The State Is For The Weak

Literally, the weak. Physically strong men tend to have right-wing views, and physically weak men tend to support more government intervention in daily life, because for the most part people are self-interested. To the strong, the state is chiefly a burden.

For the weak, the state is a much better proposition. It may give you money. While it restricts your freedom in some ways, it also provides some freedom to you by restricting the freedom of others who might run over you. It imposes some costs, but also provides some benefits. The more you don't think you can take care of yourself, the more you are likely to be inclined to want someone empowered to protect you and provide for you.

As a teenager I was inclined to Anarchism. I thought, at that time, that the world would be a better place if people were forced to overcome their weaknesses and stand or fall on their own. This would promote the kind of natural virtue, I thought then, that comes where Darwinian forces are allowed to play out.

Over time I've come to see that position is wrong, in several ways. For one thing strength is not earned, it is a gift from God. While you can make yourself stronger, or neglect to develop the strength you could possess, ultimately you are bound by limits that you did not create, and if you find yourself on the higher side of this divide, you did not earn your place there. It was given. Such gifts are given for a purpose, and the purpose of the strong is to defend and uphold the weak.

I've often quoted this line from Ivanhoe:
``Deny it not, Sir Knight---you are he who decided
the victory to the advantage of the English
against the strangers on the second day of the
tournament at Ashby.''

``And what follows if you guess truly, good
yeoman?'' replied the knight.

``I should in that case hold you,'' replied the
yeoman, ``a friend to the weaker party.''

``Such is the duty of a true knight at least,'' replied
the Black Champion; ``and I would not willingly
that there were reason to think otherwise of
We have come to a pass, though, wherein the forms of government have given a power to the weak that is greater than that which they find in themselves; in other words, the weak are no longer as weak as they think that they are. Just as the strong man must not reason only from his strength, the weak man must not reason only from his sense of weakness, whether physical or financial or moral. It is no more right for the weak acting together to enslave the strong than it would be right for the strong to oppress the weak, or to deny them the basic protections of a state that are required by justice.

When the weak become this strong, you can strive against them without disgrace. Only, that is, insofar as they are strong. It would be cruel to strive against weak individuals, but as a faction they are powerful and interested. Defending the right means restraining the state they so desperately want, but only to its due and proper bounds.

Alas! But it is a flawed and fallen world. Perhaps in the next world we will need no government, and no law, beyond that truth and beauty that flow from the divine.


Ymar Sakar said...

This is merely the Meta Golden rule writ large across the face of modern America.

The Iranians, before Islam destroyed their religion and part of their culture, believed in the circle of fate between kings, peasants, defenders, and merchants.

The Japanese often believe that true strength comes from an older brother leading and defending his little sister (imouto) in both physical and emotional life. That strength only grows beyond one's limit by finding something to protect. That the social cooperation of humanity allows for bonds, emotions, and alliances to form that are greater than the sum of their parts and far more valuable than what one stranger owes to another. Valuable enough to defend through killing or death.

In this world, evil merely has to be destroyed. There is no other solution. No amount of excuses will change the world or one's own self.

Much of the world considers the US to be both meddlesome, self-righteous in our enforcement of our interpretation of justice, and partially psycho-schizoid as well. In some ways, it is much the way American citizens view the US government cum slave plantation system. It is ironic that the US has failed to apply its "justice" to its own internal problems, when historically the US has done far more proactive things against foreigners. Bombs, nukes, snipers, dissolution of government, all to defeat "evil".

Yet, when it is their own people they must crush to defeat evil, it's all somebody else's problem. Let's just talk about this and make some bipartisan bill and it'll be okay.

Ymar Sakar said...

The concept that NOrth Koreans are starving but the US has no duty to help them nor the resources to do so, makes sense, at least on a pragmatic, calculated level.

The concept that Americans are living under slavery, controlled solely by the Democrat party and its Leftist allies, and that the rest of us should not apply workable solutions like counter insurgency to that tyranny, is quite another. Use it or lose it.

Detroit, New Orleans gun confiscation before Katrina, Chicago, WACO, all those things are non-existent to people. They don't care. It's not anyone they know that is at fault or in trouble or suffering. So long as their own lives are safe and secure, nothing else matters.

Those that cannot bring themselves to hate evil, will not do anything about it. They lack the motivation. Even if they were powerful, even if they had the resources, they would do nothing against the Left.

