What is government?

By Nathan Barton

It helps, now and then, to sit back and ask, just what is this institution?  What is “government?”

We here in the formerly united States, from Maine to Hawaii, Alaska to Florida, are afflicted and infected with more governments than any other people in history.  Let’s choose (just at random, wink) a nice location in a nice state in the Black Hills.  There is “local-local” government: a sanitation district that is a water provider and a regulatory agency, with taxes disguised as fees.  And local government: the nearby city government exercises significant authority over the three-mile zone OUTside its official boundaries. There is the county government with its agencies.  And the school district.  And the fire protection district.  And the water protection district. There is a state government, and even in South Dakota, a whole bunch of agencies.  And there is the FedGov, with its myriad agencies and overlapping authority.  Here, right on the edge of National Forest Lands, with a large military installation nearby, there is LOTS of FedGov around.

Or how about another place, in Southwestern Colorado.  Again, you find local districts and companies that are really just disguised local “special services” districts for water and health and libraries and drainage. And fire and hospital service districts.  And irrigation (or water conservation) districts.  And natural resource (soil) conservation districts. And – get this – a television translator district.  And county government, and exercising some powers that reach outside their boundaries, National Park Lands and a tribal government and its supervisory BIA agency, and state agencies out the kazoo, and of course, more Federal agencies than you can find in the phonebook.

We Americans must LOVE government; we’ve created so many.  In some places, even the city governments have multiplied and created internal, somewhat separate districts, like the boroughs of New York City.  And there are “recreation districts” and “cultural and scientific facilities districts.” And more.  Some counties especially in the Midwest and Great Plains have townships: not a 6×6 mile surveying convenience, but a township government for roads and ditches and recreation.   And some areas have not just school districts but community college districts and educational services districts.

And sometimes, it is pretty obvious that some supposedly private companies are governments in all but name.  Like big utilities companies (Xcel in many states, CenturyLink in others, or BNSF).

And each and every one of them with a governing board (elected or appointed), a “chief executive officer” (or committee or board or manager), elections, taxes (even if sometimes they are called “fees”), and… ultimately, the power of the gun to enforce their laws and collect their taxes and make sure that you don’t stray from their definition of the straight and narrow.

But how do we define them?  The dictionaries are FULL of definitions, each one different. I’m not going to waste your time or mine (or the electrons) to quote the several dozen I found by typing “Definition Government” in Google.  You can do that yourself and see it is just about “anything goes.”  And usually, the definitions have some sort of propaganda built into them.  Here is just one, from “dictionary.reference.com”: “the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc.; political administration: Government  is  necessary to the existence of civilized society.”

See the propaganda?  Government is not necessary to the existence of civilized society, as has been shown more often than we realize in the past.  Indeed, it is sometimes the thing that PREVENTS society from being civilized.

Definitions aside, we can all say, “we know one when we see one.”  At least usually: remember those companies.  To say nothing of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Dutch East Indies Company, or the Chartered Zarathustra Company.

But we can cobble up something that makes general sense.  Government is an institution (organization) that CONTROLS things.  It can control A thing (like a water system or sewer system or library) or a LOT of things (your imagination is not limited).  It normally has a geographical jurisdiction (defined in some way, but literally “to the stars and beyond” in some cases), AND it can use force (directly or indirectly, including both “legalized” fraud and theft) to enforce its control over those things.  And being under control of a government or having government in control of things that you supposedly own and control is INVOLUNTARY.  With a single big exception (moving – assuming you are allowed to – out of the jurisdiction) and a very few limited small exemptions (usually becoming some sort of an innocuous street bum living on handouts at the food bank and soup kitchen), you can’t get out.  (And no, you can’t break even, either.)

So, here is my own definition for “government.”  “Control that is involuntary on the part of the owners of what is being controlled, backed up by the threat and use of force.”  And yes, “things” includes YOU and ME:  our bodies, our time, and as much as possible, our very thoughts and each and every action are just THINGS to be controlled by government.

At this point, does it really matter that government is “democratic” or a “republic” or a “monarchy” or straight dictatorship or kleptocracy?  Not really.  Whether it is the thugs who are loyal to the king (or duke or count or knight or squire) or loyal to “THE PEOPLE”  or the “Senate and People” or “the town council” or the “annual town assembly” or “township board” or “school board” or “library board” or whatever, it is still a relatively small group of people with power (however they gained that power) who head up a hierarchy or bureaucracy or “volunteers” who do THEIR bidding and control your things – and you.   Which is why, at almost any level from a local homeowners’ association (whoops, didn’t list that one up there) to the General Assembly of the United Nations and All the Stars and Planets and Pieces of Rock in the Universe, it is really hard for a rational man or woman (after they overcome their environment (childhood teachings and all)) to see any difference between a “government” and a “criminal organization.”  (Indeed, one popular definition states that “criminal organizations” engage in “illicit activities.”  But who defines “illicit activities?” Well, … governments!  Which is why governments almost NEVER engage in illicit activities, since they can define things as they please.)

Well, shucks!  I’ve run out of space (remember, I’m a self-governor: _I_ decide what controls apply), so I’ll have to pick up this chain of thought later.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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