Robert Murphy2020/07/22

Is Government the antithesis of liberty?

Blog Post July 4, 2020


I have long been an admirer of Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show on
Comedy Central TV. I regarded him as an iconoclast who very often rationally
exposed the hypocrisy and other negative activities of government servants,
corporations, and individuals in our society. In one show, broadcast on October 27,
2011, he was interviewing the libertarian-oriented Judge Andrew Napolitano, and
this interview resulted in 19 questions for Libertarians . Since I was not completely
satisfied with the Judge’s responses, I will list my own thoughts in a series of posts
.
Question 1. Is Government the antithesis of liberty?
So, let’s first define Political Liberty, which is the kind of liberty we’re talking
about. In a society where political liberty is recognized, people are free to act
unless and until their actions can be seen to cause measurable harm to the
liberty or actions of others. That, I think, is a pretty fair Libertarian definition of
political liberty.
So, what is Government? Libertarians define government as that group of
individuals who claim and possess a monopoly on the use of force within a
certain geographical area, and who can use force without fear of retaliation or
retribution.
Too many people think of “The Government” like a divine presence, like a
machine that churns out the rules we live by. IT extracts taxes from us, but IT
provides water, sewers, roads, and a semblance of order in the world. Sometimes
IT can be oppressive, and sometimes IT can be benevolent, but IT is always
present and inevitable.
But government isn’t an IT. Government is people. Those that make the laws we
have to live by are individuals with their own ideas about how things should be.
Many people seem to think that whenever someone is elected or appointed to a
lawmaking position they somehow shrug off their own ideas and work only for
“the public interest’. J.M. Buchanan won a Nobel Prize for pointing out that this
isn’t so – that people elected or appointed to public office take their own ideas
and prejudices with them, and exert their influence to enact those ideas into law.

Government is not a solid entity that acts alone. The laws that governments
enact and enforce are the resultant of many independent decisions by the
individuals of which they’re comprised.
Also, governments - whether monarchies, oligarchies, or democracies – operate
by enacting laws that the people in their area of control must obey, under threat
of arrest, imprisonment, or death for disobedience.
So, to answer the question “is government the antithesis of liberty?” it must be
said that government surely has the potential to be such, depending upon the
sort of laws they enact. Authoritarian governments enact laws that restrict action
or require people to act according to the political ideas that motivate the
individuals that comprise them.
Libertarian governments enact only those laws designed to protect individuals
from the depredations of others – to reduce, as much as humanly possible, the
initiation of force in human interactions.