Government is force

“When push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” – King George III (Hamilton: An American Musical)


There is a clever trick liberals like to use whenever they push for higher taxes that has become a great pet peeve of mine. They will invariable say something along the lines of “we’re just asking those who can afford it to pay a little bit more.” There is one word in that sentence that really grinds my gears. Take a moment to see if you can guess what it is. Yes, I oppose higher taxes in principle and for their results, but have you figured out what word in that sentence really annoys me? It’s “ask.”

The government does not “ask” anyone to pay taxes. The government passes laws and then requires citizens and resident aliens to pay taxes under threat of punishment. And this leads me to my larger point: all government action is based on the implicit threat of force.

Many people know Max Weber’s definition of government as an entity with “the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.” But what most people don’t think about is that that threat of force lies behind every action the government takes.

This is clearly necessary and often right and proper. The only means of persuading a potential criminal such as a murderer or burglar against their lawbreaking, or punishing them after the crime is committed, is if the government is willing to use force to penalize them. We are not anarchists, so we all agree this is an appropriate use of government authority.

But realize that everyone who disobeys any law the government passes is a criminal, and subject to the same reasoning. Obviously the government does not apply the same level of force to all law breakers, but the implicit threat of force exists for everyone and every crime.

Consider the most mundane act of law breaking you can imagine, the stereotypical parking ticket. If you park your car on the wrong side of the road on the second Tuesday of the month, thereby blocking street cleaners, a government employee will leave a ticket on your car windshield. No jackbooted thug came and beat you up, but you are now expected to pay a fine to the government. What happens if you choose not to pay? In America, we live under a relatively benevolent government, so there are still no jackboots echoing in the distance, and it is not economical to send agents after every delinquent parking ticket. Somewhere, a government employee marks down that you failed to pay a parking ticket in a timely manner, sends a notice, and goes on with their day.

But imagine you keep ignoring the government’s instructions. Ask “what’s next” at each step. Depending on your jurisdiction, the government typically does one of two things: it either takes your property (your car or your paycheck) or it issues an arrest warrant. Now try disobeying the government when they come to impound your car or arrest you. All you did was prevent a small portion of the road from being cleaned, and now the government is sending men with guns to seize your property or your person. If the government declares a section of the road is to be cleaned every other Tuesday, there is an implicit threat of force to prevent you from interfering with that.

I am not necessarily saying this is wrong. We need an orderly society and the government cannot adequately function if it allows willful disobedience of its laws. But whenever we discuss a law or propose a new one, we should remember that the government does not “ask” us to do anything; it commands and expects us all to obey. The obvious followup to this realization should be to ask if everything the government does is worth the threat of force that accompanies even noble intentions.