1 vote

Is limited government possible?

I posted this open question on Yahoo Answers http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AkXfR93tbb1vsCQ... . I got only feeble responses. Anybody here want to take a bash at it? Only one day left to answer (until Nov. 21, 2010)

UPDATE: the question is resolved now.

This is the posting:


I heard a great argument recently from author, anarchist and all-around troublemaker Larken Rose, asserting that limited government is not possible. It went like this:

"Government is a ruling class. It doesn’t matter how much rhetoric it’s hidden under and whether you say “it’s representative” or “our master is really our servant.” The shorthand version is: If there’s somebody who can boss you around and take your money, HE'S NOT YOUR SERVANT. If he CAN’T boss you around and take your money, he’s not “government.” And as soon as you have someone above you, as soon as you have a master, as soon as you have a ruling class, even if you have a Constitution that you can wave around and say “these are the things you’re supposed to do” – WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN HE DOESN'T??

"As soon as you accept the premise of government and authority and a ruling class, the only thing keeping it "limited" is the conscience of the master. Like if you’re a slave, and you say, “I accept that I’m your slave, master, I belong to you, but please be nice to me.” Well, maybe he will and maybe he won’t -- but it's not up to YOU any more. And that’s the problem with “limited government”: As soon as it’s government, it’s the master."

My question: What, if anything, is wrong with Mr. Rose's reasoning here? Logic, please.

If anyone is interested in listening to the live broadcast, it's here, http://www.larkenrose.com/media/audio.html in the section titled "Larken Rose - Freedom Frenzy - 11/9/2010 - Hour 2 " The quote comes near the end at 44:30. But the whole interview is pretty good.

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Limited government is possible,

much like abolishing slavery, when you change the minds of people and then change the rules. For example, US senators used to be elected by and accountable to the stare government. When senators began to be elected like the representatives the states were left with whatever power the Federal government decided to give them.

There are some very interesting points in this long but informative post:


Don't waste your time trying to be right, spend it trying to get better

ltd. gov't

perhaps if there were much fewer roads and trains and in areas of higher elevation.


I don't know

With the way people have their minds set on big government as the answer to everything. I have been working against foreign intervention since the 1960's, and so far all that happens is that I'm considered against America.

The so called left and right are all a bunch of sheep.

"let them hate, so long as they fear"

So long as people fear... they will be enslaved... There are SOOOO many that are trained to fear... it is virtually impossible to stop the avalanche. Just keep in it real.

Does my burka make my butt look fatwa?

Its only possible with sound money.

If taxpayers had to pay for all government expenditures directly and in full, the size of government would be automatically limited for purely practical reasons.


With precious metals being used as money and fractional-reserve banking outlawed, government would only be able to spend the money it had collected from taxpayers. That would be a huge limit on government spending, and a good thing, too. But it might also make government even more tyrannical, with higher taxes being imposed and tax collectors being given even more power to abuse.

So sound money alone would not be a cure for unlimited, tyrannical government.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Its true that abuses can still exist.

I don't wish to paint 19th century Europe or the USA as a hard money utopia.

But under a sound-money economy, the question of freedom moves from economic to military considerations.

I agree with Thomas Jefferson's formulation:

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

I have reservations about Jefferson's epigram

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Josef Stalin feared the people. That's why he had so many of them killed. Our government fears us too -- that's why they're pushing the TSA and DHS on us, and coming up with labels like "domestic extremist" to describe people who value freedom.

When a government fears its citizens, it takes steps to make itself safer from them -- which produces tyranny, not liberty.

"Liberty" is what you have when government isn't around AT ALL. I know you don't like the idea of equating liberty with anarchy, Brit, but I don't think you have really considered the potential of voluntary, non-coercive organizations to handle the important functions now monopolized by governments.

"Government" is just a group of individual people, like us -- only worse. GOOD people trade peaceably and voluntarily with one another, or may give charitably, as they choose. BAD people employ coercion to get what they want -- which explains why everything government touches turns to shit.