A fallen and viceful people, full of apathy, decadence, and corruption, neither deserves salvation nor the sacrifice of human lives to sustain themselves.

Texan99 said...

False dilemma, I think. There's another alternative besides the stark choice between being too strong to need any help from anyone and too weak to do anything but plump for all-encompassing government assistance. Isn't it possible we can find some other force in our lives besides the two extremes of naked isolation and overweening government?

That there's a role for government in the lives of people who have somehow ended up without personal resources or a single friend or neighbor or family member or group of which they are now or once were an active and valued member, I don't doubt. I hope such people are in very, very short supply, but I do favor the state's helping to take care of abandoned coma victims and fetuses.

Weak doesn't necessarily mean alone or helpless. Anyway, aren't the weak for us to help, not for us to farm out to the government? In practice, that so often turns out to be a cost-shifting exercise.

Grim said...

Even the strong need someone: a loving wife, children, perhaps a community of friends with whom to share joy and seek truth and beauty. To these groups the strong man is not at all unwilling to cede power. Indeed it is done with a glad heart.

It is only the state where he finds a bargain so very poor and one-sided. It would be intolerable, except when he recognizes a moral duty to the weak.

Texan99 said...

That's the part I don't get: the leap from "moral duty to the weak" to "the state may be a bad solution, but we're stuck with it because we have no choice unless we want to be heartless to the weak." I agree with the first part, but the second part just makes me scratch my head. It's like using arsenic to cure an infection when you have penicillin.

Grim said...

Hey, listen, I'm really persuadable on this point. If you can demonstrate to me an anarchy-based solution that solves the problem, I'm ready for it!

This is Cassandra's usual point about the police. She wants them, and she wants them to be significantly powerful because she's afraid of her fellow citizens. I don't want them. I'd be as glad to dispose of the entire institution, plus prison. If we have any problems with our neighbors, we'll sort it out.

On the other hand, one of my neighbors is an elderly lady who lives alone. Now, she could rely on me for protection if she asked, but why should she have to do that? Doesn't she have a right to physical security? Shouldn't that be provided to her without her having to feel indebted to anyone for it? (We're on dangerous ground here for the general point, actually, because the police provide her with absolutely no protection out here. There aren't any cops within a twenty minute drive most of the time. But stay with me, because this is the usual frame, and in many places it makes a kind of sense.)

(Actually, it's even worse than that, because the police assert that they can't be held accountable for failing to provide any particular citizen with the safety to which they have a right; it's only a generalized safety-providing that they can be asked to do. See Warren v. the District of Columbia, etc. So, again, I'm really, really persuadable that we don't need the government at all.)

The idea of universal rights is that you are entitled to them, and therefore someone must be in charge of dispassionately making sure that everyone who deals with you does not tread upon them. This is the role of the state, and without the state there is simply no possibility of actualizing anything like a universal or equal right. We would be left with relationships, which entitle us to things based on who we are and how we are related to other people.

Is that enough? Or is there another way of doing these things? Or is the idea of a universal right, or equality of rights, disposable in preference to the liberty of nature?

Texan99 said...

Was somebody talking about anarchy? I don't use that word for a system in which society orders itself carefully through private institutions, while relegating certain important (but limited) tasks to the government.

Should your neighbor have a right to physical security without feeling indebted to anyone? I can't imagine why. She's necessarily going to be indebted to someone for it, and she is morally alive at all, she'll feel gratitude. She'll also feel a desire to reciprocate or pay forward in any way she can manage, as long as she can, after which she'll learn the difficult task of accepting gifts gratefully even if she can't reciprocate. Is that bad? The question is whether we arrange things so that the targets of her gratitude will be exclusively strangers. If there is literally no one on Earth who will lift a finger to protect her physically, then yes, I'm glad the government will, at a last-gasp measure, and probably too late, send total strangers to help her. But why would I want to maximize that dire possibility?

Government is an unavoidable solution for people who have nothing: no personal resources and no ties of any kind to others with resources. I hope there aren't many of those, and I don't want to arrange society so as to swell their ranks by letting government suck up all the oxygen while every other (kinder and more effective) institution withers.

Is there another way of doing these things? What am I talking about here almost every day of my life? Government is not the only, or even the best, way that people work together to help each other.

Grim said...

