FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Peaceful Transfer of Violent Power

At the risk of raining on the parade, I suggest that the inaugural festivities were not what they appeared. Barack Obama says the pomp and circumstance were not about him but were a celebration of democracy. “For the forty-third time, we will execute the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next,” he said.

He’s right, but not quite as he meant it. The peaceful transition from the Bush to the Obama regime was indeed the occasion, but let’s focus on exactly what was transferred. Despite the oratory about hope, change, and renewal, government — as someone, perhaps George Washington, said — “is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force.” If that is right — and I contend it is — then in the inauguration we have the irony of a peaceful transfer of something that is anything but peaceful: the legal power to use physical force.

This is something to celebrate?

The question would be fair no matter who succeeded George W. Bush. It’s not so much the man but the office that warrants our distrust and (to use Jefferson’s term) jealousy. To modify the words of Judge Gideon Tucker: No person’s life, liberty, and property are safe as long as the occupant of the White House possesses the powers that are invested in the presidency (and government generally).

The essence of government as we know it is the power to use force against people who have never harmed anyone. The most basic power is the power to tax. Indeed, government could do nothing without it. The power to tax is the legal authority to compel people to surrender their money to the state under penalty of fine, imprisonment, and worse for refusal. Whether or not one thinks this power is good (I don’t), one cannot deny that it is based on the threat to commit violence against the nonviolent.

Thus, this week we witnessed the peaceful transfer of the authority to commit legal plunder.

Apologists for government undertake bizarre mental contortions to show that we have consented to be taxed. Balderdash. I was never asked to consent, and I’m sure you weren’t either. I refuse to accept the nonsensical argument that by not vacating the parcel of land I purchased, I have signaled my “tacit consent” to be plundered and bullied. That implies the government owns the territory it rules and therefore can set the conditions under which it is used. That sounds like feudalism. Are we merely tenants of the governmental landlord?

Built on the power to tax (legally steal) are myriad other powers that entail the threat of violence against peaceful individuals. If you wish to buy things from people outside the jurisdiction claimed by the U.S. government, you may do so only on the terms it permits under its trade laws. If you wish to invite to your home or business someone who lives outside that jurisdiction, again, you can do so only under terms laid down by the government’s immigration rules. You are not free to make your own decisions in the matter.

If you don’t want your money given to others — say, Wall Street banks, auto companies, welfare recipients, stem-cell researchers, military contractors, the Israeli air force, the Iraqi and Afghan rulers — too bad. You have no say. Correction: you have one impotent vote every four years. That’s virtually the same as no say.
If you don’t want the armed forces killing people in your name, again, too bad. No one asked you.

If you don’t want the Treasury and the Federal Reserve stealing your hard-earned money through deficits and inflation, you may as well shut up. It’s going to happen anyway.

This is the power the peaceful transfer of which we celebrate.

We might wonder why inaugurations aren’t more sober affairs. Why all the hoopla? The answer is simple. Government is a horrendous and exploitative imposition on most of us. From the rulers’ perspective, there is always the danger that we may figure this out and refuse to go along. Hence the need for regular propaganda spectacles to reinforce the myth that we are the government.

The prayers of The Who’s Pete Townshend, alas, have not been answered. Most of us are getting fooled again.

SHELDON RICHMAN is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman magazine.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail