A commonly-heard response to criticisms of existing state policies – or, heaven forbid, the existence of the state itself! – is the demand that the person criticizing either drop his objection, or leave the country.
(A third option is sometimes given, which is the option of working to reform the existing state system, however, the likelihood of achieving that end is so remote that it is perhaps only a slightly more eloquent way of telling someone to just shut up!)
The idea that the two main options for the political critic is to either accept the rule of the state he lives under, or quit the country, is an old and durable one. Obviously, it is not the most intellectual or sophisticated of arguments, but it has achieved surprising longevity, despite its blatant lack of logic.
Central to the ‘exile alternative’, of course, is the belief that the government somehow ‘owns’ the country, and all the resources within it, much as a landlord owns an apartment building and all the apartments within it. In order to live in a condominium building, you have to respect the condo board and its rules – and so, in order to live in the
Now this is a rather startling bit of totalitarian thinking, which even Mussolini would have hesitated to put forward so baldly. (Although Stalin would probably have been quite comfortable with it!) The idea that the government ‘owns’ all property, and sort of ‘leases’ it out to private citizens on the condition of uncritical obedience is astoundingly fascistic. When my wife and I signed the mortgage to purchase our house, we did not notice that George Bush had cosigned, and had ownership rights that superseded our own.
Furthermore, it is hard to imagine how just living in a country creates any form of implicit contract with the government. Implicit contracts are by their very nature unjust –and how do we know this? Because private citizens are not allowed to create and enforce implicit contracts. I can't say to my neighbor that his decision to live in his house automatically requires him to mow my lawn. I can't buy a car, offer to share it with my neighbor and then force him to pay for half of it. Anything which is unjust for private individuals is also unjust for those in the government – since the government is merely composed of individuals, and thus must be subject to the same moral laws as everybody else. Any rights or abilities claimed by those in power which directly oppose the rights or abilities of everybody else are automatically unjust and immoral.
The general answer to these objections is that the government obeys the will of the majority, and so the majority decides which laws and policies the government pursues. Thus obeying the laws of the state is not obeying the laws of any particular politician, but rather the will of the majority. (This, of course, is the form of ‘unlimited majority rule’ that was so instructive to Socrates!)
This is a perfectly valid thesis to put forward, and merely requires proof of the following four propositions in sequence:
- That the definition of ‘a majority’ can be constrained to mean only those within a particular geographical area called a country.
- That obeying the will of the majority is a morally good action at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances.
- That existing political structures accurately reflect the dynamic and constantly changing will of the majority.
- That the will of the majority has not been interfered with through some outside means such as financial pressure or propaganda.
Let's have a look at these in a little more detail.
Required Proof #1: That the definition off ‘a majority’ can be constrained to mean only those within a particular geographical area called a country who were born there or who have certain government-issued cards, and are over a certain age and so on.
This is a particularly tricky question for the ‘love it or leave it’ crowd to answer. The concept ‘majority’ can mean just about anything, from a majority of redheaded people to a majority of people who think that Jim Morrison is still alive. In order to even start proving the moral validity of obeying the majority within the country, a rational case must be made that only a geographically-defined majority can be considered a moral entity – and no others! So the redheads and diehard Jim Morrison fans are sort of out of luck. If this proposition cannot be proven, then any majority is always more moral than any minority. This might create some problems in stores, for instance, if shoppers want to leave without paying and just happen outnumber the cashiers. Or if I can get the neighbour on my left to agree that we should both take over the house of my neighbour to my right and so on. Also, if the majority always trumps the minority, the existence of the state is always morally wrong, since citizens always outnumber politicians.
If this proposition can be proven – no easy task – then we can move onto the next step.
Required Proof #2: That obeying the will of the majority is a morally good action at all times and in all places, and under all circumstances.
If this proposition is true, then moral rules do not exist in any objective sense whatsoever. The will of the majority is constantly changing, both within a society and throughout history. For instance, in the past, slavery was considered moral; now it is considered immoral. At what point did these moral rules change? If we have a country of 100,000 people, does the nature of morality, humanity or reality change when person number 50,001 changes his mind? What about if he changes it back? Is objective reality and human nature swirling back and forth like a kaleidoscopic whirlpool as he ponders a particular moral question?
Now, if obeying the will of the majority is not a morally good action at all times and in all places and under all circumstances, then some other moral criteria must be more valid than the ‘will of the majority’ when it comes to judging the ethics of particular actions. Since there then must exist a moral rule which is more valid than the will of the majority, it must be to that moral rule that we defer, not to the will of the majority.
Required Proof #3: That existing political structures accurately reflect the dynamic and constantly changing will of the majority.
Now, even if someone manages to prove both of the above assertions – quite a challenge! – he still faces the challenge of proving that governments accurately and continually reflect the dynamic will of the majority. This kind of assertion is far more provable in the free market than in the realm of politics, since voting only occurs every couple of years, even in a democracy. And voters, of course, only get to choose candidates whose considerable campaign expenses have been paid for by special interests looking for post-election favors at the expense of the voters!
Also, just as central command-and-control economies have no methodology for allocating resources in the absence of free-market prices, it is hard to imagine how a government could ever accurately and consistently determine the will of the majority on an ongoing and dynamic basis. After more than two thousand years of political philosophy, the world still awaits any methodology by which this could ever be achieved. (I for one am not holding my breath for a breakthrough on this one!)
Required Proof #4: That the will of the majority has not been interfered with through some outside means such as financial pressure or propaganda.
Even if all of the above have been proven, the challenge of proving ‘free will’ still remains. For instance, if the majority of people are offered $1,000 each to vote for a particular political candidate, then saying that an election somehow reflects the ‘will of the majority’ could be considered somewhat specious. All that it reflects in this case is their desire to receive $1,000!
Now, we all perfectly aware that the vast majority of funding for political candidates comes from individuals, unions, charities, organizations and corporations that all expect to receive political favors in return for their contributions. The employees of large corporations that deal with the Department of Defense just might hesitate before voting for a pacifist candidate whose major platform was a reduction in defense spending! Does their vote somehow represent the will of the majority, or rather just the self-interest of the bribed?
Furthermore, we can generally recognize that a person who was raised in a totalitarian system and was bombarded with propaganda every waking hour might have a certain ideological ‘hangover’ from that level of indoctrination. Similarly, we can generally recognize that here in the West, children from the age of 5 to 18 are subjected to hours of direct state propaganda in public schools every single weekday – not even counting homework! (And, speaking as a writer who attended three universities and battled all the way through to a Master’s degree, the ideological horrors of modern universities are even worse!) This degree and depth of propaganda is rather astounding, and absolutely interferes with the ordinary citizens ability to accurately process and understand the causes and effects of state power.
Thus even if all of the above points are provable, as long as state education continues to indoctrinate children for a dozen or more years, majority opinion can in no way be said to reflect the unbiased opinion of that majority. That would be equivalent to saying that paying a kidnapper to free your child is the same as a voluntary transaction.
Thus, overall, until the above points are all proven in sequence – and the problem of relativistic morality raised by an absolute obedience to the will of the majority is also resolved – we can safely say that any and all ‘love it or leave it’ arguments are entirely false, and morally corrupt. (As a side note, it is both sad and funny that Americans use this argument, which if accepted in Colonial times, would have stopped the Founding Fathers in their tracks and forced them to obey the British government or leave the Colonies!)
Unfettered allegiance to political power in any form is at the root of the moral corruption so evident in the 20th century, when at least 170 million people were murdered by those obeying government edicts. If genocide is something to be opposed, then we must all equally oppose the moral corruption of the ‘love it or leave it’ argument.