If your government announced that in six months time it would disband and abolish itself, would you simply look for a cave to hide in? Or would you set about organizing a militia in your neighborhood? A militia organized to simply defend your life, liberty and property would be a REAL defense of liberty against coercion. What we call "government" is INSTITUTIONALIZED coercion, and a permanent threat to your liberty.

"When there is no government to fear, there is liberty." Quoth dabooda.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Don't confuse the dictator with the state apparatus.

Ironically, it was V.I. Lenin who pointed out that trying to assasinate the Tsar wouldn't change the state!

Or the forest with the trees?

Government does not exist, except for the individuals who comprise it. It is a name, a concept describing a group of individuals, and their modus operandi. But since most people are trained in government schools to WORSHIP the concept, the concept has a power over men's minds far out of proportion to the reality of the stupid, evil, bloody-handed people who are "the government."

Replacing one ruler with another does not produce freedom, because the real enemy of freedom is the IDEA that government is necessary and proper to life among civilized men. In truth, government is the deadly enemy of civilization. Civilization is the society of men who deal with one another by peaceful trade and voluntary charity, rather than by coercion and theft. Government is the institutionalization of coercion and theft. Government is the rule of barbarians over the civilized men they have conquered and subjugated.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Good point

The government shouldn't fear the people, it should be limited such that it can be more easily dissolved, and then fear people voting with their feet. The main problem with our governments is that they are architected such that people can't leave.

You are wrong however to continue with anarchism. Look how long we've had people arguing for anarchism. It never gets any traction and never will, precisely because of the contradiction in it: people have a right to form governments. What they don't have a right to do is force others to belong to them. That is the key problem that needs to be addressed, the consent issue. Anarchy is a distraction.

More semantics and definiitions

Back to our core argument. People have a right to organize a voluntary militia. They have a right to organize or employ a private security agency on mutually agreeable terms. They have a right to name their organization "government," if they so choose. They do NOT have a right to govern or tax anyone who does not voluntarily agree to be taxed or ruled.

I agree that it's an issue of consent; I don't consent to be ruled or governed by anyone but myself. I may employ a security agency or join a militia to help achieve that end, but at the end of the day I won't be thinking of either one as "my government." Anarchy means "without rulers" -- which is not EXACTLY my position, but close enough: each man by right is his own ruler.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

It all comes down to right-thinking

And right-thinking requires proper definitions of concepts, as those are the units of thought.

But anarchists are just the flip-side of traditionalists; neither seems to be too concerned that their mental apparatus is working in tip-top shape, that's why they make the mistakes that they do, and when those mistakes are pointed out, they say "semantics and definitions", as if meaning is not important. This is why the liberty movement fails.

So let's hear YOUR definition

What is the "proper" and "right-thinking" definition of "government?" And pray explain how your definition is to superior to the definitions provided by Murray Rothbard and Harry Browne that I mentioned down here: http://www.dailypaul.com/node/150017#comment-1592167 ??

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Government definition

I define government as an association to which you consensually delegate a limited portion of rights in order to secure your rights. That is its primary purpose and definition, but government may perform other functions as well, according to what you agree to.

You do not have to join a government unless you want, but you can do so if you want. I would want a government. I would not complain if you didn't want one, but I would predict that you'd ultimately change your mind after experiencing anarchy first-hand. I think the vast majority of mankind would prefer government to no government.

So, as long as we are going to have it, we should focus on changing it into something that is consistently beneficial, rather than often harmful.

Ancaps define a certain prescribed structure to government, but it's ridiculous to constrain all of humanity into their model. I think you should be free to create an ancap society if you want, and you should leave me free to create the kind I want (I want a consistent uniform government in a limited geographic area, defined by the land ownership of the consenting parties -- a township, or city-state that does not dictate what happens on the whole continent).

In some sense my model is a meta-model for government, because I do not prescribe what your government should look like -- you can have ancap if you want -- I prescribe the general characteristics all governments must conform to in order to be legitimate, but permit a wide degree of variation among them.

