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A Necessary Evil

Anders Mikkelsen

What is the State?
Gary Wills’ objective
The Context of the Constition
Wills' Uses of Government
Shay’s Rebellion
Gun Control and Militia
Socialized Health Care

Gary Wills’ book A Necessary Evil talks about the long running theme in American
Society of distrust of government and why this is a bad thing. He seeks to void the ‘myth’
that increases in ‘government’ decrease liberty. Instead it is a necessary good, and not
something to be limited and hampered. As we shall see he fails to effectively deal with
his opponents strong arguments. Nor does he adequately define and deal with what
‘government’ is today, i.e. it is The State.

He is an excellent writer and makes some good and important points that most people
don’t know and I don’t disagree with.
1. Constitution was about creating a stronger central state.
2. Congress is supposed to be the most powerful branch.
3. There is a big thread in American history of a powerful state for the betterment of
society. [This may be an interpolation.]
4. Many people who are for a smaller state are hypocritical and should admit that
they just want the state controlled by them or enforcing their policies.

Most people probably do know this point of Gary Wills - Socialized health care, ‘social
justice,’ socialism, social democracy can not be achieved without the state or government
as he calls it. (There is a section later on what socialized health care can achieve, and
whether it really meets the stated objective of helping people.)
I believe it a well written statement promoting government and state intervention in
society. He thinks we should embrace the state and figure out how to best use it. It is
likely that his arguments sway many readers who are unfamiliar with The State and the
arguments for and against it. However his work fails to effectively deal with the nature of
the state and the arguments about the limits of positive state intervention, as well as those
arguments against its very nature.

There are two primary points he seems to ignore.

Rules and Principles are limits. Some rules exist, e.g. Slavery is wrong.

State sovereignty is limited by reality, e.g. 2 + 2 = 4, and the state can’t change

Therefore government actions must be limited, because attempts to pass those limits will
result in disaster. Instead of defining realistic limits, Wills primarily focuses on
Americans distrust of government.

Wills would presumably be familiar with thoughts and sentiments similar to the
following, but they don’t appear to have affected his core argument.

“…government “discretion” unencumbered by principled limits run straight

against the grain of the liberal doctrine.”
(Ralph Raico p. 7.)

[Krauthammer] insists that there were four different Bush Doctrines, he actually
proves that there is only one: [George W.] Bush is completely above the law --
period, whichever way you cut it. first, international law; then, the moral law;
then, constitutional law; and last, "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" of
Jefferson's Declaration.
( Christopher Manion )

As political scientists have documented, one hallmark of tin-pot tyrannies is the

belief that political leaders should be liberated from the constraints of law as long
as that helps to achieve good results. That's the defining mentality of those who
crave benevolent tyrants -- our Leaders have so many Good and Important
Things to do for us that they can't be distracted and weighed down by abstract
luxuries like upholding the rule of law. That's now clearly the prevailing
consensus of our political establishment.
(Glen Greenwald – )

Like many people he constantly conflates ‘The State’ with society and rules, law, justice,
and government in the sense of just rules governing social interaction. While Wills points
out the benefits of society, the primary arguments against the state are that it impedes
social cooperation. Wills ignores these arguments, argument which were in the writings
of the very people his book discusses. It could perhaps be argued that these arguments
weren’t clearly stated enough for Wills to notice them, and they are much more clearly
stated in similar arguments by English and other European Classical Liberals, Radicals,
and Liberal Anarchists, but Wills is completely unfamiliar with them so he didn’t
understand the implications of the Americans’ writings. The strong arguments against The
State point out that The State basically by definition is not society and violates any
comprehensible definition of law and justice. It must commit evil which is why it is
considered a necessary evil. As George Washington said, “Government is not reason; it is
not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” While
Wills is familiar with the results of these arguments, seen in the writings he discusses in
his book, I believe he ignores the underlying arguments about principles and the nature of
the state.

What is the State?

