[NOTE: I consider this article flawed, but I'll leave it for posterity.]
In a previous article, I wrote that society is slavery. Although it seems to be the case in every society of which I'm aware, I don't think it necessarily has to be that way.
The governments of the world can be divided into two categories: legitimate ones and illegitimate ones. The legitimate government exists with the explicit consent of the governed, and the illegitimate government is run by men who enslave others as their "subjects" and force upon them their arbitrary and irresponsible will.
There are only two situations in which force is morally justified: 1) to defend one from violations of his natural rights, and 2) when that usage of force is authorized by a voluntary agreement between men. The first situation is always morally justified, regardless of the social relationship between the men involved, as all men are bound by natural law, which is the highest law. And man's natural rights are simply man's rights. Natural rights are the rights man is born with -- those that are intrinsic to his nature, such as the right to liberty. There can be no rights beyond natural rights, because any right extrinsic to one's nature -- necessarily granted from something external -- can not truly be called a right, since that externality could refuse to grant it. Extrinsic rights are in fact mere privileges. And as any laws beyond natural laws are formed by the arbitrary wills (and whims) of men, imposing them on others without their consent creates a master/subordinate relationship, which cannot be morally justified.
While a full discussion of natural law and the natural rights of man would be outside the scope of this article, I'll try to cover it briefly. The natural rights of man derive from the nature of man and the nature of the world, and natural law defines the natural, stable order that arises in a so-called state of nature where man has a proper plurality of force. In this order, men can live peaceably in freedom. Just as the nature of the world can be discovered (and can only be discovered), such as Newton discovered the laws of gravitation, the nature of man is something that can (and can only) be perceived and discovered. Although the discovery of natural law is not necessary for it to be effective (just as the discovery of universal gravitation is not necessary for an apple to fall), the study of natural law is necessary to understand and codify it. And just as the test of a scientific theory is how harmonious it is with our perceptions, the test of our model of natural law is how harmonious men can live together under it. The study of natural law is the science of harmony -- the science of how men can live together in peace. Or to think of it another way, the study of natural law is the attempt to discover the set of laws that naturally assert themselves, flowing from our human nature.
A more formal definition of our current model of natural law is approximately the following: An act is a violation of natural law if, were a party to commit such an act in the absence of an agreed-upon method of resolving disputes, a second party, knowing the facts and being reasonable men, would reasonably conclude that the first party constituted a threat or danger to the second party, their families, or their property, and if a third party, knowing the facts and being reasonable men, were to observe the second party punishing the first, the third party would not reasonably conclude that the second party constituted a threat or danger to the third party, their families, or their property.
Anyway, in a legitimate government, men decide voluntarily to subject themselves to an agreed-upon set of rules in order to provide for themselves more efficient commerce, protection, etc, and with agreed-upon punishments for breaking said rules. And any man can ask to join with one group or another (or any number of groups), to participate in the systems they have designed, as he feels best fit his needs. The most efficient systems would naturally gain more followers, but any man would be free to reject the protection of the group and to rely on his self and those close to him for his livelihood and for the defense of his natural rights.
You might wonder how disputes would be resolved if a man breaks a law that one group has created, when he was not a member of that group. The answer is simple: that law cannot be applied to him. If persons A and B agree among themselves to be bound by a particular set of rules -- rules of their own making -- they cannot rightfully apply those rules to a person C who has not agreed to be bound by them. The only violations they could punish would be the same as those they could punish if they were acting as individuals (and that is exactly their relationship with C, having no other arrangement with him) -- violations of natural law. It is the right of every man to punish violations of natural law, but beyond that, force can only be justified with the agreement of all parties involved.
The illegitimate government, to use the example from above, has persons A and B enslaving everyone else and forcing them, under threat of violence, to agree to a system they do not want and to which they have not consented. A and B are the rulers, who have taken everyone else as slaves ("subjects"). Typically, A and B extort money from everyone else by force, and use the money to hire soldiers who they will use to extort more money, and murder or imprison whatever portion of the people is necessary to ensure servility and obedience from the larger population. Depressingly, all governments of which I am aware follow this model.
As for how this came about, I'll use an excerpt from an article written by Lysander Spooner, a nineteenth century philosopher, abolitionist, entrepreneur, etc. The article is entitled Natural Law -or- The Science of Justice, and is good reading. While I can't fully agree with all of his writings, many of them are highly compelling. (I also recommend No Treason, a long-winded but very solid treatise on the lack of authority of the Constitution, both generally and specifically as it applied to charging the prominent losers of the Civil War with treason.)
I'll note that I disagree with Lysander Spooner's definition of natural law, which is that an act is a violation of natural law if it harms a man's person or property and was not in itself a punishment for a violation of natural law. He carves out a near-absolute protection for men and their property, when nature itself seems to provide no such guarantee. One can imagine many situations (such as the tragedy of the commons) in which men would be harmful to those around them while doing nothing wrong under Spooner's definition.