I'm sorry, rp1.

But that's sheer fantasy. Your definition does not describe any existing (or historical) government in the world. You've created an ideal social organization de novo, and given it the name "government." Certainly your theoretical organization is more attractive in every way than the reality of extant governments -- but that's a PROBLEM with your definition. You not only want to give the word an ENTIRELY new meaning, you want to erase its actual past and present meaning, with all its attendant blood and evil.

No sale.

And you presume to criticize the definition I was using?

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Words aren't magic

I think you've read too many Harry Potter books. You're afraid of a word.

And I think you use the word "fantasy" as a bullied person uses the same methods he was bullied with on someone else -- as an anarchist, I'm sure your views are often described as a "fantasy". It's not a "fantasy" to take the most convenient word and attach to it the meaning it ought to have.

The ironic thing is that what we have now is anarchy. The rulers do what they want. There is no rule of law, there is just what they make up as they go along. And you call that "government", merely because they have told you to. You're a good little brainwashed victim doing what they want.

But yes, I admit that I have rejected their brainwashing about what that word means and should mean, and I have attached my own meaning to it. Government should be a glorious human institution that maximizes justice on earth.

What is wrong with this picture?

On the one hand, you say that "right-thinking requires proper definitions of concepts, as those are the units of thought." On the other hand, you invent an entirely new definition for the word "government" and insist that YOUR definition, which bears NO resemblance to anyone's previous definition OR to any organization that has ever borne the name "government," is the only "proper" definition.

What is wrong with this picture? Inconsistency or irrationality?

The problem is, "government" as it is presently known in the world really does NEED a name to identify it for what it is: an organization which coercively RULES its subjects/citizens. Wait a minute. It already has a name: "government." How and why is that not a "proper" definition? I agree that such an organization is MORALLY improper -- but there's nothing improper about the definition.

I did not intend to belittle or bully you with the word "fantasy." I have nothing against your fantasy. It bears a strong resemblance to my own ideals. But the word fits: when you start talking about the meaning a word OUGHT to have (but never has before), you've entered a realm of fantasy.

When I asked you to give a proper definition of government, I didn't mean a definition of "a proper government." I meant a general definition of "government" which is broad enough to encompass both the meaning you wish it would have AND the kind of governments commonly associated with the word -- but at the same time specific enough to distinguish it from other kinds of organizations (such as private security companies and militias. I don't think that it can be done. Take another shot, if you like: Prove me wrong.

Your astute comment about (existing) governments actually being anarchic reminds me of an old joke:

The word "anarchy" is not a synonym for chaos; it simply describes a society without a government.
The word "government," on the other hand . . .

Just so.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Historical governments are mixed

They are partially organized systems for protecting rights, and partially anarchic systems run by elites designed to fleece the apathetic and the clueless.

Think of Attila the Hun. He had an organized system for mass theft. Or the mafia. These are systematically organized criminal gangs whose purpose is to maximize their long-term fleecing of productive people (as if their victims are their farm animals). Modern governments are a mixture of criminal gangs and legitimate government.

It's crucial to recognize the two different aspects in order to fight the evil aspect, otherwise you end up cluelessly fighting against good things (e.g. the US being defending against Chinese invasion).

You can't create an intellectually consistent idea of what actual governments are like except by mixing concepts like this, precisely because they are mixed up. It's like trying to come up with One True Concept of an individual. Individuals are complicated and multi-faceted; a single concept won't do. The same is true of modern governments.

Government: a bad way to do good things

1. Of course government performs many good and useful functions. BADLY. What else can you expect, when its every action, good or bad, is rooted in coercion?

When taxpayers are forced to pay for those functions under threat of imprisonment or death?

When the price of its "services" is set by corrupt politicians instead of market forces?

When competition to government-provided services is forbidden, limited, taxed and regulated out of existence? Or when private companies are unable to compete with services government provides "for free" (at taxpayer expense)?

