Does Government = Force, and Wealth = Freedom?


I am thoroughly enjoying reading “We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident” by Oliver DeMille. As is usually the case with non-fiction books, I don’t completely agree with everything written, but for the most part the entire book resonates deeply with me.

Here are my thoughts so far on the book:

  • The concept that the national religion is now a worship of government rang so true to me.  I don’t think I’ve ever articulated it the way DeMille did, but if you think about it, it is absolutely true.  I like this passage from the book:

“Oh, everyone’s careful never to use words that sound religious in any way.” I continued pacing.  “But the belief remains that government is the most powerful entity in the world and that it should fix every problem.  Many people in Washington have stopped believing the national motto ‘In God We Trust’; now it’s become ‘In government We Trust.'”

  • The book doesn’t explicitly say it, but I got the feeling that DeMille was saying that if there is something moral for government to do, it is moral for government to force people to do it.  I get this from a couple of passages:

For example, if John walks by Bill’s broken fence and does nothing, people may say he is greedy, small-minded, or uncaring, but they won’t send officers to fine, arrest, or shoot him.

On the other hand, if John walks by Bill’s house and sees Bill being physically assaulted and brutally beaten by a large man and then walks on home without doing anything to protect Bill and even fails to call the authorities, people will accurately describe his actions as neglectful, perhaps cowardly, and certainly wrong.  Indeed, under natural law, his inaction is immorally illegal.

This is even more significant if John see Bill’s seven-year-old daughter being beaten or attacked and does nothing.  This is because the protection of children and other too weak to defend themselves is a point of self-defense.

We should not kill another person for gain or for almost any other reason, but defending ourselves is an exception.  And we should take the same acts of defense for others who cannot defend themselves as we would for ourselves if attacked.  These are basics in natural law, fairness, common sense, or what C. S. Lewis called “the Tao.”

This doesn’t exactly say that government has the right to force John to aid in the defense of someone else, or of the defenseless, but it feels like it.

I agree that it is deplorable for John not to and demonstrates an extreme lack of character and integrity.  I would hope that I would do my best to defend another person and especially to defend the defenseless.  However I feel the same way about taking care of the poor, needy and those less fortunate than myself.  I do have the right to engage in any action that helps or defends another person, but I do not have the right to force anybody else to participate in those actions.

  • One idea that is taught throughout the book is that government is force.  I don’t think that is completely accurate.  Government can definitely involve force, but I do not user force when I govern my family (or at least I believe it is rarely the right choice).  Government is control and influence, which sometimes involves force (like in the case of self-defense), but it doesn’t have to.  Government isn’t force, good government is good leadership – only bad government is defined as force.
  • Today I read a passage that made me think a bit:

This principle is neither complex nor difficult to apply.  Yet it is widely ignored for two main reasons.  First, the aristocratic, elitist, and authoritarian elements in society would lose most of their power under such a system, so they invest large amounts of money and influence to push for the centralization of power into bigger and bigger governments.  As government size increases, those who can significantly influence the government become wealthier and more powerful – which will eventually lead to rule by a global elite unless current trends change.

Second, when ordinary people see themselves as too busy to get involved in daily governance, they simply let their freedoms be taken away.  This usually happens slowly, so the people don’t notice. In times of crisis, it happens more quickly.  Note that most people don’t mean to lose freedom, but they don’t focus significant time or energy on keeping it.

Natural law requires those who most benefit from freedom, the citizenry, to stand up for it – or lose it.  Most elites aren’t very concerned about protecting freedom for the masses because the super-rich tend to have a lot of freedom in all societies, even when a large majority of people lose their liberties.  If the people don’t work hard specifically to keep their freedom, they lose it.

It made me wonder, “Does Wealth = Freedom?”  The more I think about it, I think it does.

I would love to have a dialogue with someone about this to clarify my understanding. Any takers?

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8 thoughts on “Does Government = Force, and Wealth = Freedom?

  1. I would say that righteous prosperity and freedom coincide; however, because wealth can merely refer an accumulation of material possessions, wealth and freedom do not necessarily coincide. Wealth can be a severe limitation to freedom, if the wealth is obtained illegitimately, without regard to morality, or if the wealth is in any way selfishly managed.

