By Mike Cronin
To commemorate President’s Day, let’s use the above quote, allegedly from George Washington, as the genesis of a thought experiment. What if we replace the word “government” with the word “force” and ask what it is properly used for?
Is force a moral way to protect yourself from violence initiated by others? I say yes. Therefore, by extension, using government to deter violent attack, or to retaliate for the same, is proper. The policing, defense, and intelligence functions of government are legitimate for this reason.
Is it moral to enforce contractual agreements and hold fraudsters accountable? Again, I say yes, and again, I say the criminal justice functions of government are legitimate for this purpose.
Is it moral to use force to entertain people? I say no. Government funding for the arts is immoral in this context, not to mention absurd.
Is it proper to use force to educate people? Once again: it is the wrong tool for the job.
Is it moral to use force to prevent you neighbor from viewing material you believe to be objectionable? I say no. By extension, it is improper to rely on government to tell us what we can and cannot view (unless that material is produced by violating the rights of others, as in the case of child pornography).
How about using force to provide people a retirement check, health insurance, unemployment compensation, or other “entitlements?”
Or using force to provide subsidies, corporate bailouts, tax “credits,” and to manipulate the economy?
I could go on, but I think you see where I am going with this. If it is wrong for an individual to initiate the use of force against his or her neighbor directly, then it is just as wrong to employ the coercive power of government to commit the same crime by proxy.
Force is not only immoral to use outside of the context of protection from violence, fraud, or other violations of our rights, it is also manifestly the wrong tool for most jobs. Using force to educate, or entertain, or to invent and deliver entitlements, is like using a sledgehammer to wash windows. The most likely outcome will be glass shards on the floor. Yet even if you manage to avoid shattering the glass, you still won’t get the windows clean.
That is the reason the Founders wrote the Constitution: to restrict the forcefulness of government to only those very few functions where force is the proper response, and to prevent its absurdly destructive employment against us in every other facet of life.