Government services are INVARIABLY more costly and of lower quality than similar services privately provided. And there's a reason: the government agencies and their workers do not compete for customers in a free market. They will be fully funded and paid whether they do good work or not. They don't have to care whether their customers are happy or not -- because they don't get their money from their customers. They get paid by state and federal governments -- which either print it or extort it from taxpayers.

And the bottom line, I believe, is that government gives bad service because they are bad people -- morally evil. They believe coercion is okay when THEY do it or benefit from it. Well, so does any other thief or murderer.

2. Again regarding your idea that governments behave anarchisticly; here's an absolutely superb article expressing a similar idea. I hope you'll read it -- I think we could have a fun discussion about it. http://mises.org/journals/jls/3_2/3_2_3.pdf

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Preaching to the choir

Yes, the evil of government is rooted in usurpations of consent and zero concern about that. But don't forget, this is something the majority of people sanction. The majority of people have this evil in them. Are you going to go so far as to call *them* evil? I don't. What they are doing is evil, and to the extent that it defines who they are, they are evil, but it usually doesn't define their whole person.

They are mixed. Just as government is mixed. Interesting coincidence? No. It's simple cause and effect. Government is just an emergent property of the people. It's just a reflection of them. You aim your hatred at government, but you should really aim it at the evil idea that has taken root in this or that person's mind. Only by eradicating it from enough people's minds will you see change. Government itself cannot be fought directly (except by other governments).

When this evil idea is eradicated from enough minds, then their government will reflect their new value structure, the one you embrace, but are hampered by accepting this Trojan horse of anarchism. I think anarchism is perhaps an "inside job", or is perhaps at least funded and encouraged by statists. It's extremely effective at making people like us ineffective.

If you want to reliably stop liberty, turn liberty activists into anarchists.

You're not the choir, devil worshiper!

Forgive the humor. But government IS the incarnation of evil. What else do you call the legitimized, organized and institutionalized acceptance of coercion as a proper way for human beings to deal with one another?

And you propose to eradicate this evil idea by working to "reform" the Church of Satan?

I don't think so. The initiation of coercion is the essence of moral evil. Government gives people a way to murder, rob and dictate orders to others without having to wield a gun or issue a threat themselves. Crime is made easy for cowards. The very existence of such a mechanism for legalized violence and plunder is a corrupting and degrading influence on society. As long as legal coercion is socially accepted, immoral people will seek to gain and wield political power , and will be REWARDED for so doing. Government is an efficient mechanism for accomplishing evil -- but not good. "Freedom" means freedom from coercion -- not the freedom to use it against peaceful folk. It means freedom from government, not the freedom to choose which gang of thieves will be your ruler.

I have doubts that political action, in and of itself, by liberty activists, will ever be successful. If change is to come, as you have said, it must come from a change in individual morality. Web sites like Lew Rockwell's, which promote a consistent moral view condemning coercion in all its forms, do far more good at accomplishing this than the political candidacies of folk like Rand Paul and Peter Schiff, who promote sensible economic policies but who shy away from any moral condemnation of government coercion.

It's possible, and even likely, that "anarchism" is not the best name to win friends and influence people. The mainstream media works overtime to ensure that the ONLY definition commonly associated with "anarchy" is "violent chaos." Its original meaning, "without rulers," is no longer well known. What do you think of such alternatives as: "individual sovereignty," "agorism," "voluntaryism" "anarcho-capitalism"?

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose


How does anarchism hamper liberty?

The evil idea in people's minds, which you agree should be eradicated, is that certain initiations of violence and theft are okay. The idea of anarchism shows statists that they support evil and makes them aware of the NAP.

So why do you say that anarchism makes liberty activists ineffective?

Why anarchy is opposed to Liberty

There are two ways anarchy is opposed to liberty.

