Eiland’s Three Laws of Government, and My Life as a Libertarian Wimp

In the taxation thread below, Tony makes an argument I’ve seen other libertarians make:
“if you think the state has the right to forcibly tax its citizens, then you shouldn’t complain about the amount taken. taxation IS theft. the amount stolen is arbitrary and incidental.”
I can’t go there. I agree with Ayn Rand that the idea of “anarchistic capitalism” is an oxymoron: government must exist to serve as a fair judge in cases where force or fraud are used illegitimately to disrupt a fair trading relationship, at a minimum, and in any event government is a necessity to protect a nation from outsiders.
Of course, as much as I admire Ms. Rand’s writings, I’ve had to accept that she’d have viewed me as a heretic as far as some economic issues go. I believe that a certain amount of social infrastructure (road systems and the like, at the very least) *is* necessary to accomplish the goals she felt were essential; namely, protecting citizens from outsiders who would use force against them, and protecting citizens from each other when appropriate (force and fraud situations). I’ve developed (at least I’ve never seen this particular formulation–someone else may have seen it, and if so I’d like to be pointed in its direction) a three part test for a functioning, non-oppressive government based on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:
EILAND’S THREE LAWS OF GOVERNMENT
1. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens and invited guests from aggressive use of force by those from outside its borders;
2. The second duty of government is to protect its citizens and invited guests from those within its borders who would use force and fraud against them (including citizens, invited guests, and other persons);
3. The third duty of government is to protect its citizens and invited guests from itself, as thoroughly as is possible given the first two duties.

One and two are rather closely connected in this day and age (particularly given terrorist sleeper cells and the like), but I separated them on the theory that conceptually they originally were considered separate functions of government. IMO, the third duty implies rather strongly that there should be a very strong bias against the government involving itself in *any* function that does not directly facilitate the accomplishment of either of the first two duties. If that principle were followed, the government would be involved in far fewer activities than is typical in this day and age around the world, and the taxation problem would take care of itself mostly.
However, I’ll reiterate–I believe that certain government duties are crucial if a nation is to be distinguished from an anarchy, and that it is legitimate to tax the citizens of a nation–by force if necessary– to accomplish those goals. If that makes me a wimp as far as libertarians go, I’ll accept the label.

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10 comments

  1. Mike Rentner

    Ayn Rand took an uncharacteristically weazely stand on the issue of taxes. She decreed that only voluntary taxes were just, but she left the issue to “political philosophers” to determine how this would be possible.
    Ms. Rand would have agreed with your basic idea of the proper role of government, and I don’t suppose she would have thought a minor tax would have been something worth getting too worked up about, but we’re at least an order of magnitude beyond “minor” today.
    She would disagree with your claim that the government should be involved with making roads, and this was one of her clearest points.

  2. Scott Wickstein

    I must concede that I’m with M.Scott Eiland as a ‘wimpy’ libertarian. I’ve never read Ayn Rand, myself, but I’ve sort of cottoned on to what I want.
    I want small government, not no government.
    And Scott, you are making me look very bad- you are posting about philosophy and I’m posting about kangaroos.

  3. M. Scott Eiland

    “And Scott, you are making me look very bad- you are posting about philosophy and I’m posting about kangaroos.”
    Hey, my first post here was about baseball. Nothing wrong with a bit of pie to go along with the spinach. 🙂

  4. De Doc's Doings

    New Federalism, The Asimov Way…

    Here’s an interesting notion… The Three Laws Of Government, as proposed by M. Scott Eiland: 1. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens and invited guests from aggressive use of force by those from outside its borders; 2. The second du…

  5. Nick

    Don’t feel bad Scott W. I usually send Scott E. the stories about kangaroos saving people and librarians and celebrating Pirate Day.

  6. Ben

    I think what a lot of libertarians miss is that a monopoly on the use of force is inevidable. Without government, the guy with the biggest gun, or gang, and the will to use it, forces his will on others. I suspect that this was the original formation of governments in the beginning of early time.
    So then the choice becomes is the welder of that power responsible to the populace, or only to himself (divine right of kings I see as simply a variation on the latter)?

  7. Pouncer

    The inevitable ordinal numbering implies, and the internal references require, a sequence of priority that’s I’d reverse.
    “Bad” neighborhoods are dangerous because of the “bad” neighbors, who prey most often those closest. In war, the most dangerous place is the “frontline” where the enemy is closest to your own position is in the best position to kill you. Trusted clerics and priests are the individuals who abused their juvenile parishoners … the highly placed bishops sinned “only” in covering things up. And, likewise, I would argue it is the government closest to us which has the most chance to abuse us. The cliche’ of the red-necked fat-bellied sherriff who picks and chooses who goes to jail for trivial offenses, and which corrupt activities will freely procede for a fee — that’s a recent reality many places.
    Consider the danger the Homeland Security Act poses given an evil enforcer. Ask yourself, would you feel differently about the new powers awarded the attorney general if Janet Reno were in charge?
    ANYHOW … I suggest that the first, not third, duty of government is to restrain itself. Forming, somehow, a pact in which citizens have the power to act together without empowering any to act unfairly against the others. At best, an imperfect pact. But always aiming for improvement, and providing methods for that passage to a slightly “more perfect union”.
    The second rule, to protect citizens again each other, I would agree is properly prioritized. “Establish Justice” and set up adjudication for disputes …
    The third priority is still very high. A government that can’t “provide for the common defense”, won’t last long. But if it can’t do so in consonance with my first two priorities I’m not sure I want it to last long.

  8. De Doc's Doings

    New Federalism, The Asimov Way…

    Here’s an interesting notion… The Three Laws Of Government, as proposed by M. Scott Eiland: 1. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens and invited guests from aggressive use of force by those from outside its borders; 2. The second du…

  9. tony

    oh but the govt DOES have a monopoly on force, and that’s why its role needs to be precisely defined and limited.
    libertarians don’t want NO govt – we just want small govt which takes care of defence, law and order – ie to prevent thugs with guns standing over us – but that’s all. and we say that in a truly free society these things would be funded voluntarily.
    and i still say that once you accept that the govt has the right to take money from you by force, you shouldn’t complain about the amount taken – because taxation is a violation of property rights. by accepting taxes as legit you are accepting the violation od property rights as ligit. it’s like letting a thief into your house and then complaining when he takes too much of your stuff.