The 2020 presidential campaign was notable for hate-filled character assassination and manipulation of people’s fears. For instance, there were many iterations of ad hominem “Orange man bad” assertions. They in turn were extended to the logical fallacies that “therefore every policy he supported was bad” and “everyone who might support any one of those policies was bad,” combined with the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric once largely restricted to opponents in war. And those efforts were compounded by heightening COVID fears in hopes of cowing people into obedience to government edicts that were often uninformed and abusive of Americans’ rights.
After the election, things have only gotten worse, with those mechanisms combined with false accusations of “insurrection” backing up a broad array of aggressive punitive acts from those newly empowered against those who in any way contravened their desires. And that was even before Inauguration Day (incidentally putting the lie to any earlier claims that Joe Biden would represent a return to what was once called normalcy).
The payoff from the creation of apocalyptic fears and demonization has already been revealed as the arrogation of power to the new government, presented as benevolent rescuer, and their big tech favorites.
This fear- and hate-based expansion of coercive power has received far too little notice. However, it has been insightfully analyzed.
In 1959, Robert LeFevre saw this connection clearly in “The Nature of Man and His Government. He saw how people’s desire to have their fears assuaged led them to grant increasing power to their government, acting as “a gangster of their own” in opposition to what they feared.
He also recognized the unstated assumption of such acts that the “gangster” would remain the servant of those who created it, with its power exercised solely against others to advance supporters’ interests, which LeFevre showed was logically and historically unsupported.
That makes it worth revisiting LeFevre’s prescient insights about today:
Men have organized for the purpose of protecting themselves…Government is the tool of this protection…in practice, the tool of protection…is employed with equal vigor and ferocity against both the criminal and the good and harmless citizen.
Every citizen [becomes] a victim of the aggressive tactics of government.
Government has a single, possibly legitimate, function, that of apprehending and punishing the criminal…government has…gone far beyond…to equate the average individual, who is peaceful and orderly, with the criminal who commits acts of aggression with willful intent.
That which was formed for our protection becomes, finally, the very reason we need to be protected.
There is only one thing which causes man to look for and to organize a tool which is an instrument of compulsion and prohibition. That thing is fear…And virtually without exception, everything that human beings fear becomes a project for government.
It is this all-compelling emotion, fear, that has sired governments…an organizational gadget, containing compulsory unification…to offset, or even to overcome, the strength of others.
Governments, then, are not agencies of right, necessarily. They are, necessarily, agencies of strength. It could be said that man, feeling certain that he was surrounded by gangsters, has devised a gangster of his own, theoretically obedient to his own will, who will act with truculence against alien gangsters, while remaining docile and tractable towards his deviser.
History teaches us with much repetition that this is an enormous fallacy. Governments begin with a soft side towards their own creators and a hard exterior exposed towards potential foes. But as time passes, the hard exterior extends until it…becomes equally hard and impervious towards every human being, since the nature of the gadget is that it must be strong against human beings.
Government’s presumed selectivity, in knowing whom to favor and whom to oppose, is actually nonexistent…because…government’s strength is derived wholly from its compulsory unification. Government can permit no exceptions to its rules.
In the one case the government may act defensively, to protect the rights of an individual; in the other case, the government will act aggressively, protecting no individual right but simply compelling universal obedience to its decrees…the predator, actively enacting the role of…gangster.
Men have so much fear concerning the imminence of gangsterism in their midst that they tend to bear the iniquities of government’s predatory actions…rather than to deprive themselves temporarily of their own gangster, however powerful and unruly he has become.
We have less freedom than we used to have. We are more coerced. We are plundered repeatedly and in growing amounts…Each act of plunder gives birth to the necessity for additional acts of plunder. And the number of laws curtailing us, regimenting us, restricting us, and punishing us grows hourly larger and more difficult of evasion.
It is the business of government to employ force and to compel obedience…to punish any individual who does not go along with those mandates imagined as necessary by the men in power.
Government is…a weapon…designed for protection, [but] always ends up by attacking the very persons it was intended to protect…Government begins by protecting some against others and ends up protecting itself against everyone.
We have two kinds of police protection, voluntary and involuntary. The first is paid for voluntarily because someone wants protection and is willing to pay for it. The second is forced upon us all because some people feel we must have it. The first is moral, the second is immoral. Yet the latter is gaining ground.
Lew Rockwell described Robert LeFevre as recognizing that “civilization stemmed from the voluntary actions of men, not the laws of the state,” and that “Crediting government for the good in society was…like crediting the criminal class whenever it leaves us alone to go about our affairs.”
That is why he knew that “all states are prone to expansion and always at the expense of liberty.”
Robert LeFevre saw that the coercion at the heart of government is strikingly similar to that employed by gangsters and that in neither case is there any assurance that individuals’ well-being will be advanced as a result. The opposite will often be true.
As he put it, “The nature of government is such that, whatever strength it has, it will be used to amass greater strength by draining away the strength of individuals.” Today, Americans have little inkling of his insight, and what is happening all around us offers testimony to how crucial it is to defending liberty.
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.