A point worthy of note is that this American way was not entirely devoid of violence; violence was merely less exercised here than previously in other countries. This meant that government was strictly limited; that there was a minimum of organized violence.
But government, as a principle, had seemingly sound theory to support it. The reasoning went something like this: Each individual has an inalienable right to life. An essential concomitant of this right is the right to protect that life. Obviously, maximum liberty could not be assured by letting all citizens carry their own guns. The straightest shooters would soon be in command. What to do? Appoint an agent. Turn all guns, all force to be used for personal protection, over to him. Give him a monopoly of the coercive power. The agent, thus endowed with power, could then protect all citizens in the pursuit of their home life, their productive life, and their religious life. Each person would be free to do as he pleased up to the point of injury to others. And each would be responsible for his own welfare, with Christian charity to take up the slack. That was the theory.
Many Americans understood this agent, government, to be what it is: legal and organized police force. They had an appreciation of violence. They knew that it could be used to suppress, restrain, restrict, destroy. Restriction and destruction by government, to be useful, must be confined to that which is bad: fraud, private violence, conspiracy and theft or other predatory practices. But police force—violence by government or otherwise—is, patently, not a direct, creative force. Thus, in the original plan, all creative functions were to be carried on by such voluntary, cooperative, and competitive elements as the population contained. Government was to be confined to the protection of personal liberty.
Officials Are Still Persons
These Americans who held to this societal arrangement were also keenly aware of the powers vested in their elected agent. After all, this agent was but a person or persons having normal weaknesses, including greed for power over others, plus the dangerous monopoly of the coercive weapons! It was because of a profound realization of this danger that these Americans attempted limitation of their agent. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with their separation of the executive, judicial, and legislative powers, were among the devices they employed to avert the dangers of unrestricted power that political theory predicted and history confirmed. They had an unprecedented success—for a time.
It was because this practice of the principle of violence was on a lesser scale than ever before attempted that accounted for the mighty surge that was America’s. Here in this country, was a greater release of free human energy than history reveals in any other instance.
Personally, I am opposed to the initiation of violence in any form, by any body, or by any agency, government or otherwise. I cannot make inspired Violence square with ethical concepts. Aggressive coercion, whether socialized medicine or initiating war with Russia, is at odds with principles which seem right. How this brute force can be used and be considered moral, except to restrain violence otherwise initiated, is beyond my capacities to reason. Even the American theory of government, which has always appealed to me, raises two questions to which, thus far, I have been unable to find answers:
1. Can violence be instituted, regardless of how official or how limited in intention, without begetting violence outside officialdom and beyond the prescribed limitation?
2. Is not limitation of government, except for relatively short periods, impossible? Will not the predatory instincts of some men, which government is designed to suppress, eventually appear in the agents selected to do the suppressing? These instincts, perhaps, are inseparable companions of power. As a private citizen the predatory person is only one among millions. As an agent of government he becomes one over millions. If there be criminals among us, what is to keep them from gaining and using the power of government? Neither theory nor experience have, so far, supplied me with reassuring answers.
Let me repeat: Organized violence, though limited better than ever before, characterized early America. In addition, a horrible infraction of the American theory appeared in the institution of slavery. But, because these instances of the principle of violence were so minor as compared with the total energy, the people prospered better than had other peoples. Perhaps it was too good to be true.
Protection and Dependency
This haven of free and independent men, as decades passed into history, began to develop protected and dependent men. The exigencies of free immigration, free trade, free competition in services as well as in commodities, and responsibility for individual welfare, came to be thought of as credos for a hardier race of men, only for such men as had made our country what it was.
It isn’t easy to identify the growing items of violence which the accepted, limited violence initiated. Who can appraise the significance of immigration laws in a country sprung from immigrants? Who can assess the meaning of the protective tariff imposed by a people who got their start by overthrowing trade tyrannies imposed on them? What will be written in the final judgment book of a nation whose citizens were “educated” by force, whose “prosperity” depended on violence?
The answers to these questions are dependent on each individual’s value judgments. For my part, I have no faith whatever in any “good” that can come from these measures based on violence.