In the previous installment (The Purpose of Government), we introduced the principle that “We the People” have assigned to government a monopoly on the use of coercive violence. This power is granted to government for the purpose of guarding our unalienable rights.
(Note – for the purposes of this discussion, we are dealing with the types of violence which are allowed by society, not the violence of a criminal or an insane person.)
Now let’s take a look at how other societal entities differ from government where violence is concerned.
Individuals may use violence in self defense and defense of property. Similarly, private institutions (corporations, universities, churches, etc.) may use violence to defend their people and property (think private security guards). But neither individuals nor private institutions may use coercive violence. They may NOT force a person to behave in a certain manner. Private individuals and institutions may try to persuade or purchase a desired behavior, but only government may use violence to compel a desired behavior.
It’s very fashionable these days to be against the “evil” oil companies and health insurance companies. But Exxon doesn’t force me to buy their gasoline. They offer it for sale at a certain price and I can buy as much or as little as suits my desires and circumstances. Humana doesn’t force me to purchase their health insurance. They offer a range of benefits at various prices; and it’s up to me whether or not to accept one of those arrangements.
This doesn’t mean that I must like the way Exxon and Humana do business or that I must like their products and prices, but no one puts a gun to my head and forces me to buy Exxon gasoline or Humana health insurance. The same cannot be said about our dealings with government.
Coming next – how we interact with government. (hint: the terms “involuntary” and “compulsion” come into play.)
(this essay was first published 2/21/2010)