First, anarchy causes apathy by putting such an insanely impossible vision of the ideal in their heads that neither the anarchist nor the average person could possibly believe it will ever happen. The longtime anarchist becomes disillusioned with humanity and gives up because no one will listen so he concludes nothing will change so why spend the effort. No one will listen because basically, the anarchist's ideas are crazy -- in spite of their generally valid moral base (at least, it's a generally valid base for free market anarchists).

A side effect is that the anarchist tends to cause valid viewpoints to get discredited. I get called an anarchist because my moral base (which recognizes the right of consent) resembles that of anarchists.

Second, anarchists are like doctors who cure cancer by killing the patient. They are in such a mindless rage over the things government is doing that they fail to see that it is a patient in need of a cure. The anger is well justified (and anarchy sites like Lew Rockwell have plenty of good articles examining why you should be angry) -- but the mindlessness is not.

Government is a manifestation of human action, inextricably linked to individual human beings. Would you advocate curing the psychological/moral defect that causes these humans to advocate a government that usurps consent by killing these people? No. It makes just as little sense to try to kill government.

What needs to happen is that the individual minds need to be reformed, this will lead to the possibility of reforming government to match. The fact is, most people consent to the government. They want it. The only problem is that a minority do not consent. That minority needs the freedom of opting out, by going (say) into the wilderness and creating their own systems of government. And by permitting the minority to leave if they want, it naturally pressures the government to reform, because the people who will opt out given the way government is are precisely the most energetic. This is the irony: by permitting people to leave, you cause reform that encourages them to stay.


It makes just as little sense to try to kill government.

It makes a lot of sense to demonstrate how government, which is a violent monopoly, produces negative outcomes and is immoral.

The fact is, most people consent to the government. They want it.

And they should be free to have it as long as it only applies to those who consent.

...the anarchist's ideas are crazy -- in spite of their generally valid moral base

If you agree with the NAP, then you shouldn't have said that.

This is the irony: by permitting people to leave, you cause reform that encourages them to stay.

It's not ironic, it's the result of competition.

I agree with NAP and anarchism is crazy

Anarchism is obviously crazy, "anarcho-capitalism" is just a word game, it's not anarchy it's actually government of a certain kind (that I would not want to be forced to live under). They're tricking a lot of people though so kudos.


I agree with you that government by consent is consistent with the NAP (it's called panarchy) and I have no problem with you, or anyone else, not wanting to "live under" anarcho-capitalism. I like an-cap, so can you tell me why it is inconsistent with the NAP and how it is a form of government?

Panarchy is not the only alternative

Geographically-related governments (townships) are possible too, so long as land owners consent. This is I think the most efficient structure. I would agree that panarchists (and anarcho-capitalists) ought to be free to try their system. I just don't think it would work out in the long run. (The book identified at the link below identifies a "metagovernment" system that permits these and other kinds of variants to exist so long as they don't try to usurp consent).

I think any time a group of people get together to define and implement social rules by force then you have a government. So by definition ancap is government. Ancaps reject this definition of course, they define government as "the system that usurps consent." Well their system would usurp consent too because surely there would be some agencies that would err, in exact proportion to their confusion about the nature of individual rights. If people switched immediately to ancap there'd be a lot of rights usurpation going on given the way most people think. That's why the crucial issue is philosophical -- you have to fix how people think first, then you can start figuring out how to actually reform government.

individual rights

What is the nature of individual rights and why do an-caps get it wrong?

Big topic

See chapters 1-3 of the book (linked below) for the nature of rights.

I don't know that one can talk about ancaps getting rights right or wrong, I think they have a wide selection of arguments coming from different people. I would suppose that they would embrace my argument for rights, just as they embrace other various arguments.

Actually I guess that would be my criticism: that they do not put forth a single theory of rights, they regard NAP as an axiom and don't much care about how the axiom is validated. But for something so important as rights, it's important to have the best possible case for them, and then to advocate for that case, because it is the argument for rights that at root has the most power to convince people to respect them.

Also, it is the argument for rights from which the interpretation springs. It's not enough to simply define the NAP and then expect it to be interpreted rationally.