Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:




Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote of the Day: Baltimore 2015 Edition

what ifI’ve been thinking quite a bit about the situation in Baltimore and the very state of our culture. This Facebook status update I came across yesterday is very worthy of repeating here.

I really wish people would stop posting Freddie Gray’s criminal record, as if that makes him deserving of having his spine broken while in police custody, killing him. You can’t claim to be a supporter of constitutional rights, yet care nothing of Freddie Gray’s rights. This brother was no less deserving of his life than any white collar criminal. I don’t support rioting & looting, but I also won’t support those who think his life was worth less than the next person, or that he got what he deserved. He was the victim in this case, and his record is irrelevant… – Talitha McEachin

Agreed. Unless Freddie Gray presented a presented a threat to the lives of the police officers while he was in custody*, the police had no right to use the force they used that ultimately ended his life. Whether he was arrested one time or a thousand has nothing to do with how Gray was treated.

*Of course at this point, we don’t really know what happened while Gray was in custody. This is yet another argument for the notion that each and every moment the police are interacting with a suspect that these interactions should be recorded and made available (eventually) to the public. There’s simply no excuse for this not to be the policy of every police department in 2015.

Yes, There Really Are Two Americas. Look At How Different The South Is


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the War Between the States. The Northern states, fighting to preserve the Union and (later) to end slavery, defeated the Southern states in a war that resulted in over 600,000 dead.

The war all but ended the concept of state soverignty as the question of secession was decided on the battlefield. The war also gave birth to concept of American nationalism as Americans began to consider themselves as American before being a citizen of their state.

However, America is probably now divided more than it has been in decades. The nation seems to be hopelessly gridlocked politically. Meanwhile, the culture wars are in full swing with social justice warriors going to war against traditionalists and libertarians. There really are two Americas.

What explains the division? I argue that culture and region probably provide the best clues to the division of America.

The Economist had an excellent article earlier this month describing how the South is still culturally different from the rest of the country. Why is that the case?


The dividing line is actually religion.

Religion is a better explanation of southern exceptionalism. The civil war divided most of America’s Protestant sects, says Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame. Both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches split into northern branches, which opposed slavery, and southern branches, which did not. Even after slavery ended, theological divisions persisted. In the north, which saw mass immigration from all over the world in the decades after the war, Protestant churches had to find some accommodation with Jews, Catholics and, eventually, non-believers.



In the South the share of those born outside America (which was low to begin with) actually fell after the civil war. New migrants moved west or north but rarely south. Because of this, southern churches could hold more traditional views without challenge. Those tented revival meetings that were such a feature of southern Protestantism were not intended to win converts so much as to purify and strengthen beliefs that were already there.



The Southern Baptist movement, which is strongly associated with the “values voters” who favour the Republicans, has its origins in support for slavery. Southern Baptists have long since updated their views on race, as the many black Southern Baptist pastors attest, but the movement’s social conservatism endures. And southerners are unusually observant: Utah is the only non-southern state where church attendance is as high as in Dixie.



Southerners are also known for being fiercely individualistic. As the rest of America becomes more secular, it should be no surprise that the region still strongly believes in the Protestant work ethic and tends to be more supportive of limited government. They’re also willing to forgo a large portion of the safety net because religious charities will largely step up and fill the role.

Another interesting thing about Southern culture is how it tends to leave its mark on surrounding cultures. There are reasons why in particular heavily Catholic south Louisiana, pre-dominately Catholic Hispanics in Texas, and the Catholic Cuban-American community in Miami are more conservative than Catholics in New England and the Midwest. Those Southern values of individualism, hard work, personal responsibility and family values have rubbed off on those communities.

Here’s an interesting map from The Economist article.

Courtesy: The Economist

Courtesy: The Economist

A lot of the orange on the map corresponds to the red state/ blue state maps on presidential elections. The more secular states tend to vote Democratic while the more religious states vote Republican. The views on abortion and gay marriage also tend to align with religious viewpoints.

