Saturday, May 29, 2010

On The Minimal State and 'Heartlessness'

I believe that an individual's rights (most fundamentally to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, in that order), should have very few restrictions. The only just restrictions of these rights should be when they conflict with another individuals even more fundamental rights. For example, if thrusting a knife into your chest would make me happy, I still would not be justified in carrying out this deed because it interferes with an even more fundamental right of yours; the right to not be assaulted or murdered.

The primary (if not sole) function of the state is to ensure these fundamental rights are granted equally to all citizens. Both through the instruments of the law, as well as through military defense of the nation from foreign threats. This is my conception of the state and it's fundamental duties and responsibilities.

Further it is also my belief that any governmental actions that exceed these few, limited, essential functions are coercive and unjust by their very nature. To illustrate, consider the case of taxation. Outside of funding the few limited functions of government as discussed, what is the function of taxation? To force individuals to pay for collective, social 'benefits' that A) may or may not actually be beneficial to those individuals specifically and B) even if they actually did benefit them, they still may or may not choose to pay for those benefits. Thus, taxation is theft and destruction, at heart. Taxation to fund the few essential functions of government is theft that we just have to tolerate as a trade-off, because the alternative is even less tolerable (that being anarchy).

Now for some relevant quotes:

Thomas Paine:

Government, at it's best, is a but necessary evil; at it's worse an intolerable one.

Chief Justice John Marshall:

The power to tax is the power to destroy

No matter how reasonable a position this is, regardless of how fundamentally humane a philosophy this is (at core concerned with human rights), invariably the most common objections to it are appeals to emotion such as "That's a heartless philosophy", or "You're a cold individual." It's been my experience that such objections arise from fairly unsophisticated thinkers who can't differentiate between the advocation of a public policy and private beliefs. That is to say, it's often assumed that since I'm against what is ostensibly forced charity (an oxymoron if there ever was one), through the instrumentalities of government, then I also must be anti-charity in general. Which is of course blatantly fallacious.

In addition, heartlessness is not wholly a negative quality when it comes to government policy. Government should operate through processes and systems that protect against things like human emotion. Rights, the government, the law, justice; these things should not be human personifications of a collective will. They are processes distilled from human tradition and wisdom which protect against human emotion and error (the most significant products of the 'human will').


  1. I followed just about everything well, up to the point where you said anarchy was even less tolerable. Why is anarchy intolerable?

  2. Mitchell: I take anarchy seriously as an alternative; I don't reject it out of hand. My defense of the necessity for a state-of-nature minimal state would be similar to the defense that Robert Nozick gives in 'Anarchy, State, Utopia'. That would be a whole blog post / essay unto itself though, but briefly: as I said in my blog, a person's rights end when they intrude on another person's rights. Anarchy has no means for assuring that a person's rights are ensured. That is it DOESN'T hold that someone's rights ever end. Which would have disastrous consequences and is not really the logical end point of state-of-nature theory.