    Also, regarding the point of whether government is force: The only tool government has to control the actions of the governed is force. This is a good thing when used in response to aggression, and a bad thing when used by government as an act of aggression. I agree that government is not only force, because controlling the actions of the governed is not the only role of government. When government is used as a tool of influence, it can actually have more effect (on behavior and otherwise) than when it is used as a tool of control. Those who administer government have the valuable tool of the bully pulpit that can be used for great good (when encouraging moral behavior) or great evil (when used as a tool of deception or aggression).

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  2. As always, Joel, thank you for the comment. I always enjoy and welcome your insights. You are someone to whom I look for a steady and balanced view of the world.

    That being said, you make some interesting points. Would you mind elaborating on how wealth is a limitation on freedom if the wealth is managed selfishly, and what you mean by “selfishly managed.”

    At first glance I would disagree that force is the only tool to control the actions of the governed. However, I may be misunderstanding what you are saying, and I could be interpreting something differently, and we actually agree. I’m sure we agree in the general principle about force, but will you join me in expanding our understanding of this principle?

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  3. By “selfishly managed”, I mean placed a higher priority on the wealth than other people. Is greed not a vice that limits one’s freedom?

    I’ll be happy to have a discussion regarding governmental force.

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  4. Wealth and Freedom:
    I would say all vices limit our freedom, not just greed, but wealth is not a vice. Greed definitely is, but greed most certainly does not equal wealth. Yes, someone can be wealthy and greedy, but someone can also be poor and greedy. It’s apparent to me that a wealthy person who is greedy has more freedom than a poor person who is greedy. This would be true of any vice or even of any illegitimate or immoral way of accumulating wealth. It is not the wealth that restricts freedom, it is the vice,or other immoral behavior that restricts freedom. The vices and immoral behaviors can be used by people who obtain wealth or by people who are unsuccessful at obtaining wealth. The ones who are successful at obtaining the wealth have more freedom (until and unless the wealth is taken away), than those who are unsuccessful at obtaining the wealth. Therefore, wealth = freedom.

    At least that’s how I see it. What do you think?

    Government and Force:
    Here is how I’m thinking about this – When I govern my family, I have many tools at my disposal to control what happens within my family. Force is one of them, but unless it is warranted to protect members of my family, I would consider use of force to be unrighteous dominion.
    However, there are many other tools I can use as the head of my home to get the effects that I want. I can use persuasion, sincere love and appreciation, encouragement, friendship, patience, kindness, and of course regularly and immediately reproving wrong behavior. Why would the institution of government have any fewer tools than I do?

    (side note for the sake of full disclosure: I am not innocent of unrighteous dominion, nor anywhere near perfect at using the other tools at my disposal in my family. All too often I find myself shouting, talking down to, or using some other form of manipulation or threat to get my family to do what I want. But just because I am still working on applying what I believe, does not invalidate what I believe to be true.)

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  5. Is there any evidence that a poor person who is greedy has less freedom than a wealthy person who is greedy? I see an equal potential for freedom in an atmosphere of wealth and an atmosphere of no wealth. Greed is not the only potential trial associated with wealth. Wealth has many inherent responsibilities and stewardships associated with it, and the neglect of any of these responsibilities and stewardships would be associated with the loss of freedom. One might venture to say that the lack of these responsibilities and stewardships constitutes a higher level of freedom than the assumption of them. In fact, I would say it would be a simple and easy thing for a poor person to give up all that they have and follow the Savior, while a large amount of wealth would be, inherently, a barrier to giving up all they have to follow the Savior – giving up wealth in a responsible manner is not very simple, though the lack of greed might make it an easy decision. I would say that wealth can bring certain types of freedom, and poverty can bring other types of freedom.

    When you use “persuasion, sincere love and appreciation, encouragement, friendship, patience, kindness” I would consider that to be excellent qualities of leadership. I’m not sure that leadership and government coincide. I see government as a necessary method of control and a way to respond to disobedience. I don’t see government as a method of leadership and inspiration for good. In other words, when I am reproving the incorrect behavior of my children, I am governing them, but when I am using persuasion, love, long-suffering, etc., I am leading. That is the way I see it, anyway. One can govern and lead, but one can govern and not lead. One can even be excellent at governing and not provide any leadership whatsoever; also, one can also be an excellent leader and not govern at all. Parents should do both for their children until their children have learned to govern themselves, so the principles you articulated are good parenting principles.

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  6. Wealth and Freedom:
    All other factors being equal, I would say that yes, a greedy poor person most definitely does have less freedom than a greedy wealthy person, however I’m not certain what you mean by evidence. Could you elaborate? What nature of evidence are you looking for?
    Yes, a poor person may be free from the obligations of stewardship, but he is more bound by the lack of that stewardship. This is the same as when a person chooses to follow a loose moral code. They may be free from the restrictions of a more stringent moral code, but that does not make them more free overall. I am not lessening my freedoms when I enter into a covenant of complete fidelity with my wife. I may not be free to have gratuitous sex, but I have infinitely more freedom because of the assumed stewardship of that covenant. The assumption of a stewardship is, in fact, a covenant relationship, with he who created all that there is. The question is not how much I have when I am asked to give it up for the service of the Creator, but whether I am willing to leave it all without looking back.
    The example you gave of leaving all we have to follow the Savior is not keeping all things equal. If the wealthy person does not leave all behind, he is greedy. The same is true of a poor person. If the poor person does not have as much to leave behind, it does not make following the Savior any less demanding of a task, nor easier to do. What the Savior asks has very little to do with our relative wealth, and more to do with our hearts. A greedy poor person may have less to leave behind, but he is just as attached to what he has in his poverty as the greedy wealthy person is attached to what he has in his wealth. Greed, or a divided heart is the restriction of freedom in your example, not wealth. It is a fallacy to believe that it is more difficult to leave wealth behind than to leave poverty behind. Our attitude toward physical wealth is just a reflection of our hearts.
    It is easy to say, “I would be willing to follow the Savior by giving up all my material possessions.” Am I equally willing to say that I will do what it takes to morally obtain the resources required to accomplish much good? Too often I cling to poverty as if it is more virtuous or allows me to the freedom to leave it and follow the Savior. What I have discovered is that I should be multiplying my talents and obtaining more resources for his kingdom by assuming more stewardship and becoming the leader he wants me to become. I can accomplish so much more for the Lord by assuming responsibility for more stewardship, than by safely clinging to my poverty. Hopefully I can become the leader necessary to successfully invite many others to give up their poverty and join me in multiplying our talents.

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  7. I know many people who are relatively wealthy and I know many people who are relatively poor. When I consider their respective situations, I see no evidence whatsoever that their level of wealth has any bearing whatsoever on their level of freedom. The evidence I was asking for was maybe an example or two (even if specific names are withheld) where you have seen wealth to demonstrably equate to freedom (all other factors being set aside). I have never seen it. I have seen wealthy people who are very free, and I have seen poor people who are equally free. I have personally witnessed no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate that a higher level of wealth equates to a higher level of freedom. Like I said before, wealthy people tend to be free in different ways than poor people, but they are not more free – at least from my perspective.

    When I think of freedom, I think of how easy it is for someone to do something. The ultimate freedom might be described as entering into the kingdom of God. One who can more easily enter into the kingdom of God is more free than one who can less easily enter into the kingdom of God. “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24. When I think of a camel entering a city through a hole barely big enough for it, I am not envisioning the camel as being free.

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  8. I do have several examples of what I’m talking about, but it feels to me like we are each operating with different definitions of freedom. Could you share the definition of freedom that you are using, so we can be successful in a further understanding of truth?

    It is difficult for any camel, laden with abundant goods or little, to enter through the tiny hole in the wall. Both abundantly loaded and sparsely loaded need to shed all of their loads before they go through the hole. It is the strength of attachment to the wealth that increases the difficulty of a camel making that fit, not the fact that it must shed it all before it enters. BTW you may want to have a look at the Institute manual about that analogy.

    Have a look at the JST version of it, “With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible.”

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