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Government Is Not Required
Democracy promotes coercion as a first resort, but personal example is more persuasive.

by James Leroy Wilson
November 17, 2005

Many who say they embrace an ideal, don't know how to achieve it except by violating it. They end up discrediting not just themselves, but also the very ideal they proclaim:

  • Those who say they want Peace, go out of their way to look for "threats" to peace. They then don't just prepare defenses, they actually start wars and deny the whole time they ever wanted to go to war.
  • Many who proclaim a God who commands Love Thy Neighbor focus instead on supposed "enemies" to their conceptions of sexuality, family life, or economic justice.
  • Those who screech loudest on the "Separation of Church and State!" don't even realize that in their own hearts they have exchanged the Church with the State, theology for ideology. Otherwise they wouldn't be so uptight about innocuous religious symbols in the public square.
  • Many who shout "Freedom!" view it as an abstraction to impose on the world through guns and bombs, instead of an ethical principle for their own lives.
  • Those who proclaim Democracy only want it if one vote is counted equally and honestly with 150 million others in a Presidential election. Otherwise, they believe in government by bureaucracy and judicial fiat.
  • Many think they defend the  Free Market and pride themselves for their put-downs of capitalism's critics, but then give the credit for economic growth to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a government-created banking monopoly.
  • The "pro-life" community aligns itself with those who want the State to kill with impunity, and the "pro-choice" community aligns itself with those who  want the State to take away individual choice in just about every other sphere of life.
I suppose this should be expected. We don't know light unless we know darkness. That which we love is in many ways defined by what we hate, what we consider evil. We are more concerned with stamping out the evil - which we expect the State to do - then with promoting that which we love. We want to abolish darkness by banning it, regulating it, conquering it, exterminating it, forcing it out somehow. And then, with that absence, we'd expect to see light. That's our hope for the State - not to bring light, but to drive out the darkness. Not to bring good, but at least get rid of evil, so that only good can remain.

Minds that operate this way are infected with Statism. They can't even imagine getting their way through persuasion or cooperation; every worthy social goal requires the State. Requires force. Requires war, coercion, or both. But you can't fight darkness, you can only bring light to it.

The State also distorts our sense of scale. We know in the United States that many will die and many more will be injured by accidents of various sorts. There will also be victims of crime. Lots of Americans will be suffering today that weren't yesterday. You hope nobody you know is one of them, and I feel the same way. And we also know that lots of accidents and crime will befall lots more people all over the world. In our heads we agree that this is unfortunate, but in our hearts we don't really care. To carry on, we must screen out matters that do not concern us; we don't have the time or emotional capacity to weep for every tragedy in the world. Yet, the more abstract the evils are, such as Poverty, Drugs, and Pornography, the more we are inclined to believe that "the government must do something!"

Why do some of us get upset by the science curriculum in the public school of another state, but aren't similarly concerned about the curriculum in Canada, Brazil, or India? Or the number of abortions in the USA, but not in China? Why is the drug addiction of an American I don't know more important than the addictions of people in other countries?

The answer lies in the false promise of democracy. We know there is precious little that can be done to prevent car accidents or abortions in China. It is because we can't do anything, that we don't care all that much. But we do feel that we can do something about abortions or school curricula or drugs or poverty or pornography through the democratic process.

The more the United States has become democratic through expanded suffrage and the direct election of Senators, the more centralized and unlimited its government has become. The curious laws and programs created under democracy - such as the War on Drugs and federal welfare - have not solved the problems they were meant to fix. Rather, they have just made government bigger. More expensive and more intrusive. More importantly, this has triggered a change in our mentality. We have come to believe that government is the appropriate mechanism to address our problems. In a democracy, it is government and coercion, not individuals and cooperation, that are expected to fix things.  

The key to the democratic process is persuasion (or persuasion's dark side, manipulation). But the key to getting anything done is persuasion. Is it not preferable that people persuade each other to do the right thing one-on-one, than to persuade a majority to pass laws reducing the freedom of everyone? If you want to give democracy that power, who's to say that it won't eventually turn against you and prohibit your own lifestyle and activities?

We can't stamp out of evil or vice that other people may, with their ingenuity, try to create. But we can control our own personal behavior and do our best to help our family, friends, and neighbors. What does it matter to you what the laws in other states are, or the prevailing lifestyle choice in another part of town? My vote isn't going to make the country or the world better, but my own thoughts and actions can make my world better. We can each be our own drug-free zone. We can each ban abortion, pornography, or whatever from our lives. We can each pay wages we think are fair, and give to those in need. We can each be our own theocracy or our own secular state.

That's why idealists end up looking like hypocrites. The goals they say they want to achieve can only come about through persuasion and voluntary cooperation, not force, yet they tend to favor force whenever possible. Fortunately, we can each live according to our values and ideals without forcing others to do the same. And we will find out that the less coercive our methods, the more persuasive we become.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country (

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