Before continuing it is probably best to examine what The State is. In the popular mind
and in rhetoric, speeches, etc. it is often conflated with society and the nation. As
effective as this is for legitimizing the state, it doesn’t make it true. As any Political
Science class will tell you the state is as Max Weber said – an organization that has a
monopoly over the legitimization of the use of force in a given territory. There are several
key points about what the state is.
1. It is a corporation. That is to say that it is an abstract body or legal entity whose
members derive their power from their position but do not possess it. (With the
king and feudalism powers are inherited and inherent in the person, a property if
not property.)
2. As a corporation it is separate from society. It is also separate from the military.
(In feudalism everyone in power is basically society and the military. Similarly
the Greek Polis and the Roman Republic may look like states, but are effectively
the assembled people, i.e. society, the free adult males who fight.)
3. It often ostensibly serves and is subordinate to the king, feudal ruler, owners,
nation, people, public, party, or other rulers.
4. It claims it is Sovereign, answering to no higher authority, e.g. Emperor, God, The
Church, Natural Law or other Law, international opinion, more powerful states, or
common decency.
5. Being Sovereign, it claims to decide what use of force is legitimate. This includes
deciding the legitimacy of the actions of state officials, the military, and members
of society.
6. It claims it alone has the right to tax.
7. It claims it alone can make war.
8. It is a relatively recent and Western concept and not one found in practically all
societies at all times.
9. There being other forms of Government in other times, The State is clearly not
necessary for government or law.
None of these should be seen as controversial or arguments against the state, but accepted
statements of fact familiar to anyone with a background in Political Science or Western
History. A possible exception is the case of totalitarian states, where one could say that
the concept of a society or a nation separate from the state and party is eliminated. Wills
of course says he is a supporter of society.

There are several logical implications of the above points.

1. The state uses force to achieve it objectives.
2. The state creates at least two classes of people, state officials and everyone else.
State officials can take actions like taxation or war that would be considered
illegal if undertaken by non-officials.
3. The state is the judge in all disputes involving itself. There is no third party.

Gary Wills book needs to deal honestly with the following ideas –

I, Gary Wills, think it is proper to use force to achieve my objectives of X, Y, and

I, Gary Wills, think it is proper that some people have rights or privileges to
conduct actions X, Y, and Z, which would be considered criminal if performed by
others. Not all rights are equal.
I, Gary Wills, think it is proper that a group of people A may be the sole judge
their disputes with others, but group of people B may not. In fact group B will be
judged by group A.

It is unclear how he can avoid denying the following principles.

Equal Rights
He would also be asserting that when disputes are resolved unilaterally by one of the
concerned parties, if that party is the state, then the concerned party’s resolution is never
No does he propose how the state will only engage in limited exceptions to the above

Today most people agree that slavery is wrong regardless of whether the state says it is
ok. If it is wrong, people should not participate in or support it, including state officials
and the state. We therefore believe that the state can not make right what is wrong. This
also implies that what applies to citizens applies to the state. Unless Wills is arguing that
might makes right and the state can do whatever it can get away with, Wills has to make a
principled argument for the state. As quoted earlier

“…government “discretion” unencumbered by principled limits run straight

against the grain of the liberal doctrine.”
(Ralph Raico p. 7.)

THE RULE of law can be defined as a system in which the laws are public
knowledge, are clear in meaning, and apply equally to everyone. They enshrine
and uphold the political and civil liberties that have gained status as universal
human rights over the last half-century. . . . Perhaps most important, the
government is embedded in a comprehensive legal framework, its officials accept
that the law will be applied to their own conduct, and the government seeks to be
(Thomas Caruthers writing in Foreign Affairs march/april 1998.
Quoted by Glenn Greenwald.

The strong argument against The State, says that being a state official does not absolve
one of having to follow standards of right and wrong, morality, ethics, law, justice, etc.
not to mention common decency. The State’s officials must follow the same rules of
justice and right and wrong as everyone else. They can not engage in actions which
would be considered wrong in ordinary society. If The State did follow the rules as
everyone else, it would cease to be a State, but more like a non-profit, church, institution,
or business.

Given that Gary Wills presumably believes in peace, equal rights, and justice and civil
liberties, he needs to explain how the state is limited from committing unnecessary evil
and how it is a necessary evil. Yet this idea of limitation, of being afraid of government,
of viewing it as an evil, is precisely what his book objects to.

Gary Wills’ objective

He seeks to void the ‘myth’ that increases in ‘government’ decrease liberty. He quotes the
Brandeis saying that the separation of powers exists “not to promote efficiency but to
preclude the exercise of arbitrary power.” Wills disagrees with this.

He explains that his book is about historical and constitutional arguments. Historical and
constitutional arguments will show that the constitution was about a stronger state
relative to what came before. He does not show how the state can be justified with reason
or law. We saw above some but not all examples of the logical implications believing in
the state. I do not believe he adequately deals with them. I did not see any evidence he
deals with this Brandeis quote.

"In a government of law, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it

fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the
omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by example.
Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt
for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
- Justice Louis Brandeis
(quoted by Paul Craig Roberts. )

It is of course possible he’s never contemplated the logical implications of his belief
system. He claims to be looking at history. So let us also look at history and the
Constitution. We can see he has missed some key points and arguments from the history
he studied to write his book. One of the biggest issues is that it seems pretty clear in his
own introduction that people at the time of the Constitution wanted a very limited state,
and the Federalist Papers were designed to assuage those fears. In order to assure passage
of the Constitution it had be a document of limited government. He correctly claims that
it was definitely a less limited and stronger government than what came before. Unless he
thinks that people should have been tricked in to a strong state, the people’s voting for
what they thought was limited government should blow whatever else he has to say out
of the water.

