A Serious Note on ‘The Monopoly on Force’

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 February 19, 2018|
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This year in the United States more than 35,000 people likely will die and more than 2 million people likely will be injured or disabled in road crashes. Of the people killed in road crashes, nearly 8,000 will be killed in crashes involving drivers ages 16- to 20-years-old.

Despite the high cost in life and limb, few question the social utility of driving a car by the age of 16, although it is well documented that adolescent brains cannot assess risk or control impulses. Americans today highly value the mobility of teenagers. Most Americans, still prizing independence in young men and women, will bear the risk of that independence.

When it comes to the use of force, a good many people believe—or will signal the belief (which is not the same as actually believing)—that the state ought to have a monopoly on the use of force, leaving no room for individual gun ownership, except as an atavism.

These beliefs share a kinship with beliefs that the state is fundamentally about force, such as those expressed by John C. Calhoun or Noam Chomsky (who have more in common than meets the eye), and are alien to the consent described in the Declaration of Independence. These misguided people have inverted the conditions of freedom, thinking the arc of History bends towards justice, but consent could bend just about anywhere. They forget the principles of the American founding: justice—“just government”—is derivative of consent, not the other way around.

Most Americans have been taught the fundamentals of this wrongheaded idea by the time they finish elementary school. Most basic civics classes teach that a “monopoly on force” is a defining feature of a functioning state. The principle is reinforced by their experience, as their schools respond to security issues with “lockdowns” and the ubiquitous command to passivity in the face of danger, “shelter in place.”

The opinions of family and neighbors, grown in the fertile ground of a bourgeois life with a low risk of violence, augment this. Antecedents to H.G. Wells’ docile and naïve Eloi, they cannot understand why always trusting someone else to defend you is not a safe and common sense arrangement. Interestingly—perhaps an antecedent to Wells’ Morlocks, who turn out to be the smarter of the two human descendants—in tough neighborhoods across America, one of the first of life’s lessons is there is one person you can count on to defend you . . . you.

For those who share the homogenized and ossifying opinions of the elite institutions, the idea that government might not control itself seems farfetched. They are more worried that government might not control those for whom the opinions of elite classes are not catching on. When the permanent state shares your political beliefs on all fundamental issues, its monopoly on force feels like—but only feels like—your monopoly on force. This explains the stridency of gun control opinions. which are put forth as an insult: “Fuck your thoughts and prayers.” This is not an opinion that asks for your trust; they don’t plan on needing it.

Maybe another angle on the discussion—if you call what is going on “discussion”—is rather than to emphasize the hardware, the arms, emphasize the man. That is, emphasize the importance of the principle on which the right to bear arms is derived: consent.

One can’t make an agreement if one party has no means to enforce it. Similarly, a people cannot give political consent without retaining the right to withdraw consent, in the event that consent is irreparably abused. This implies the use of force. It is contradictory to consent to government—to ruling oneself—and not also to have the right to defend that consent, if necessary.

Tragically, there is a price being paid for the intersection of this principle of consent with the descent into madness of a society that in too many places has cut ties with civilization. It may be small comfort to people that it is a far smaller price than the price paid for the practice of teenage driving. People routinely exaggerate remote risks that are disturbing, and understate risks that while imminent they wish to be remote in their minds. Americans value self-government and consent, which they instinctively realize is tied up with the right to bear arms. We hear a lot about the NRA bending the legislature. Truth is, the NRA wouldn’t get far without the American people.

Americans know the risks, and are willing to mitigate them, but not at the expense of the principle.

About the Author:

Jay Whig
J. Whig is an attorney practicing in New York and a resident of Connecticut specializing in insolvency and restructuring. Opinions are his own.