Friday, November 17, 2006

It's a Gun, All Right

Stefan Molyneux, had an interesting post up at Lew Rockwell yesterday -- the day after I posted this about the fundamental nature of government. An excerpt:
One of the most difficult – and essential – challenges faced by libertarians is the constant need to point out "the gun in the room." In political debates, it can be very hard to cut through the endless windy abstractions that are used to cover up the basic fact that the government uses guns to force people to do what they do not want to do, or prevent them from doing what they do want to do. Listening to non-libertarians, I often wish I had a "euphemism umbrella" to ward off the continual oily drizzle of words and phrases designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence. We hear nonstop nonsense about the "social good," the "redistribution of income," the "education of children" and so on – endless attempts to bury the naked barrel of the state in a mountain of syrupy metaphors.

It is a wearying but essential task to keep reminding people that the state is nothing but an agency of violence. When someone talks about "the welfare state helping the poor," we must point out the gun in the room. When someone opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, we must point out the gun in the room. When someone supports the reduction of taxes, we must point out the gun in the room – even if one bullet has been taken out.

So much political language is designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence that libertarianism sometimes has to sound like a broken record. We must, however, continue to peel back the euphemisms to reveal the socially-sanctioned brutality at the root of some of our most embedded social institutions.
Now, the "we" talk puts me off a little; I'm not a libertarian, and the only category title that I claim at this point is "Christian." But I do like the linguistic approach that Mr. Molyneux takes here -- reminiscent of my hero George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language". It is shamefully necessary to choose or invent alternative terms for robbery and murder, if we insist on robbing and murdering, and simultaneously pretending that we aspire to being good people.

Mr. Molyneux might want to avoid saying "we" while talking about libertarians. Libertarian is like conservative in that both have lost any real, concrete meaning, owing to their adoption -- or, rather, their co-option -- by the unprincipled.

6 comments:

lemming said...

The gun in the room - I have ymy cynical moments, but that does seem a slightly dark angle to bring to government. Whatever happened to John Locke?

Bartleby said...

John Locke -- regrettably, he remains deceased. However, that great gettin'-up morning is twenty-four hours closer with each passing day, I think.

About the gun -- it refers to the state's assumption of a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Certainly, you don't always see the gun ... but it's always there. Example: the state forbids, say, the smoking of the marijuana. The state's law doesn't say that if you smoke the herb, you'll be shot; instead, it says that you'll be deprived of your freedom and assigned to one of the state's Anal Rape Gulags for some fixed amount of time. Now, maybe I decline to accept that deal, and refuse to go to Bend Over Land. If I persist in my refusal, I'll end up looking up the bad end of the Gun ... and if I persist in my persistence, at some point that will be my last sight on earth.

Even the most benevolent thing that the state does, it does with money extracted from its subjects using the Gun (or the threat of the Gun, which will be ultimately be made good, if necessary).

Now, I'm not exactly an anarchist either; I'm a Christian, and in that context I see the state as another consequence of man's fallen and sinful nature. In other words, I regard the state as an inevitable consequence of the Fall, in the same way as physical death. I just think it's important to keep an eye on the truth of what we're dealing with, in the form of the state. I think it's important to call things by their right names -- especially when they are so often euphemized.

To use a somewhat lighter (and cruder) comparison, living with the state is like needing to occasionally void one's bowels: it's an inevitable concomitant of life in the flesh. One does it; but one does it in private, and washes one's hands afterward. It isn't something to hang celebratory red-white-and-blue bunting on.

mort said...

How about outlining another piece of the puzzle for me as I am slow of brain, and ill suited to libertarian lingo. Does your Christianity modify your Libertarianism or is the reverse true? Since Paul in Romans 13:1-7 says that the state can ligitimately use "the gun" (or the sword in 1st century non-libertarian lingo) are you debating about what the proper use of the "the gun" is? Or is the issue whether that text is to be dismissed? "it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God" seems pretty clear that some force has divine sanction. What limits do you see on that and how does it (or should it) apply today in the almost anarchistic USA?

TW said...

I wonder if the liberals among us would feel the same after reading your short piece? They are already the biggest advocates for guns in the room and seem to have unlimited ideas for more.

Bartleby said...

TW: I mostly agree with you there. I say "mostly" because I think that deciding whether "liberals" or "conservatives" are bigger gun-in-the-room enthusiasts is as difficult as deciding whether the North or the South Pole would make the frostier vacation spot. I'm sure one or the other is colder, but their similarity far outweighs their differences.

Mort: the questions you raise are substantial, and require more than a comment thread, I think, to discuss. I therefore plan to continue the discussion in a post of its own, which I hope to write this evening. Of course, my hopes (of this sort) are often deferred ...

TW said...

Well lately you're certainly right on it being hard to tell who the biggest advocates for guns in the room are. The Republicans have not been very conservative in nature. A big part of the reason for their downfall in the last election IMHO. They should have stuck with what brought them to power in the first place.