Jim Payne is a long-time Heartland policy advisor, author, donor, and friend. He’s written a really nice commentary on the true definition of “government” and why we so seldom hear it expressed today. His essay is here in PDF form. Here’s his definition:
Government is the organization that directs the regular, public use of physical force in a territory and makes rules upheld with the threat of force.
This is close to how Heartland’s founder Dave Padden would define government. We either accomplish things voluntarily and through persuasion, Dave said, or we resort to force. The free market is the institution that relies on voluntary exchange, while government is the only institution in society with a monopoly on the legal initiation of force. Dave often led discussions in which people would gradually come around to agreeing to his definition.
Defining the word really does change the way people view the world. Shouldn’t we try to find ways to solve problems peacefully and voluntarily before we resort to force? Is it really okay to use force to achieve trivial objectives? Wasn’t the American Revolution and the Constitution all about placing limits on the use of force in society? Come to think of it, wasn’t that a big part of the message of Christianity?
Good questions to ask in this new year!