I was talking about anarchy, and how it once -- in my almost-forgotten youth -- seemed best to me. After all, it produces strength insofar as it destroys weakness: we harden or we die, and either way strength remains.

So I have accepted a government as an unfortunate, a very regrettable necessity in order to ensure the rights of the weak. I would be easily persuaded if there were a plausible scenario for achieving just treatment for them without one. But I have seen none.

What you offer here is unclear. You say both that it is necessary (but hopefully only for a few) and that it is neither the only nor the best way. But you haven't attended to the real challenge as I see it, which is that only the state can possibly ensure anything like equal rights or a universal right. If you are going to concede the necessity of the state, which I regret as I would love to be convinced of its non-necessity, then this is a minor point in a way.

But in another way, it is not. All the most intrusive aspects of the state are about ensuring equal or universal rights. That's just the thing you, of all people, need to have an answer for.

Texan99 said...

What I hear you saying is that you used to advocate anarchy, and now you embrace big government, as if those were your only two choices. I say there's something in between, which is more limited government, and you reply that I'm not being specific enough about how limited. And yet I've been clear for years here about the sorts of governmental activity I think should be left to private institutions: all but extraordinary emergencies, which should be a minor percentage of Americans in any particular year.

If you want more specific examples, you've heard them from me here so often! Catastrophic health care help only, not subsidies for first-dollar expenses of the kind experienced by average families in an average year. Income subsidies only for people too poor or disabled to provide their own shelter and food, not to pay for everything that a middle-class family might prefer to have, and not to attempt to equalize income among all Americans. No subsidies for favored corporate activity. Flat taxes with very few deductions; none for things like mortgage interest. Far less involvement in commerce, beyond what's needed to address outright fraud. Vouchers to prevent public schools from exploding their costs without providing better education.

There are many other areas where we'd probably be better off with smaller government, but these changes alone would take a big chunk out of the deficit and keep the government from strangling a good bit of the economic prosperity on which the country's charity efforts--and therefore the comfort of the poor--depend.

You're unclear about how far a state must be allowed to go in the pursuit of what you call equal or universal rights. I'm not completely sure what you think those rights are. I know what rights I think are universal: they're spelled out in the Constitution. They all concern things the government cannot do. None of them concerns things the government is obligated to provide.

I'm not sure what you mean by "just treatment for the poor." If you mean income distribution other than in the form of gifts from yourself to them, or emergency intervention of the sort I described above, we probably haven't much overlap of views. So it shouldn't be surprising if my proposals don't address your concerns in that regard, and that being the case, I don't have an answer for your question for the simple reason that it's not my concern. It's your concern, and therefore for you to answer how to satisfy it without creating a system that destroys prosperity and undermines its own underlying aim: the ameiloriation of the misery of the poorest among us.

Grim said...

What I hear you saying is that you used to advocate anarchy, and now you embrace big government...

No, I embrace the necessity that a government of some sort must exist. I would be delighted if you could show me that this was not true.

But I think you are in danger of endorsing a general principle -- the existence of universal rights, or equality of rights -- that invariably leads to big government. What I think you must show -- separate from what I would be delighted if you could show -- is that this is not true.

Eric Blair said...

Well, governments have always existed--I don't care if it's the tribal elders or the Emperor of Rome.

I can't say it better than this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

As Franklin said; "You have a Republic, if you can keep it."

And as another saying goes; "The Devil is in the details."

Really, what we are all debating here is the details.

Grim said...

Even if so, the details are somewhat significant. :)

Texan99 said...

"No, I embrace the necessity that a government of some sort must exist. I would be delighted if you could show me that this was not true."

Why would I try to show you that there is no necessity for the existence of any sort of government at all? I've never argued (or even thought) such a thing. You are positing a stark choice between over-government and zero government, but I'm not. I think there are lots of things a government can and should do, and lots of things it can't and/or shouldn't. I'm not sure which words I'm using that are making this unclear, so could you maybe tie your argument back to my specific language?

"But I think you are in danger of endorsing a general principle -- the existence of universal rights, or equality of rights -- that invariably leads to big government."

How so? I think I'm closer to endorsing the opposite principle. I said that I don't acknowledge the existence of what you seem to be calling universal rights, or equality of rights, except in the sense of things government must never do. It doesn't take a big government to refrain from doing things.

Grim said...

