The power of the state


2 months ago by siggi

I am not really a political person. All I want is to be left alone, and that is a big ask nowadays.

Only recently I was made (re-)aware of the difference between positive and negative freedom. I had always understood the concepts but did not have the terms to describe them yet. Simply put, positive freedom is the possibility of making your own choices (way of life, study, work, etc.). Negative freedom is, in my own words, the freedom to be left alone, not being told what to do. We have plenty of positive freedom in our world, but not a lot of negative freedom.

There are many of our negative freedoms that are being trampled on, but we accept this in our daily lives. Paying taxes, a big one, being forced to pay for health insurance, being forced to put our children through public school (a very real Dutch phenomenon), etc. We think of these things as something that is improving society, so we endure it and do not really question it. But why is that? What is the state and what gives it its power to take away our negative freedoms?

A very simplistic example goes something like this. If I want $1000 from you, can I just take it? Of course not. What if my friend and I, the two of us, want to take $1000 from you. Is that OK? What if it is 100 of us? 100.000? 8 million (50%+ of the Dutch population). Is it OK then? Because that is basically what is happening. 76 people, the elected representatives of 50.1% of the population, make the choice to take your money.

Through elections, we vote for our favorite political party, after which a coalition of at least 50% is formed (in the Dutch case) and they can start making new (positive) laws. The question that is never asked is whether this is moral at all. Is it moral to force someone to hand over 50% of their hard-earned income to a bureaucracy? Is it moral to force someone to pay for the care of someone they do not know? Is it moral to force someone to hand over their children to strangers for over half the day, if they do not want to do this?

I have pondered this quite a bit, and I cannot come to a good answer. There is nothing in this universe that gives me a satisfactory reason that this is something that is moral, a good. The reason that is often given is that it is for the greater good. But, the greater good of what? It certainly is not for the greater good of every individual, and the greater good is never exactly defined or measured.

The only real reason this endures is that if you do not comply, they will come after you with guns. You can pretend that this is not the case but run through a thought experiment of not paying your taxes. At the end of that thought experiment, a group of armed men is coming to get you at your house. They have markings on their clothing, shiny badges, cars with big stickers on them, but they are not doing anything different than the mafia that wants what’s due “for protection”.

I don’t know why I am writing this today. I promised myself not to get too controversial in this blog series. Maybe it’s the Whiskey. I’ll use that as an excuse in the morning …