Natural law, natural justice, being a principle that is naturally applicable and adequate to the rightful settlement of every possible controversy that can arise among men; being too, the only standard by which any controversy whatever, between man and man, can be rightfully settled; being a principle whose protection every man demands for himself, whether he is willing to accord it to others, or not; being also an immutable principle, one that is always and everywhere the same, in all ages and nations; being self-evidently necessary in all times and places; being so entirely impartial and equitable towards all; so indispensable to the peace of mankind everywhere; so vital to the safety and welfare of every human being; being, too, so easily learned, so generally known, and so easily maintained by such voluntary associations as all honest men can readily and rightully form for that purpose -- being such a principle as this, these questions arise, viz.: Why is it that it does not universally, or well nigh universally, prevail? Why is it that it has not, ages ago, been established throughout the world as the one only law that any man, or all men, could rightfully be compelled to obey? Why is it that any human being ever conceived that anything so self-evidently superfluous, false, absurd, and atrocious as all legislation necessarily must be, could be of any use to mankind, or have any place in human affairs?
The answer is, that through all historic times, wherever any people have advanced beyond the savage state, and have learned to increase their means of subsistence by the cultivation of soil, a greater or less number of them have associated and organized themselves as robbers, to plunder and enslave all others, who had either accumulated any property that could be seized, or had shown, by their labor, that they could be made to contribute to the support or pleasure of those who should enslave them.
These bands of robbers, small in number at first, have increased their power by uniting with each other, inventing warlike weapons, disciplining themselves, and perfecting their organizations as military forces, and dividing their plunder (including their captives) among themselves, either in such proportions as have been previously agreed on, or in such as their leaders (always desirous to increase the number of their followers) should prescribe.
The success of these bands of robbers was an easy thing, for the reason that those whom they plundered and enslaved were comparatively defenceless; being scattered thinly over the country; engaged wholly in trying, by rude implements and heavy labor, to extort a subsistence from the soil; having no weapons of war, other than sticks and stones; having no military discipline or organization, and no means of concentrating their forces, or acting in concert, when suddenly attacked. Under these circumstances, the only alternative left them for saving even their lives, or the lives of their families, was to yield up not only the crops they had gathered, and the lands they had cultivated, but themselves and their families also as slaves.
Thenceforth their fate was, as slaves, to cultivate for others the lands they had before cultivated for themselves. Being driven constantly to their labor, wealth slowly increased; but all went into the hands of their tyrants.
These tyrants, living solely on plunder, and on the labor of their slaves, and applying all their energies to the seizure of still more plunder, and the enslavement of still other defenceless persons; increasing, too, their numbers, perfecting their organizations, and multiplying their weapons of war, they extend their conquests until, in order to hold what they have already got, it becomes necessary for them to act systematically, and cooperate with each other in holding their slaves in subjection.
But all this they can do only by establishing what they call a government, and making what they call laws.
All the great governments of the world -- those now existing, as well as those that have passed away -- have been of this character. They have been mere bands of robbers, who have associated for purposes of plunder, conquest, and the enslavement of their fellow men. And their laws, as they have called them, have been only such agreements as they have found it necessary to enter into, in order to maintain their organizations, and act together in plundering and enslaving others, and in securing to each his agreed share of the spoils.
All these laws have had no more real obligation than have the agreements which brigands, bandits, and pirates find it necessary to enter into with each other, for the more successful accomplishment of their crimes, and the more peaceable division of their spoils.
Thus substantially all the legislation of the world has had its origin in the desires of one class -- of persons to plunder and enslave others, and hold them as property.
In process of time, the robber, or slaveholding, class -- who had seized all the lands, and held all the means of creating wealth -- began to discover that the easiest mode of managing their slaves, and making them profitable, was not for each slaveholder to hold his specified number of slaves, as he had done before, and as he would hold so many cattle, but to give them so much liberty as would throw upon themselves (the slaves) the responsibility of their own subsistence, and yet compel them to sell their labor to the land-holding class -- their former owners -- for just what the latter might choose to give them.
Of course, these liberated slaves, as some have erroneously called them, having no lands, or other property, and no means of obtaining an independent subsistence, had no alternative -- to save themselves from starvation -- but to sell their labor to the landholders, in exchange only for the coarsest necessaries of life; not always for so much even as that.
These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life. They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a subsistence by their labor. They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the property and quiet of their late masters.
The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own safety and the safety of their property, to organize themselves more perfectly as a government and make laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection; that is, laws fixing the prices at which they should be compelled to labor, and also prescribing fearful punishments, even death itself, for such thefts and tresspasses as they were driven to commit, as their only means of saving themselves from starvation.