First of all, I'm not trying to saddle you with a position. I was describing my own evolution from someone who, as a teenager, fervently believed that anarchy was the right approach, to someone who has come to believe that our moral duties to the weak (including the poor and the sick) require us to (however sadly) accept some form of state as a permanent feature.

So if you could show me I was wrong, and the state dispensable, I'd be delighted. You certainly don't have to show me that, especially if you want a state anyway. I'm just saying that I'd be easy to persuade if you could find a good way to do it.

It doesn't take a big government to refrain from doing things.

No, that's true. But it does take a big government to ensure that all of us refrain from doing things. That's where the mission creep has gotten in: if you have a right to vote, for example, someone has to be in the position of making sure that no one is violating it. If you have a right to eat in a public establishment (even though, say, you are black), someone has to have the power to ensure no one stops you from doing so.

That's where I think the camel's nose gets in; and after that, well, why not the rest of the beast? But I don't necessarily think these are bad principles, either; some of them are hard-won improvements in society, in fact.

Texan99 said...

You'd be delighted if I could show you that the state was dispensable! Sadly, I neither could nor would. I don't think the state is dispensable in the least. Some state functions are essential to the minimum public order that makes a decent life possible for anyone. I wish it weren't true, too. I settle for minimizing this role, but never dispensing with it altogether.

"It does take a big government to ensure that all of us refrain from doing things." Yes, imagine how big a government it would take to keep us all in a state of complete paralysis! I'm kidding, of course, you can't have meant that. You probably meant, to keep most of us all from doing terrible things too often. Well, it's all a question of how much tyranny you're prepared to put up with, depending on where the draw the line on "most of us," "terrible things," and "too often," isn't it?

I'm not interested in a very powerful state that's bloated for the purpose of ensuring that all of us devote our lives to ensuring that every single person in the U.S. enjoys a right to equality of income or satisfaction. I'm prepared to leave that quest almost entirely to private efforts of individuals and the huge variety of their institutions, from families on up. The government should be limited so that it maintains a moderate amount of public order, directed at preventing and punishing fraud and violence, while the rest of us get on with the pursuit of happiness that is our own job. When the government does exercise power, it should do so in the limited and egalitarian ways the Constitution prescribes: not one standard of proof in a trial against a lord but another in a trial against a peon, for instance. Not extending the franchise to men but not women, whites but not blacks, and so on. That is, when it acts at all, it should approach issues from a universal or egalitarian perspective. But it shouldn't act all that much, because in most walks of life egalitarianism and universalism are not only meaningless but downright pernicious.

Grim said...

I certainly agree that there are areas in which universalism and egalitarianism are pernicious; I think they may be nearly all areas, in fact, although your answer is quite traditional and well-supported among political philosophers.

What I really think I want is not a government that does charity, but a government that understands its strength as I understand the strength of any individual: that it is meant to be of service, not as a slave but as the Black Knight of Ivanhoe, willingly and yet maintaining the fullness of his own freedom of action. I like volunteer fire departments, because they are great examples of this: people come together, using local government but in a purely voluntary way, to create a strength that is used to help those in need. No one is forced to do it, but it gets done. It's a glorious example of what I think government ought to be.

So I'd like it if charity were done by religious groups, but I'd also like it if we found ways to use local government to help provide opportunities for the poor. We have a local garden here where people come grow food, and some poor people are given space to grow food. Other people -- often elderly in the community -- participate though they are not poor, but they donate a percentage of their crop to help the hungry while enjoying the benefits of socializing together at the garden.

Ultimately I'd like to dismantle the entire Federal government except for the military, and a few other necessary branches. I'd like the states to take on all the duties that their populations want them to have that are not explicitly assigned to the Federal government by the actual language of the original Constitution. I'd like to repeal many of the Amendments past the original Bill of Rights, especially the 14th, 16th, 17th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th.

Texan99 said...

If "government" includes purely voluntary, self-funding activities like VFDs and community gardens, then I withdraw my objection to big government. Let the purely voluntary part of it get as big as it can find volunteers to fund and man.

Wouldn't it be nice to think government was nothing but people coming together uncoerced and using sweet persuasion to get people to accept their "services"? Unfortunately there is a world of critical difference between a voluntary community garden and the Social Security Administration.

Grim said...

It would be nice if the government could direct its coercion outwards -- to keep the space in which our society can form and be sustained, but not to oppress its own. Whether that is possible I don't know, but it seems even less practically likely than a successful anarchy. Be nice, though.