Some would legislate compassion. Some would use the government to achieve charitable ends. Some would attempt to do good through the heavy hand of state authority. They believe that society can benefit the most through using coercive means, rather than by voluntary action.
They are wrong. Those who would use the brute force of the government to achieve their sense of morality are acting neither effectively nor morally.
In his article for The Freeman titled The Clenched Fist and the General Welfare, Gary Galles nicely dispels the fallacy that coercive action is efficient in promoting the general welfare of society. Galles equates government action to a clenched fist, a blunt tool effective at crushing and destroying, but not much else. This ability can be useful in areas such as preventing and punishing violence, theft, fraud, and other forms of aggression and harm, but would prove significantly less than ideal when applied to a role such as charity and economic stability. According to Galles, such a tool may benefit society only so long as it is relegated to functions which take full advantage of its destructive nature. Otherwise, if inappropriately used for other ends, the governmental fist causes more harm than good.
Using force and coercion for society’s benefit is, indeed, inefficient, as Galles noted. However, using violent, non-voluntary means to achieve compassionate ends is more than inefficient. It is blatantly immoral.
Before going any further, we must acknowledge one simple, ugly fact: every law is supported by a death threat. Even the most basic, seemingly innocuous piece of legislation meant to benefit the poor, if resisted, carries with it a potential termination order. In order to pay Paul, Peter must be taxed. If Peter refuses to pay, he is fined, and his assets may be confiscated. If he refuses to surrender his assets, agents are sent to procure them by force. If he resists, he may be imprisoned. If he resists imprisonment, he will be met with physical violence, and if he manages to maintain his resistance he will surely die.
This harsh reality of using coercive methods can only mean that government action is inherently immoral when used for any purpose other than preventing violence. If using the law for an aim means a willingness to kill to achieve said aim, the threat presented must be greater than or equal to killing; otherwise, such an action is immoral, even murderous. Therefore, while analyzing the inherent clumsiness and inefficiency of government action is a noble and important effort, it falls short. We must come to terms with the moral reality of the situation as well. We must face the truth that using murder and death to achieve goals of mere societal welfare is evil.
Using coercion to enact compassionate measures is more than inefficient. It is a contradiction in terms. It is nothing short of brutality. We would do well to keep this in mind before using government force to achieve societal goals, lest the blood of innocents stain our hands.
Photo credit: Riley Kaminer