As you can see, America is deeply divided between a more religious and ironically more individualistic South and Midwest and the more secular coasts. Could the differences between these two Americas lead to secession and civil war? Who knows.

Now, I don’t believe you have to be religious to be moral and that all religious people are moral. But I do believe that a free society only survives when it’s populated by a moral people. The purpose of this post is not to pass judgement on anyone’s religious beliefs.

Let me close with something. We have quite a few non-religious and atheist contributors here who believe in free markets and secular values. I value them all and I’m proud to call them friends. I also know they’re the exception, rather than the rule among secularists. Most atheists generally lean to the left and conservative and libertarian atheists tend to be the exception than the norm.

Here’s an exit question: do you think many secularists replace religion with a belief in the state and social justice and that’s why they’re hostile to limited government? Let us know in the comments.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act


Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.


The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

5 Memes that Need to Die

Internet memes – what would social networks look like without them? We all “like” some, share, and laugh at the most clever ones (others…not so much). Memes are a simple way to communicate to your social network your opinion on various issues from issues as serious as war and peace to more innocuous issues like which way is the proper way to install a roll of toilet paper (I’m an anarchist on that question). Not everyone has the time to write lengthy blog posts about these issues but almost everyone has enough time to click “share.” Like blog posts do, sometimes, these memes open up great discussions or debates (but often devolve into childish nonsense…sadly).

There are a few memes that are so incredibly inane that you will wish there was a “dislike” or “this is so stupid” button option when it crosses your news feed. The following are 5 memes which deserve to die by way of a logical response. These are numbered but not intended to be in any particular order as they all just need to die.

1. Those Dastardly Koch Brothers

For some reason, people on the Left have a huge hate on for the Koch brothers. If we are to believe the above meme, the Koch brothers are so rich and powerful that they could single-handedly fire 17 or more congressmen. Apparently, its only a few wealthy individuals and/or multinational corporations which advocate Right-wing ideas who lobby in Washington or contribute to campaigns and form super PACs.

According to, Koch Industries ranked #14 in the 2014 election cycle and #50 all time. To put the remaining contributors into perspective in the 2014 election cycle, 29 of the top 50 corporations donated most or all their money to Democrat/liberal campaigns while 9 donated most or all their money to Republican/conservative campaigns (the remaining 12 donated more or less evenly to both though some certainly leaned more one way or the other).

Of course, dividing these campaigns into “liberal” and “conservative” is itself, problematic. David Koch is more of a libertarian (small “L” to be sure) than a conservative. He supports many of the same causes that progressives do such as cutting military spending, being anti-war, supporting gay rights, and ending the war on (some) drugs. Apparently being socially liberal isn’t good enough; being fiscally conservatives make the Koch brothers the spawn of Satan.

The underlying complaint here is that there is too much money in politics. I have a very simple and practical solution: if you don’t like money in politics, get politics out of money. If those in congress only did what they were constitutionally permitted to do there would be little or no reason to lobby at all.

2. Drug Test Everyone on Welfare
drug test
I have to admit that I was a little more sympathetic to the notion of drug testing people receiving welfare when I first heard it being proposed. After all, when you take money from taxpayers who are earning and paying for your basic necessities of life, do you not at least have the obligation to prove you aren’t blowing the money getting high instead of looking for work?

While this is a great idea as a principle, it turns out its a terrible idea in the real world. If the idea of drug testing is to save money, then the problem is – it doesn’t. Florida had this law (before it was struck down by a federal judge) and the results were quite interesting. Of 4,086 people who were tested for drugs, a whopping 108 tested positive. The costs of requiring the welfare recipients to take the drug tests cost more that what it saved from rejecting the 2.6% who failed. Other states which have tried this experiment had similar results.

I think its very important for those of us who dislike the welfare state remember that its not just the poor who receive it. There are parasites whose entire existence is made possible only through wealth redistribution but there is more than one class of parasite. If the true reason behind drug testing is to humiliate those receiving a government check (because we now understand that it isn’t to save money) then we should ask the board members and CEOs of all the major corporations receiving corporate welfare and bailouts to stand in line to fill the cup up to the line as well.
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