The Necessity of Govenment
Written By David Kelley
Political-economic theory in America is increasingly losing its compass. Sustainable Development activists promote policies of unlimited government intervention and many intellectuals promote the opposite side of the political spectrum – anarcho capitalism. This 30 year old essay charts the course for a political-economic theory predicated on reason and logic – the necessity of limited government. From the Freeman, April 1974.
Anarchism is, on the face of it, a political philosophy; it is, therefore, a theory about the proper relation between the individual and the government. The theory is very simple: it is that
there is no proper relation between the individual and the government – because there ought to be no government. For this reason, anarchism is held by many to be a simple-minded theory. By many on
the right, however, it is held to be merely a simplification of their basic principles, with all the appeal of such simplicity. For libertarians believe that government has fewer proper functions
than it currently assumes, in this country and others; and when the so-called free market anarchists say that government has no proper function, it is often thought that they are merely taking the
principle of liberty, with great rigor if little wisdom, to a logical extreme. And this image of the anarchist as a logical purist, as a friend of rigor though the skies fall, is also cultivated very
assiduously by the anarchists themselves. But the image, I suggest, is an illusion. Logic, like virtue, is something of which one cannot have an excess; but anarchism is distinguished by its lack of
that quality. Its antipathy to law apparently extends even to the laws of thought.
The first and most basic failure of the anarchist logic is its failure to notice a crucial distinction. An anarchist is one who wishes to place coercion, the use of force and the ability to use it, on the market. The use of force to prevent the initiation of force against its citizens is the basic function of government, and the essence of "free market" anarchism is to hold that this service should be on the market, like any other. In holding this view, anarchists overlook a crucial difference between this coercive service, and all other economic goods and services.
The distinctive feature of coercion derives from the position of values in the market place. Values are, in the first instance, the subject of moral philosophy, whose task it is to discover their
nature, and to formulate the proper standards for evaluation goods and actions, means and ends. This task is one of discovery, because values are objective. It is a fact that some things are values
whereas others are not; it is a fact that some things are more valuable than others. In a free market and a free society, however, individuals may pursue whatever ends they choose, regardless of
whether they really are valuable; and they may apportion their time and money to things in ways that may or may not reflect the relative importance of these values. People can and of course should
take moral considerations into account, but nothing compels them to do so.
Despite the protestations of statists from Plato onward, there is no contradiction here. For in a free society, the actions of one person do not restrict the proper liberty of another, including his liberty to act morally. one has no right, therefore, to restrict the actions of someone just because they are immoral. In a free market, the production of trade and economic goods are determined by individual value preferences; and whether these are moral or immoral, rational or irrational, the exchanges of economic goods to which they give rise do not violate anyone’s rightful freedom – that is to say, his rights. Your enjoyment of your rights is not endangered by my misuse of mine. If this were not the case, then to the extent that it were not, the market would have to be regulated by some institution outside of the market: for the market is unjustifiable if it allows for the violation of individual rights. Fortunately, the market as we know it does not allow this, and requires no outside regulation – with the exception of a single economic good: coercion.