Here in the 21st century, we look back at people in past centuries with a sense of amazement that they actually believed the things they said, and apparently saw nothing wrong with doing the things they did. Most people in past centuries were, by today’s standards, incredibly violent, vindictive, racist, sexist, homophobic bigots. We are rightly appalled that slavery - ownership of one man by another - was not only tolerated and accepted, but supported and rationalized, by almost everyone in society – even the slaves themselves. We are appalled that brutal forms of punishment, like hanging, beheading, burning at the stake, torture, having limbs cut off and eyes gouged out etc, were once the norm, even for the most trivial of crimes or sometimes for no crime at all. We are appalled that even in the 20th century, racism and sexism were the norm, and nobody seemed to have much of a problem with it.
We believe we are now more enlightened. But what will future generations think of our values, attitudes and morals? Is there anything we consider normal (not immoral) today, that future generations will be appalled and ashamed of? Do we have any blind spots? I think we do.
A lot of people today make arguments in favor of government actions. Take the statement “I think the government should enforce a minimum wage law.” This statement doesn’t seem so bad – it is economically ignorant, to be sure, because it hurts the very people it is supposed to help – but is it immoral? It doesn’t seem immoral in the same way that a statement such as “I think black people should be slaves of white people” is immoral.
But are they really that different? Both statements are supporting the use of violence by one class of people against another. Supporting a minimum wage law means supporting the use of violence by one class of people – who call themselves ‘the government’ – against another class: employers and employees, who are trying to make a voluntary exchange with each other for mutual benefit. In both cases, the violence is aggression: whites initiate violence against blacks when they enslave them; the government initiates violence against employers and employees when it threatens them with fines or imprisonment them for breaking the minimum wage law. How could it possibly be that one initiation of violence is moral while the other is immoral?
Most people today support a great many different kinds of government action, ranging from having government merely operating courts, police and defense services, to controlling schools, healthcare, money and banking, and regulating markets, through to all-out socialism, where government controls everything.
I believe people in the future will look back at us today with bafflement, confusion and shame, for the way most of us not merely tolerate, but actively and passionately support this institution called government. Future generations will ask of us: what were they thinking?
Could they not see the contradiction inherent in having an institution set up to protect rights and liberty, which must necessarily violate rights and trample on liberty in order to exist?
Could they not see anything immoral with having one small group of people acting “above the law” and controlling the lives of everyone else, using threats of violence? Why did they think that taxation was anything but mass robbery? Why did they think war was anything but mass murder? Why did they think mass robbery and mass murder were OK as long as they were done by someone acting as government?
Why did they keep turning to government to help solve the problems that the government itself had created? Was it not obvious to them that the cause of all the war, poverty and suffering they complained about was the very same government they supported so zealously?
Why did they think more violence was a good solution to social problems? Why did they keep demanding more laws, regulations, central planning and control? Why did they keep giving up their rights for empty promises of security and prosperity?
How did they ever expect to be able to find some selfless angel to run the country? Why did they think that someone needed to run the country in the first place? How arrogant/ignorant/utopian were they to think that, even if they found such an angel, he would be able to run the country better than the country runs itself?
Could they really not imagine a world without government?