Other entries featuring Benjamin Marks» , Government is Impossible»

by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief

Do you believe that individuals have rights, that limited or representative government is good and that absolute or despotic government is bad? Nowadays, nearly everyone claims to; but they are pretentious and insincere, half-assed and half-hearted; believing only out of convenience, courtesy, cowardice, hearsay, error and ignorance; and proclaiming only out of embarrassment, habit, nostalgia, remorse and self-advancement.

Such words as consent, democracy, election, equality, justice, law, inflation, money, liberty and representation are used as sweet nothings for fraudulent purposes. The word “consent” is used without permission, the word “democracy” undermined, the word “election” rigged, the word “equality” biassed, the word “justice” abused, the word “law” violated, the word “inflation” debased, the word “money” redefined, the word “liberty” forced, liberties are taken with the word “freedom” and the word “represent” is misrepresented. The corruption of language and corruption of what it depicts go hand in hand, dancing down the street, singing.

Homer said: “A man’s tongue is a glib and twisty thing … plenty of words there are, all kinds at its command — with all the room in the world for talk to range and stray.”1 Albert Jay Nock said: “[L]aw, even fundamental law expressed in the Constitution, is merely something that succeeds in getting itself measurably well obeyed … a Constitution must therefore be, in the last analysis, a device by which anything can be made to mean anything.”2 Robert South said: “[T]ake any passion of the soul of man, while it is predominant and afloat, and, just in the critical height of it, nick it with some lucky or unlucky word, and you may as certainly overrule it to your own purpose, as a spark of fire, falling upon gunpowder, will infallibly blow it up.”3 The expression of these words scupper scrutiny, eclipse experience and override observation. They do not portray a concept; they betray it. Their role is to hijack the positive connotations associated with an idea to mislead enthusiasm. They are deceitful. Jeremy Bentham called them “impostor terms.”4 Richard Weaver called them “god terms” or “charismatic terms,” because the appeal of the use of the terms is separate from their meaning.5 As Thomas Paine said positively, “[The] Attraction [of such terms] acts so powerfully, that Men give it their Approbation even without reasoning on the Cause.”6 Through them, said Bertrand de Jouvenel, “it is not reason which has found a guide but passion which has found a flag.”7 They are, as de Jouvenel said elsewhere, “ideas which reign but do not rule.”8

These ideas are necessary and even defining decoys for government, because, as we shall see, it is logically indefensible and reliant on the passive acquiescence of the masses. Government only exists, to again quote de Jouvenel, “under cover of the beliefs entertained about it.” He continues, “every single [attempt to limit government via rules, processes or appeals to reason] has, sooner or later, lost its original purpose, and come to act merely as a springboard to Power, by providing it with the powerful aid of an invisible sovereign with whom it could in time successfully identify itself.”9 Similarly, Lord Action said that the result of the emotional rather than critical use of such concepts is, “It serves where it ought to reign [and rule]; and it serves the worst better than the purest.”10

Obscurantism relies on using recognisable terms, sounds, rhythms, appearances and structures to lend sufficient plausibility to attract respect, sympathy and agreement. Although the underlying principles of statists are simple, and wrong, they are dressed up in such smart-sounding, reason-resembling, conscience-pleasing and urgency-raising fashionable clothes, that to mention the underlying simplicity of the arguments is enough to be widely dismissed, like you are airing dirty linen in public, and being vulgar, unreasonable and impractical.

This is precisely what we will do in the coming weeks, uncovering the impossibility and meaninglessness of limited government, absolute government, representative government, lawful government, any government. (By not releasing all this material at once, we are showing our critics a form of gradualism we are happy to settle for.)

Footnotes

  1. Homer, The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin, 1998), bk. 20, lines 287-89, p. 511.
  2. Albert Jay Nock, Jefferson (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2007), pp. 199-200.
  3. Robert South, Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions (London: Tegg, 1843), vol. I, p. 343; the entire sermon XXI on “The Fatal Imposture and Force of Words” is relevant.
  4. Jeremy Bentham, The Book of Fallacies, in vol. II of The Works of Jeremy Bentham (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843), p. 438.
  5. Richard Weaver, Language is Sermonic, ed. Richard L. Johannsen, Rennard Strickland and Ralph T. Eubanks (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), pp. 88, 105.
  6. Thomas Paine, “To the Authors of The Republican,” July 2, 1791, in his Collected Writings (New York: Library of America, 1995), p. 378.
  7. Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power, trans. J.F. Huntington (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993), p. 263.
  8. Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Art of Conjecture, trans. Nikita Lary (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1967), p. 266. I have pluralised the quote.
  9. de Jouvenel, On Power, pp. 26, 30.
  10. Lord Action, Essays in the Study and Writing of History, ed. J. Rufus Fears (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1986), p. 384.
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(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Government is Impossible: Introduction
  2. Government is in a State of Anarchy
  3. Limited Government is Absolute Government
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