Q) If there were a button you could press that would immediately end government would you do so?
A) This is a fairly common thought experiment amongst anarchists, voluntaryists, libertarians, and freedom lovers in general. Literally hundreds of hours a year are spent debating and discussing the wisdom of this question, with (as usual) as many viewpoints as there are participants in the discussion (if not more). But I’ve yet to hear such a discussion that really addresses the issue in a rational or “realistic” manner (with realistic in quotes simply because one has to accept the reality of such a button in the first place).
What’s missing from these discussions is the specifics of what the button would actually do. Because my answer (and many others I believe) will vary greatly based on the definition of terms. There are two terms in particular that need to be pinned down in this case: “government” and “end”.
What level of government are we talking about here?
As a person residing in Manchester, New Hampshire there are at least five separate and distinct governments that claim dominion over me: The City of Manchester, Hillsborough County, The State of New Hampshire and the United States Federal Government. Pushing a button to eliminate any of the first four would be pointless as the functions of each of the first four would immediately be assumed by the next up the ladder. An edict would simply go out empowering the next higher level to undertake all the actions of its now missing subordinate until such a time as the subordinate government is reconstituted.
If the button would end the Federal Government the freedom gained would last a bit longer, but it wouldn’t take more than a a few weeks, in my opinion, for functionaries from the lower echelons to reconstitute it as well. Assuming, of course, that some other National Government doesn’t quickly step in and pick up the reigns that have been dropped (see The Republic of Minerva for evidence of just such an occurrence).
Given this understanding, I wouldn’t bother pressing the button to end any of these governments. Doing so would only create short term chaos (of varying degrees) and the (rapidly occurring) end result would not be likely to produce any more individual freedom. I’m not interested in creating chaos for chaos’ sake, so there would be no reason for me to press the button.
In order for the button to have any meaningful effect, we must assume that the word government in this context refers to all governments on the planet – from the smallest (presumably Monowi, Nebraska – an incorporated town with a population of one) to the largest (either the United States Federal Government or the the government of the People’s Republic of China depending on how one measures such things).
With that understanding we can move on to the heart of the dilemma – what is meant by “end”. I’ll present three scenarios based on differing meanings and give my answer(s) to each.
Scenario 1 – Elimination of Government Personnel
One way the button could end government would be for it to emit some sort of wave, ray or energy that would simply eradicate or incapacitate all of the people that currently make up the government itself. Remember a government is not a distinct item like a car or a tree. Rather it’s made up of one or more individuals acting in concert. Therefore one possible way to “end government” would be to vaporize each and every one of those individuals.
This would, of course, mean the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people – from Heads of State down to local dogcatchers and everyone in between including countless bureaucrats, soldiers, social workers, police officers, etc. Some would argue it includes school teachers, mail carriers, campaign workers and more. However, it doesn’t really matter to me where that particular line is drawn.
As an anarchist I must live by a strict moral code. That moral code can be boiled down to a respect for individuals and their property best summed up in the Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, do what ye will”. As in the vast majority of moral codes, murder would be a clear violation. So even if we were only talking about causing a single death I would not push a button that would eliminate the people making up the government – or even a single government functionary.
Scenario 2 – Firing All Government Personnel
Another method of ending government would be to fire all of the government functionaries and workers. I’m not really sure how the button would issue all those pink slips, much less have the recipients accept their newly unemployed state, but let’s assume both things occur.
This would lead to the very same problems caused by eliminating anything less than every single government in the world – a new government would (almost) immediately spring up to replace the government that was just “ended”. I am unaware of any historical event in which a governing body has been removed without being quickly replaced. And, of course, there’s no knowing whether the replacement government will be better or worse than our current state of affairs.
While the button functioning in this manner leads to the most interesting discussions I, personally, would still choose not to press the button if it functioned in this manner. Once again, I don’t believe the short-term increase in freedom would be worth the chaos that would ensue in the interim, nor the risk of greater oppression under the new regime.
Scenario 3 – Removing Government’s Aura of Legitimacy
In this scenario the pressing of the button would awaken the vast majority pf the people on Earth to the truth that Government itself is immoral. While some might call this instantaneous brain-washing, others, myself included, prefer the term accelerated education.
Ultimately the existence of government has nothing to do with the people or the buildings or even the laws (and the guns used to enforce those laws). Governments hold power because people believe it is more beneficial than it is harmful. Regardless of whether this belief is grounded in a distrust of their fellow men, a desire to get something for nothing, or a belief that life should somehow be “fair”, it is this belief that gives all governments their aura of legitimacy. It is only by doing away with this misguided belief that we can truly end government.
So, if the button can do that then I’d be happy to slam it down without a second thought.
The Complete Ask An Anarchist Series-
- Ask An Anarchist: Cheat Out Of A Ticket
- Ask An Anarchist: What About “The Poor”
- How Can I Become A Winner When I Believe I’m A Loser?
- Should Prisoners Pay For Their Own Incarceration?
- Should I vote?
- Ask An Anarchist – Pushing the Button To End Government