Someone told me about a recent Facebook poll, asking something like, "What would you do if you were President?" I find the question itself depressing, for several reasons.
First of all, that anyone would want
to be President is depressing. To want to be President means you think that, if given the power to control 300,000,000 people, you could make their lives better than if you just left them alone. What a fine combination of arrogance and insanity.
Second, it's a safe bet that almost everyone who answers the question will feel noble and compassionate as they do so, describing all the ways in which they would use such power to help mankind. They don't understand that it is utterly impossible for "government" to help mankind, because all it ever does is initiate violence. You can't help mankind by adding more immoral violence into society.
Anyone who has read "The Iron Web"
knows exactly how I would answer the Facebook question myself. But, as for all of you out there who aren't anarchists or voluntaryists, the correct answer to the question--notwithstanding any noble, charitable answers you might imagine--is this: if you were given such power, you would advocate mass extortion, robbing millions of what is rightfully theirs, and use intimidation, coercion, and terrorism to control innocent people. In short, you would become a tyrant.
The degree of your viciousness, and the amount of oppression you would heap on your unfortunate subjects might vary, but you would
oppress them. And worst of all, you'd probably feel righteous about it as you did so. (Most tyrants do, you know.)
At talks I've given in the past, I did this as a mental exercise, asking people to imagine that there is a magic sea shell which, when you hold it, automatically makes whatever you do moral and righteous. I don't mean it changes your behavior; I mean it changes morality. If you chose to slug someone for no good reason, or take his stuff, or even kill him, such actions would magically become good
if you were holding the magic shell, though they would obvious be bad if you weren't.
So what would you
do with that shell? Just think of the good
you could accomplish with such power! Here are a few examples:
If, without the shell, you stole something from one person to give it to another, the giving might be good, but the stealing would be bad. But if you had the magic shell, the stealing wouldn't be bad anymore! You could righteously take rich people's stuff, and give it to the needy!
Normally, you have no right to butt into people's lives and tell them what choices to make. But with the shell, you could use coercion to make them eat healthier, make them get more exercise (make them buy life insurance?), and it would be good
. It would benefit their health, and what would usually be considered bullying and violence would become good
, because of the magic shell.
Normally, how people spend their own money is up to them, but with the help of the magic shell, you could righteously force
them to invest how they should, and buy the products they should, and spend the right amount and save the right amount, and so on.
Normally, people have the right to make their own decisions, even if those decisions are harmful to themselves, and you have no right to stop them. But with the shell, you can prohibit them from possessing things you think are dangerous (like guns), or doing things you think are dangerous, or consuming things you think aren't good for them--cheeseburgers, cocaine, beer, jelly beans, whatever.
And think of all the large-scale projects you could do, if you had the right to take money from those who earned it. You could make a defense system, a welfare system, an education system. You could make the people safer and healthier, with better transportation and communication systems. If you had the right to control everything, you could create a utopia!
Well, no. You couldn't. You would create injustice, oppression, poverty, extortion, violence, and murder. Because all such plans are implemented through the use of violence, and the threat of violence, against innocent people. And there is no magic shell, no "law," no constitution, no office, and no political ritual which can ever make that a good
If offered such a magic shell--or if offered the presidency--what you should do--but what almost no one could do--is immediately destroy the power. There is nothing you can do--nothing anyone can do--which can convert the initiation of violence
into something that helps humanity. Your motives and virtues don't matter. Whatever your intentions, "authority" cannot be used for good.
Those of you who have read Lord of the Rings
may be thinking of the "Ring of Power." If so, you get a gold star. In fact, I might as well end this article by quoting what Gandalf (the old, wise wizard in those books) said, when he was offered the Ring of Power. If only more people understood this about power:
"Don't tempt me, Frodo. I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine
So I guess that's Gandalf's answer to the Facebook question.
Well, there was one other thing. He didn't merely refuse to take the power for himself. He and his fellow conspirators did something far more radical and extreme.
Good for them.