. We can see that acts which violate Natural Law equate to aggression and how defense against aggression is justly permitted under Natural Law. When every individual has the freedom to defend life and property, those who would violate Natural Law are justly retaliated upon. Far from being lawless, a society, free of man-made laws, has natural moral boundaries to human action. Natural Law provides sufficient logical structure from which all social cooperation can exist. We really don’t need man-made laws at all.
Besides being unnecessary, man-made laws actually violate Natural Law, for there is no man-made law which is not ultimately enacted and enforced, first by theft, and second by aggression. Man-made laws, even when aligned with Natural Law, are unnecessary because they are redundant. Of course absent man-made laws, society’s need for rulers evaporates. Organized law enforcement also becomes equally unnecessarily in a society ruled only by Natural Law, for every free individual is a defender of Natural Law as they defend their life and liberty from those who would violate it. In fact, I believe that vigilant individuals are infinitely more capable of protecting themselves from imminent threat than even the most technologically advanced police force. In essence, individual liberty bestows on society as a whole the equal right of each person to defend against aggression by any means which resources allow and perception of threat should dictate.
Government punishments and the efforts of Cops have not stopped people from doing harm to others. We see crime every day. Despite this obvious fact, people continue to believe that the solution to violence is an ever more powerful authority figure capable of enforcing more stringent regulations. The failure of this centralized approach to fighting injustice is no surprise. Ask yourself who is in the best position to defend the individual from imminent threat? Who is in the best position to calculate risk, prepare for uncertainty, and protect and guard life? It’s the free individual, no one else. The State apparatus that many believe is there to protect them provides only a false sense of security and fosters an atmosphere in which people fail to sufficiently guard themselves against danger. This is a recipe for the worst behavior in society to flourish.
A free society does not preclude individuals from joining together for their own protection if they so choose. Since each individual has the right to defend themselves, there would be no reason that individuals could not hire additional protection for themselves or join with other individuals to ensure safety. All contracts and pacts would be voluntary. Unlike a police force, in a free society, the voluntary request for defense services could be dropped if they were no longer required. Just authority can always be revoked by the one who granted the authority in the first place. If authority cannot be revoked, the authority is illegitimate. It’s worth mentioning here that no one can grant a right or instill authority to another that he/she does is not possess. Nature affords no man the right to steal from another therefore no man can give to another the right or authority to steal. The same goes for a group of individuals. Since a group is made up of nothing more than individuals, no group can confer on the individual a single, additional right.
What about Greed?
Greed is a dirty word. It’s blamed for all kinds of things. Indeed it may be true. But greed can be a very powerful motivator. Natural Law and individual liberty harness the power of greed by hinging one’s own prosperity on the ability to satisfy the wants and needs of others. An individual, who acts in accordance with Natural Law, can only satisfy his own desire for personal abundance by first successfully satisfying the real needs and wants of others in the most efficient manner. There is no other means of acquiring wealth sans aggression.
Since all aggression is met with defensive action in a free society, ruled only by Natural Law, greed becomes a force for good. In fact greed, when bound my natural law, becomes something different altogether, more akin to selflessness. It is only when there is an entity within society for whom it is not a crime to steal and aggress, that greed gets a foothold to do great damage. Government provides special exceptions for well-connected businesses, enacts laws that stifle competition, and redistributes capital to inefficient producers. Absent this phony capitalism and legal theft, the degree to which any business owner is successful is entirely subject to his ability to: a) determine what others most need or desire, b) procure a staff capable of producing the good or service more efficiently than the competition, c) foster the contentment of trained staff for long periods of time, d) and maintain the trust of consumers who are willing to purchase the product for more than it cost to produce.
Let’s wrap this up shall we.
First and foremost we are consumers. It is quite possibly the most advantageous state of affairs for all consumers, that there are at least two competing producers for every good. Competition in a truly free market, unhampered by government intervention and regulation, maximizes quality, efficiency and innovation, while at the same time minimizing cost and waste. The producer who can bring the highest quality product to market at the lowest price will be the one who best meets the needs of the consumer. Continued competition and innovations in production will continue to drive prices down, limit waste in both raw materials and manpower, and produce more at greater quality. Since the wants of man have no limit, but resources are scarce, the more labor that is put to use efficiently, the more goods there will be, the higher the quality, and the lower the cost, and hence the higher the standard of living will be for the widest possible swath of society.
The market is the only mechanism capable of determining what labor is efficient, how to best allocate scarce resources, and what needs are the most urgent. These are the ingredients, without question, for a thriving society, yet so many seem so willing to reduce the entrepreneurial spirit and capitalism to mere greed. It can appear that way but I submit to you this is mainly due to government interference and abuse of invalid authority. Sadly, when people consider capitalism and free markets to be the enemy, the State is often viewed as the ally. People literally beg government to redistribute wealth because they misdiagnosis the cause of need in society, either out of ignorance or because they stand to gain from government theft. They do not or will not see that Government, in as much as it taxes, regulates and spends, is like an anchor to a boat, dragging down and hampering the market’s ability to function properly.
Again, under Natural Law the only possible means of obtaining property is to produce a valued commodity for others. There is no class of people who have the legal authority to steal and divvy out the loot to the well-connected and favored. Any plan to extort and rob others would be met with the full resistance of free individuals ready to protect the abundance which God has provided them. This would undoubtedly serve as a greater deterrent to crime than any number of man-made laws could ever hope to be.
But what about the Wild West?
Doesn’t the history of the Wild West prove that government is necessary? To address this I’ll refer the reader to an article: The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality
By Thomas J. DiLorenzo.
To have any hope of correctly diagnosing the contributing factors that has led to the sad state of society in which we find ourselves today, one must be able to think critically – as an economist.
Henry Hazlitt defined economics in his book “Economics in One Lesson” about as succinctly and clearly as anyone. “The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate hut at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.“