Ayn Rand’s famous essay “The Nature of Government” in The Virtue of Selfishness seems to appeal to almost everyone, right and left. Whether or not we want the government to do more, we all accept that it must at least provide an army, police forces, and courts of law. To sociologists, any government that cannot achieve these is called a failed state. The problem may be more complicated…
Ayn Rand did not invent this theory. She took it almost literally from German sociologist Max Weber’s 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation” (Politik als Beruf), originally an address to the Free Students at
. Munich University
“Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand … Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force. …
Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the 'right' to use violence.” (C. Wright Mills translation)
This specific formulation did not come from John Stuart Mill or John Locke or even Aristotle. For Aristotle, government was a natural consequence of the state as a union of families. As such, it cannot have the form of rule limited to one family, to that of the master or head of household. For Locke, we invoke a social contract in which the pursuit of those who violate our property is the work of the state by a division of labor. Moreover, for Locke, the courts were not a branch of government. In The Second Treatise, the three functions of government are given as diplomatic, legislative, and executive. Courts of law derive from the community; and in
, they were a bulwark against the government: the king’s men had to come before a court and apply for a warrant. For John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1869) government’s role was to prevent harm, which is not necessarily the same thing as preventing crime. England
Weber’s essay reflected the structural and functional methods of sociology, consonant with the positivist tradition of objective description, rather than subjective prescription. However, modern Objectivists insist that fact and value are inseparable. Therefore, the justification for government must proceed from observations that are abstracted into an explanatory theory which is then tested (and hopefully supported) by other facts.
Ayn Rand asserted that capitalism requires objective law. By “objective” she did not mean good, only consistent. She pointed out – cogently – that dictatorship is not really iron rule, but caprice: the whim of the bureaucrat. Capitalism requires property rights. Hernando
has shown how the trillions of dollars of value owned by the poor is lost for the want of such rights in the so-called “under-developed” nations. de Soto
Beyond those observations, little has been achieved to develop a theory of government that is consistent with objective fact and value. It may be that all that is required is a legislature, meeting infrequently of course, to review the statutes. Courts and police can come from other sectors of the economy.
ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
UNLIMITED CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF UNLIMITED CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT