March 13, 2003

Spineless wimps

Car sticker of the day: I was going to class and I passed a car in the parking lot that had a big square sticker smack dab in the center of the back window. It had a stylized red hand giving the finger to anyone looking at the back window, and one of those circles with the slash inside over the name "Jeb Bush." A message was written on it too: "I love my country but I fear my government."

My immediate thought was: for ghod's sake will you people grow a goddamned spine already???

I mean, come on -- "afraid" of our government? Here's an example of what this era's Reign of Terror comes up with to turn us all into a mass of quivering jelly:

Update. Now Serving in All House Office Buildings, 'Freedom Fries,'" read a sign that Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Walter Jones of North Carolina placed at the register in the Longworth Office Building food court.

Oh! My! God! I! Am So! Terrified! Save me! Save me from the dreaded Fries Renamers! Aieee!!!

We are a nation of babies. Give us our strained peas or give us death.

(Tracking back to Juan Gato's Bucket o' Rants, because I can.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at March 13, 2003 12:46 AM

Dear Andrea,

Much as I hate to disagree with you, this time around, I must.

There are good reasons to fear governments -- any government, anywhere, at any time. Government holds a geographical monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and coercion, inherently dangerous things. Fear and distrust of government are essential ingredients in the recipe for freedom.

Can fear and distrust of government be pushed too far? Of course. Are some governments more to be feared than others? Again, of course. But all governments should be feared, let's say in a "standby" or normally vigilant way, simply because they are governments, with that inherent property of legitimized coercion which the individual citizen is normally powerless to oppose.

When should one's fear of a particular government rise from "standby" to "active engagement, weapons armed and free"? Two times:
- When a government has begun to act in an overtly unjust, liberty-destroying manner, in particular by violating its Constitutional constraints;
- When it has begun to trumpet its benignity.

The first is obvious. The second might not be -- but no less a figure than Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis has told us to be most wary of the State when its avowed purposes are to "do good." Good intentions have justified more horror and tyranny than any other influence except outright power-lust.

A little fear of the State is a healthful thing. And, like a vaccination against a contagious disease, it protects your neighbor quite as much as you. Please don't be so quick to dismiss or decry it.

All my best,
Fran Porretto

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at March 13, 2003 at 07:50 AM

Do you think the driver in question was concerned about government's "geographical monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and coercion"?

Posted by: RJT at March 13, 2003 at 09:29 AM

Fear doesn't accomplish much. Resolve does. As Andrea says, these people should grow a spine and actually do something, instead of decorating their cars.

I'm not entirely enamored of Jeb Bush. In particular, I lack any appreciation for the wisdom of his choice of Glenda Hood as Secretary of State. As a PR move, it sucked. Glenda Hood can always be counted on to act on her self-interest, irrespective of whether said action goes contrary to what she's being paid to do.

What a horrible mistake. Hood exemplified all that was wrong and corrupt in Florida politics, and now she's Secretary of State. On the bright side, though, it's possible she can do less harm there, not being in a position to make major spending decisions.

Posted by: David Perron at March 13, 2003 at 10:19 AM

Actually, I agree with both of you.

I agree that the lefty loon is a fucknut who needs to grow a spine, and I agree with Francis that the moment you start NOT fearing (or being skeptical towards, at the very least) government of ANY sort, you're about to have your ass handed to you.

Put it another way: The only kind of government I'm comfortable with is the kind that rightfully fears its population and has good reason to do so.

But hey, we're splitting hairs here. Great Mini-Fisk, Andrea! :)

Posted by: Emperor Misha I at March 13, 2003 at 11:31 AM

I had assumed that we on the right had a monopoly on fearing the government, since the left feeds it as much as it can eat. Why would anyone who fears the government campaign for higher taxes and centralized authority?

Oh, I remember. Because they don't think.

Posted by: Steve H. at March 13, 2003 at 12:18 PM

I keep seeing this "government has a monopoly on force" statement on anarchist websites, as it's used as the (seemingly logical) end-all-be-all reason to abolish all government.

What nobody's been able to answer, though is that if ever citizen has the right to defend him-or-herself from an attacker, then the government doesn't have a monopoly on force. Tell this to an anarchist and you get a blank stare in return.

Basically what I'm asking is, what don't I understand about this "monopoly on force" thing?

Posted by: geoff at March 13, 2003 at 01:31 PM

"every" citizen, corrected Captain Typo.

