Friday, September 28, 2012

Government is Force

Columnist Jonah Goldberg has been watching the Democratic National Convention.  And he has something to say about the remarkable idea that "government is just the word we use for those things we do together" a sentiment expressed in a short video shown at the convention.

Well, no, writes Jonah.  Government belongs to the world of non-voluntary tribalism.  We Americans have advanced beyond that to voluntary tribalism.  You could say, he continues, that we now beyond non-voluntary tribalism to the tribe of liberty.

Unfortunately there remain those that suffer from nostalgia for the good old days of compulsory tribalism when you were tied for ever after to the tribe into which you were born.  Unless you were a woman that got married out into the neighboring tribe.  Hello Catherine of Aragon.

I think we should expand the whole notion that Jonah develops.  The point about voluntary tribalism is that it expands the circle of trust beyond traditional tribal notions of kinship, of family and clan.  We could call it a philosophy of trust.  The non-voluntary tribalism, on the other hand, is driven by what philosopher Luc Ferry has called a philosophy of suspicion.  He was talking about Marxism.

Now the philosophy of trust yields a politics of responsibility, based on the responsible self invented in the Axial Age religions, while the philosophy of suspicion yields a politics of the victim.  Of course it does.

The interesting thing about the philosophy of suspicion is that, when the old non-voluntary tribes of blood have broken down--the tribes that defined people by their locality and their mistrust of the village down the road--suspicion finds new targets for its hate.  It finds its targets within the larger community, by dividing people by class and race.  The genius of Marx was to be the first person to redefine the philosophy of suspicion for the modern age.  He created the first modern politics of the victim and the first modern victim class, the proletariat.

So along come our Democratic friends and tell us that "government is just the word we use for those things we do together."

No it isn't, Democrats.  Government is the word for the rump of things that we still do under the old culture of non-voluntary tribalism.  In the new world of the philosophy of trust, peopled by the multitude of responsible selves practicing the politics of responsibility, there is less and less need for unthinking compulsion and conformism.

But there is a tribe of nostalgic reactionaries amongst us that want to turn back the clock to the bad old days of the philosophy of suspicion.  They talk about victims and rights, and programs and fair shares.  Stuck in the old world of suspicion and compulsory tribalism, they see pollution and danger, witches and heretics everywhere they look.  And they want to bring everything under the shadow of government and compulsion, so determined are they to eliminate the targets of their suspicions, whether Christians, greedy bankers and insurance companies, white racists, or patriarchs.

This is wrong, a remnant of the old order, that is poisoning our new culture of trust and responsibility.

Back in the days of the Roman Republic, the senator Cato the Elder frequently referred to the need to defeat Carthage.  "Carthago delenda est," he would say.

Our challenge is different.  Our need is to remind our liberal friends every day that government is not a nice cosy word for doing things together.  It is not.  Government is the word for things we force our fellows to do and that others force us to do.

Government is not doing things together.  Government is force.  And we conservatives should remind our fellow Americans--and ourselves--of this fact, and we should do so frequently.

Government is force.  Say it.  Write it.  Repeat it.

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