It is commonly misconceived that in today’s world, the only way in which we can call ourselves civilised or compassionate is if we are willing to permit the State to intervene in public affairs. But is this policy of state intervention really as compassionate or civilised as it is made out to be? I say no. I say that government intervention in society and in the woes of private citizens not only discourages compassion, it promotes the opposite of it. In this essay I will demonstrate the State is not a means for achieving a civilised society. I will also explain how it would be more civilised for us as a people to disregard the State as a means to that goal, and pursue private, voluntary solutions instead.

 

 

What it means to be Civilised

Recently, I decided to take a minor excursion into British Politics. During my excursion, I came across a video of one Jeremy Corbyn, who is now leader of the Labour Party and the Opposition in the United Kingdom. During this video, which was filmed in 1990, he questions the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a Prime Ministers’ Questions Session. Before asking this question, Mr. Corbyn explained that when the Thatcher Government asked London’s local authorities what they needed in order to address “the homeless problem”, they asked for a minimum of £480 million, and were given a sixth of this. He then proceeded to ask his question, which was as follows:

“Does she (the PM) not agree that people sleeping on the streets of our capital city, being charged exorbitant rents, and children being brought up in bed-and-breakfast hotels, is a disgrace to a civilized country?”

I take a civilised society to be a community, or set of communities, which have reached a stage of social and cultural development which benefits the whole populace, not just a small group. Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion, in this question, is that government intervention is necessary, in order to ensure a civilised community. This implies that we as a people are not capable of achieving such a “civilised” state, without government interference or coercion. Such a conception is both false and immoral. Also, by making this assertion, they are unintentionally declaring their lack of belief in the wonderous capabilities of the people

Perhaps it is worth noting that humanity as a whole has become inherently more civilised in the past 500 years alone. For instance:

  • Women are no longer treated as inferior to men.
  • We have long rejected the idea of the Divine Right of Kings.
  • In the western world especially, people are also no longer persecuted for their personal or religious beliefs.
  • We no longer discriminate against people because they are gay.
  • We have generally come to accept that it is wrong to steal.
  • We no longer use the death penalty, the most barbarous and uncivilised practice in our history, in my opinion.

 

In short, we have rejected many of the institutions and forms of discriminatory or violent behaviour which is unconducive with a free or civilised society. But these cultural shifts did not happen as a result of government intervention. They were brought about through reason, discussion, debate, and a shift in approach.

 

 

Why the State is the REAL disgrace

The idea that government asserts or creates the conditions for a civilised society is a complete and total fallacy. Government intervention has always resulted in regulation, uniformity, or dependency in some form, all of which have harmful effects. In order to prove this I shall adopt a Herbert Spencer-Style approach.

So what exactly is meant by saying that a lack of state intervention is a disgrace to a civilised country? Why should the State intervene? What is the intervention for? Presumably the intention is to empower those in society who are not in a pleasant position, with the tools necessary for, as they say, “getting a head-start”. And who is going to “pick up the tab” for such an investment? The Taxpayer. There is no other alternative. And how exactly is the State going to erect the funds to execute this duty? Since the individual citizens that compose the citizenry have never consented to giving money to the powers-that-be, the State is left with but one solution- to steal it. Such is the true nature of taxation.

 

Governments, history has shown, are coercive. Unlike that of voluntary institutions, such as a business or a charity, government revenue is not in proportion to the effectiveness of their operations. In other words, they haven’t earned it. The Social Contract between the people and the State should be like that of a contract between a business and a consumer. If the business succeeds in pleasing the consumer, then the consumer will reward them. However, this is not the case with government. Government presumes the right to take your property (or in this case, your money), without your consent, and spend it on what they deem necessary. So, the solution being offered can be boiled down to this- A government ought to steal money (property) from private individuals, many of whom will be unaware or unaffected by the issue government is hoping to address, and spend such money on those projects which they deem necessary, according to their own discretion. Such a move does not promote a civilised society. This argument is no different to saying that if a criminal robs a bank and is successful, we should endorse him for his efforts.

Those who say we should tax the people in order to invest in “important” matters are therefore assuming that government, since it is what it is, has the right to resort to the tactics of common criminals. Such a move does not promote a civilised society.

 

The most disgraceful thing we can do in the name of a civilised society is employ the use of coercion, whilst claiming that individuals and communities should depend on the State, rather than seek help from their community and from private institutions instead. Government intervention in the general welfare, we have seen, has disintentivised many ordinary citizens from helping one another. If a person knows that this homeless man can always receive government assistance, their incentive to be compassion and give charitably will thus be removed. Government compulsion, therefore, can never promote the values of a civilised society. It is in no sense an act of civilisation, for anyone, including governments, to steal other peoples’ property, or to compel people to do or provide something against their will. To quote the American philosopher Murray Rothbard- “No act can be virtuous unless it is freely chosen.”. If politicians really care about helping those in need of assistance, so as to emphasise the ideal of a civilised nation, they should seek to promote compassionate, charitable donation and voluntary aid.

 

 

What we CAN do to promote a civilised country

There is nothing civilised, as we have established, about replacing compassion and voluntary assistance with coercion and stealing. By seeking to promote a civilised nation in the way they have, they have thus contradicted themselves and have been increasingly counterproductive. Politicians and average citizens alike are kidding themselves if they think that we can make society more civilised by engaging in activities (i.e. stealing and compulsion) which are in contradiction with that goal. If we truly wish to achieve a more civilised nation, we must begin to consider and adopt some of the voluntary and private alternatives- families, friends, communities, churches, charities, mutual aid societies and the like.

 

In a free society, government activity would be minimal and limited mainly to our defence. The people would generally be better off, as they will have more money in their pockets, and thus more money to give. Put differently, if government were to end its constant penalising of private citizens and institutions in the form of taxation, and allow society to provide for itself, we would see a significant shift in cultural attitude. Families, friends, communities, churches, charities, mutual aid societies and the like would take on the mantle of prosperity, and play a vital role in society once again. Such would be a shining beacon, in my opinion, of a civilised country.