These laws have continued in force for hundreds, and, in some countries, for thousands of years; and are in force today, in greater or less severity, in nearly all the countries on the globe.
The purpose and effect of these laws have been to maintain, in the hands of the robber, or slave holding class, a monopoly of all lands, and, as far as possible, of all other means of creating wealth; and thus to keep the great body of laborers in such a state of poverty and dependence, as would compel them to sell their labor to their tyrants for the lowest prices at which life could be sustained.
The result of all this is, that the little wealth there is in the world is all in the hands of a few -- that is, in the hands of the law-making, slave-holding class; who are now as much slaveholders in spirit as they ever were, but who accomplish their purposes by means of the laws they make for keeping the laborers in subjection and dependence, instead of each one's owning his individual slaves as so many chattels.
Thus the whole business of legislation, which has now grown to such gigantic proportions, had its origin in the conspiracies, which have always existed among the few, for the purpose of holding the many in subjection, and extorting from them their labor, and all the profits of their labor.
And the real motives and spirit which lie at the foundation of all legislation -- notwithstanding all the pretences and disguises by which they attempt to hide themselves -- are the same today as they always have been. The whole purpose of this legislation is simply to keep one class of men in subordination and servitude to another.
Modern-day republics and democracies are not magically immune. Certainly there has been some progress, because now at least the rulers can be held accountable for their actions in theory, if not in practice. It could be said that what government has learned in the past few hundred years is that the way to ensure that they remain in power is to give the subjects enough privileges that they don't ache for freedom, enough toys and distractions that they won't even notice their subordination, and enough token power in the process of rule that they think themselves their masters. But you're no less a slave just because you can choose new masters every so many years. But I think another interesting thing has happened. It seems that forced government has been the norm for so many thousands of years that neither the subjects nor even the rulers realize the truth of the situation anymore.
I've been criticized thrice for my usage of the word "slave", with arguments such as "If I was a slave, where's my chain? There's no chain on me! You can't use the word 'slave' because it's not like the government can just do whatever it wants with me." Since I expect other people will have similar criticism, I'll address that issue here. First of all, the dictionary sanctions my usage of the word "slave", but it goes further than that. A critical refinement of government over the past several hundred years is to make the chain less visible, and in some cases, longer. When people feel free, they won't think to rebel, and the system will be much more stable. And stability is good, in general. But think about this: if you are restrained with a 10 foot rope, but you only ever think to walk within a 5 foot radius, of what consequence is your restraint? It's of none at all, and probably won't even notice it. If you're in a cage so large that it encompasses your entire city, and you never think to try to leave the city, you wouldn't even notice it.
Essentially, the structure of society has been designed so that the set of activities they want you to perform, or at least don't mind you performing, are within the length of the chain. It's only those who try to go outside the system, to do something against the desires of the government, that will ever notice the chain. Suddenly, they feel to trek outside the city, and they hit the edge of the cage... the chain suddenly becomes taught. And even then, most of them have been conditioned to think that it's their fault. This chain they suddenly noticed must have been put there because they are bad people... Either that, or they're simply incapable of seeing the system from the outside. Through conditioning or a lack of intelligence, they don't see their own subjugation. Now, don't think I'm trying to excuse true criminals -- murderers, rapists... people who would have been punishable under natural law. But the majority of people we have incarcerated are not. If I recall correctly, they majority are incarcerated for drug offenses, typically marijuana offenses. And we incarcerate people for even more arbitrary reasons: being homeless, for instance. Yes, homelessness is a de facto crime in many states. You can also be imprisoned for refusing, when you turn 18, to agree to let the government draft you into a war and force you to kill people. And those citizens don't even have the privilege of voting yet, so if they disagree, what are they to do?
And think of the plight of a person in prison. Subject to beatings and other arbitrary punishments, often forced to labor... is this not slavery? So yes, the government can do whatever it wants with you. Those who act against the arbitrary wills and whims of the government that has been forced upon them are literally enslaved. And those who don't are not free, either. They simply haven't hit the length of their chain.
And about the ruling class being in control of all the land... think about it. Do you think you own land? You don't. All land in America is, in fact, owned by the government. You may only rent it, and the rent fee is your monthly property tax. The government even decided recently that they can seize your property and give it to another person if they suspect that person will be able to bring more tax revenue from his use of the land than you. The fact that they can take it at any time shows it for what it really is -- just a privilege they've granted you. All the rights you think you have thanks to the national constitution are nothing but privileges. After all, what happens if the government changes the constitution or its interpretation thereof? The government has also said that it can, at any time, throw the whole constitution out the window and Congress can't do anything about it. Do some research on some of the executive orders that have been passed. The president has the power to enact a dictatorship at any time with himself on top, without any authorization or approval besides his own. You're a subject with no rights... just the privileges that they've granted you for the time being.
This is not how government should be.