Sunday, October 7, 2012
What is "Government"?
"@Darjeelingzen u know, if govt's so bad, Y didn't Iraq&Libya just automatically b magically happy places when govt was torn down? @tokyo_tom"
As I often apply a critical lens to institutions of domination (power-over-others), the question is not lost on some observers, that if criticisms of the State (government without unanimity of consensus) were well founded, then why are territories ruled by powerful States sometimes places of relative safety and wealth (such as the "the United States of America" or "the United Kingdom"), whereas regions with weak central institutions of domination ("Somalia", "Afghanistan") are places of relative danger and poverty?
The question is, at least at first glance, very logical: if the State is bad, then why is it that places with a powerful State can be relatively prosperous and safe, while places with no State or at most a very weak State are relatively modest and risky?
I would suggest that for any reasoned response to the question to take place we must define and clarify the fundamental elements; most importantly, a definition of "government" must be established.
What is "government"? How is "government" different from Walmart? How is government different from a church or synagogue? What are the essential differences between "government" and other institutions?
When the sociologist Max Weber asked the question, "What do we mean by politics?" His reply was, "...we wish to understand by politics only the leadership, or the influencing, of a political association, hence today, of a state..." And Weber's identification of the essential difference of the State from all other sociological institutions, "[the State is] a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory."
I accept Weber's identification; for what is "government" in its essential nature, other than the institutionalization of power-over-others to compel obedience? But are there other social institutions which also have this feature? Are there other social institutions which also share the institutionalization of force/domination over a given territory?
Augustine, in his book City of God, wrote this:
"Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor."
I also accept Augustine's identification, that bands of robbers, pirates, and other criminal syndicates, also share the same essential element as does the State or "governments" which are not based in continuous unanimous-consensus. These criminal-syndicates, like every State or State-governments, also attempt to claim control of a given territory via means of force, coercion and/or expropriation. The means employed being the same, the difference between an emperor and a pirate is only in the degree of success.
With this understanding of terms and identification of essential qualities, I believe it would now become clear why Somalia and Afghanistan are places of poverty and danger; it is not because they have too little government, but because they have too much! Every petty robber, institutes his own brand of government on others, and with so many petty governments every where, the people have no safety, and no predictability as to when petty government might attack or rob them, that to become economically productive is to only make one's self a target of a petty government and therefore there is a disincentive to productivity.
Just because a person with in the territory claimed by the corporate institution of "the United States of America" has less government to trouble herself with than does a person in Somalia, is no cause for that person to be thankful that the robber that claims her as a serf or victim, is a greater and grander tyrant preventing so many minor and petty robbers as a person may have in Somalia.
Rather than have a institutionalization of robbers and criminal-syndicates, I would suggest that it would be preferable for all persons to interact in voluntary/consensual ways. It would be preferable to dispense with instituting power-over-others and rather to cooperate having power-with-others. I suggest that peace is preferable to violence; that possessions are preferable to robberies; that cooperation is preferable to domination.