Posted by: geoff at March 13, 2003 at 01:32 PM

"I had assumed that we on the right had a monopoly on fearing the government, since the left feeds it as much as it can eat."

No, they make us hapless taxpayers feed it as much as it can eat. What they fear is a government reclaimed from them by us hapless taxpayers.

And rightly so. <evil grin>

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at March 13, 2003 at 02:19 PM


The "monopoly on force" is not an argument about abolishing government (much as anarchists might wish). It is a statement that the government does not have the right to disarm citizens (more accurately, a government that disarms its citizens has a monopoly on force and therefore no check on its abuses).

You should also get used to blank stares from "anarchists" because they are standard equipment. Most self-described "anarchists" (about 95%, based on the ones I've run into) are actually socialists and don't recognize it. Just try having a conversation about global capitalism with one and see how long it takes him to begin ranting about the evil corporations.

Posted by: Ken Summers at March 13, 2003 at 03:02 PM

Geoff, it's not a "monopoly on force" that government holds, but a monopoly on the presumption that its uses of force are legitimate. If you or I kill someone, we will almost certainly stand trial. If a government agent kills someone "in the performance of his duties," the odds are better than even that he will not stand trial.

Lawmaking power presumes enforcement power -- legitimacy of coercion is conferred by the legislature. Legislatures can, quite obviously, make bad law, but good or bad, while the law is in effect, the use of force by agents of the State to compel its observance and punish its violation is granted the presumption of legitimacy. That's the defining characteristic of a government.

And that's why fear of government, even a good government that's stayed within Constitutional bounds, is not something we should rid ourselves of entirely.

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence -- it is force. Like fire and fear, it is a dangerous servant and a terrible master." -- from George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at March 13, 2003 at 04:48 PM

Steve H: Those who fear government on the Left fear it, above all, when they are not in charge. Once they ARE in charge, of course, all will be made right, the gun-owners will be silenced, the people who deserve money will get it, and those who do not will have it completely taxed out of their pockets (as Kevin noted). Thus, government must be fed, so long as the Left can eventually take it over.

Francis: While I agree w/ your general observation, fortunately, the US is not yet Great Britain. If person X attacks me, and I shoot him in self-defense, we may or may not stand trial, depending on the state (and the local attorney general). Indeed, if you come into my house w/ intent to rob/maim/rape/kill and I shoot you, many a district attorney, I suspect, won't bother trying me at all (depending on the state, of course).

Posted by: Dean at March 13, 2003 at 07:21 PM

Well, Dean, with regard to this observation you made:

-- Indeed, if you come into my house w/ intent to rob/maim/rape/kill and I shoot you, many a district attorney, I suspect, won't bother trying me at all (depending on the state, of course). --'s certainly true that there are jurisdictions in which the presumption of your right of self-defense would be strong enough to shield you from trial, or to see to your acquittal if you were tried. (Though I don't live in one, damn it all.) But there's still a substantial gap between that state of affairs and the presumptions that go along with being an agent of the State and acting for it. To put it in the most compressed possible form: Private citizens are policed by the State. The State's agents largely police themselves -- when they trouble to do so.

Furthermore, the State's privilege of legitimate coercion rests on the willingness of the citizenry to tolerate it -- but to overturn that privilege nearly always requires a revolution, a big-time shooting war with guns and bombs and flying lead. By contrast, the citizen's presumed right of self-defense can be abridged by legislative action, after which taking that defensive shot exposes him to legal hazards that could reach all the way to the death penalty. So there are important conceptual differences between the two cases.

To return to the main matter at hand: A little fear of government -- enough to keep one watchful, suspicious eye on it at all times, even when it's on its best behavior -- is entirely justified and healthful. Remember too the kind of person who seeks government power: vainglorious, overly confident that he knows what's best for you, and excessively capable of rationalizing whatever sort of mischief he thinks is "for the greater good." If you're not a little fearful of him, I have a wonderful commercial opportunity for you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at March 14, 2003 at 07:07 AM

Here in Michigan, if you shoot an intruder you might very well go to jail. The intruder can file charges, and you'll have to prove you did not invite him into the house.

The odd bit being that if you kill the intruder, he won't be able to file charges, so you're better off.

It's a weird state.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at March 14, 2003 at 08:09 AM

But even for Michigan, it's still true: Better tried by twelve than carried by six.

Posted by: Ken Summers at March 14, 2003 at 09:19 AM