This is an excerpt from "Why Man Needs Government," a lecture by Roger Donway at the 1991 IOS Summer Seminar. Mr. Donway began by arguing that "man's life," as an objective standard of moral value, must be understood historically. Only with the evidence provided by the Renaissance could men reach the conclusion that long-range production grounded in technology was the human mode of existence. Upon this modern understanding of man's life, Mr.
Donway constructs a justification of government that does not rest upon the concept of "natural rights."
Metaphysically, we know, man is capable of surviving on his own, something which is apparently not true of ants, termites, and some other lesser creatures, for whom the unit of self-sustaining action is not
the physical entity. The process by which man lives —rational production—is wholly contained within the individual. In this sense, man is not
a social animal.
The task of living is so great that men need every aid they can obtain.
But the task of living is so great that men need every aid they can obtain. And among the most necessary aids are other men. Man cannot, in any practical sense, survive alone. In order to live, I must exploit—as part of my process of living — the results of your process of living. And of course you must do the reverse. I express this by saying that men properly "live together" —each living as an individual, and yet doing it together.....
Having grasped this, however, we must immediately go back and stress the other side. The primary process of life is individual and self-contained. It is a rationally planned and integrated long-range course of action that results in the production of life-sustaining values. What this entails, David Kelley has described in his article "Life, Liberty, and Property."
If human life and happiness are values, then so is production. But production is a long-range, rational process. It requires continuous, connected activity, in the service of a plan, over lengthy periods of time. It requires technical judgments about the best means to achieve an end, and economic judgments about the ends best served by a given set of means. People disagree about such judgments.... If production is a value, then the ability to act upon these judgments ... must be highly weighted. [“Life, Liberty and Property,” Social Philosophy and Policy I, Spring 1984]
And this is why, however much I need other people, I must also be able to deter them from coercing me.... Life involves a man's planned control of his actions, through reason, over the course of a lifetime.
A Monopoly on Force
If that is so, then it is not sufficient for me to live my life without having it coercively disrupted. It is not enough that "At time A I am not coerced," "At time B I am not coerced," "At time C I am not coerced." Far more important—in fact absolutely essential—is my ability to ensure that no such disruption will take place. That is what it means to be able to plan, and to be in control of one's life.
Now, obviously, this is a condition not easily achieved, but it can be done. In some cases, such assurance can be based on the fact that my life represents a value to others, and that I know those others appreciate my value too much to use coercion against me.... But these cases apply only when dealing with people one knows intimately. Today, the people with whom one interacts are far too numerous, and their value systems too various, to rely on such methods.
Under today's conditions, deterrence must be achieved by other means. The conventional way of achieving it is the following. I so situate myself—vis-á-vis anyone who might contemplate using coercion against me—as to visibly possess an overwhelming ability to retaliate—with certainty and devastation. The purpose is not to retaliate, not to recompense myself in case coercion is used. The purpose is to render the chances of its being used vanishingly small.
The short-hand phrase for this condition is to say that I possess a monopoly on force.
Obviously, that phrase does not literally state the case. In the first place, a monopoly means a single seller of a commodity and the force in question is not being sold. Second, so long as men possess fists, no person can have a true monopoly on force....
A Conflict of Needs?
Nevertheless, the phrase makes a point. On the plan I've laid out, what I require to secure my life is so overwhelming a superiority of force that those I deal with will be deterred from infringing my ability to follow my judgment. Unfortunately, this creates a problem.
In a given area, there can be only one monopoly on force.
Life, for man, means "living together," in the full sense of both terms. We live—as individualists
—by using the living of other individualists as levers that magnify the results of our actions. There is no other way to live, nor would life on any other terms be desirable.
But what does this imply? To live as an individual, assured of my own independence, assured of the ability to act on my own judgment, it is necessary for me to possess so overwhelming an advantage of force as to deter the use of force by those with whom I deal.
Yet those with whom I deal—being no less human—face the same problem. They, too, live as individuals, and therefore they too must possess so overwhelming an advantage of force as to deter the use of force by those with whom they deal— which of course includes me.
The point here—and one must be clear about it—is not that this creates a conflict between my life as an egoist and their lives as egoists. It does. But if I am an egoist, I must answer the question: What is their difficulty to me? The answer, as I said at the beginning of this line of reasoning, is that to live as a human is to live in a society of individualists. Therefore, it is necessary to me that those among whom I live should be able to live as individualists, which means: It is necessary to me that those among whom I live should be able to deter my use of force by possessing an overwhelming advantage in the correlation of forces against me.
Thus, the pursuit of my life seems to have brought me up against a logical impossibility. How can it simultaneously be the case that I possess an overwhelming advantage in the correlation of forces and those with whom I deal possess an overwhelming advantage in the correlation of forces? In a given area, there can be only one monopoly on force.
A Common Agent
But perhaps we are overlooking something. Suppose, contrary to fact, that at the turn of the century Standard Oil had held a monopoly on kerosene in the United States. The company at that time was owned, not broadly, but at least by more than one person.
All of the stockholders held the monopoly— but they held it jointly.
So who held the monopoly?
Clearly, all of the stockholders held the monopoly— but they held it jointly.
I think the same solution can be applied in the present instance. A number of persons in a given area can each have a monopoly on force, if they exercise that monopoly through a common agent — which we then call a government.
But this raises another difficulty. Whom does the agent—the government— obey? If the government is my agent, it should obey me. If the government is your agent, it should obey you. If this agent were like other agents—like a lawyer, say— we would observe that it has a potential conflict of interest and must get rid of one of its clients.
The person betrayed by his agent has the right "to throw off such Government and provide New Guards for his future Security."
But I don't think this is the only solution. For example, a company's management is the sole agent for all of the owners—that is, all of its stockholders— even though the owners may have different ideas about how the company's capital should be used. In the case of most companies, the solution is simply to go by majority vote, with each common share having one vote.
But this solution will not work for government. Remember, I need my monopoly on force because I could not live as a contemporary human in an area where a person might decide to use coercion against me. It does me no good to live in an area where coercion might be used against me if a majority of the people so decide. That would just put me back where I started, needing my own monopoly on force.
The answer, I suggest, is that each citizen can have his own monopoly on force if that monopoly is exercised through a common agent, and
that agent is not allowed to act on whim at all, but is allowed to act only in accordance with certain pre-established and agreed upon rules. These rules are thus my
instructions to my agent, and they are your
instructions to your
Within this context, it is reasonable for men to allow a majority of those among whom they live to make the relatively minor decisions that their common government-agent's prescribed rules leave optional.
But should that agent violate its instructions at my behest or at your behest, it acts in violation of its obligation to the other person. And in such a case, to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, the person betrayed by his agent has the right "to throw off such Government and provide New Guards for his future Security."
Originally Published in IOS Journal Volume 1 Number 2 • Fall 1991