In the commentary “what do we mean by liberty?” we looked at several definitions. Some of those mentioned “government.” One reason we like the American Heritage definition is it speaks of control or restrictions “by a government or other power.”
Just because we don’t call some things “government” does not mean that they are not “authorities” or “powers-that-be”! They are very much like government. What is a government? Or at least, a human government? Some entity whose members (officers/officials and employees, at least) are of the belief that they have the power over other people to force them to do (or not do) certain things, “legally.” Coupled with the understanding (the belief) that these people (individually or as a group) can use force to make you do/not do something. Or to punish you if you do not comply. Even deadly force. Mandatory government.
There are many powers on this earth that believe that they can control other people. Yes, some of them are “governments” but there are many more: businesses (like utilities companies and other supposed monopolies, such as social media), churches (religious organizations, not the building!), criminal or outlaw gangs, certain people in “positions of authority” whether they are supervisors or human resources managers or straw bosses, and more. People in certain professions, like medicine and law, tend to be that way. Landlords and property managers.
One of us here at TPOL recently posted this “I’m allowed to do what’s best for me, even if it upsets people.” Or, we should add, even if it offends people. Who decides what is “best for me?” We do. At least as long as we are adults – able to understand responsibility and consequences. That, to belabor the obvious, is liberty.
But that is not how government and these other powers think and respond. These powers claim not only the power (“right”) to tell you what to do and not do, not only to punish you for not obeying, but also the power to decide if their actions are excessive or oppressive. Which is, of course, the problem with the standard definitions of liberty – we are expected to allow the very people who have the power to oppress us to decide if they are being oppressive.
(An aside: Note: offending or upsetting someone is not a violation of either the golden rule or the zero-aggression principle. Especially if that someone thinks they know better than you do.)
That is NOT supposed to be that way. That is why a republican form of government is the least intolerable (but still intolerable!) form of human, mandatory government. Such a government is LIMITED by its fundamental principles and foundation document(s). Its power is limited, not by the ability of the people of that power to enforce their will, but by clearly-stated limits and prohibitions which can be enforced against them even by those normally subject to its power – voluntarily or involuntarily.
Which is why lovers of liberty – libertarians and anarcho-capitalists/free-market anarchists – reject mandatory government, whatever it is called. The only acceptable kind of jurisdiction and obedience to rules is that which is voluntarily-agreed to. And only if that voluntary acceptance can be withdrawn at any time – and honored by those in positions of authority.
Even if mandatory governments technically start off that way (even with L. Neil’s Covenant of Unanimous Consent), it is only a matter of time before that principle is betrayed. But with a real republic, it may take a little bit longer. Especially if that republic is in the form of a federation or a free association. But you still won’t have to hold your breath very long.
Government is so bad for liberty that it might even been seen as an antonym. But all these other forms of power can be just as tyrannical, given the time and people unwilling to pay the price of liberty.