The Context of the Constitution

We have to understand the context within which the constitution was written and the
American Revolution conducted. As Voltaire said, the State is a mechanism to move
wealth from one set of pockets to another – i.e. from society to the king and state
officials. 18th and 19th century liberal theorists viewed the old order of Throne and Altar
as exploitative.

[The introduction to Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, explains quite well the old order.
His essay Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty also explains the move from the
conservative Old Order during the American revolution, as well as the continual attempts
to use the conservative Old Order means to achieve liberal ends. ]

As I wrote in my article – “Democracy – the Form of Government Almost Never Tried!”

Back in the 18th century, people understood that the state was an organization for
the aggrandizement of the rulers, usually the king and his ministers, and certainly
not for the benefit of the people. The rulers of course agreed. It was usually
clearly ridiculous to say that war was for the people, or that the state should help
the people (say by feeding, educating, employing or nursing them). If anything
the subjects should help the state. Therefore the people wished to support it as
little as possible, and had no illusions that any good would come of the state.
When the American and French revolutions came along, people were faced with a
choice. Either dismantle the old state system, or take it over. In practically all
revolutions the winning choice was to take it over, and a new set of people
became the ruling class. Even in America that choice won. In France a plank of
the revolution was the right of the middle class to compete for cushy government
employment. This new ruling class faced a problem. If the old state system
created to serve the ruling class was unjust because it served the ruling class at the
expense of the people, how to justify the new ruling class using the old state
system? Wouldn't people assume it was still serving a new set of people at the
expense of the rest of the people? The answer was to tell the people that all these
evils were for their own good, this was a new state that would serve the people
instead of the king or upper class. The doctrine that the people ruled, and that
whatever the people ruled was just, served as the perfect way to legitimate any of
the state’s actions and in fact contributed greatly to its power.

It was also essential to ensure that direct ruling by the people be minimized as
much as possible. As Rothbard point out in Conceived in Liberty, in the USA, and
other countries, it was argued that the central state or assembly represented all the
people as a whole, while the smaller local states and governments were only part
of the people and were not therefore truly popular government and the farthest
from monarchy. Around the world regional government was suppressed in favor
of the post-revolutionary central state's democracy. Movements to abolish
monarchy and the old order led to re-establishment of an even more powerful
central state that had the full support of the people. As said in the great movie Il
Leopardo, for everything to remain the same everything must change.

Il Leopardo shows how the ruling class is in danger of losing power. At the end of the
story it is re-entrenched, though it loses quite a bit of its charm in the process.

In Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, a history of the Colonies through the Revolution, he

tells story of the Crown’s attempt to impose state power and the colonist’s resistance. The
colonists and Crown were pretty clear on the Crown’s main objectives:
Regulate trade and commerce for the benefit of English merchants, not the
Impose state supported religion.
Tax the colonists to pay for the enforcement of the laws of England, the most
important laws being that colonists will pay taxes and obey commercial
The importance of taxes was itself a circular argument. As the colonists had themselves
been following common law, the primary law in need of enforcement was collection of
more taxes to pay for the state machinery of tax collection including salaries of state
officials. When Andros’ took over rule of New England in the 1680s his own salary
exceeded that of the previous Massachusetts’ state budget. Andros enforcement of
commercial regulations also crippled the economy – making it harder for New England to
pay for increased spending. It is little wonder so many colonists saw increases in state
power as harmful.

As Wills understands, there were founding fathers who wanted a powerful state like the
Crown they had just overthrown. As Rothbard says –
To reimpose in the new United States a system of mercantilism and big
government similar to that in Great Britain, against which the colonists had
rebelled. The object was to have a strong central government, particularly a strong
president or king as chief executive, built up by high taxes and heavy public debt.
The strong government was to impose high tariffs to subsidize domestic
manufacturers, develop a big navy to open up and subsidize foreign markets for
American exports, and launch a massive system of internal public works. In short,
the United States was to have a British system without Great Britain. (p. 192)

This is the context of the constitution – the ruling class wants to establish itself. In
America the constitutional convention did wish to establish a more powerful state. They
saw many good uses of government. However people were fearful that the state would
continue to be exploitative, so they sought to limit its power to harm society. The
Federalist Papers contained arguments explaining the limitations of state power. The
states and the people agreed to a limited government, limited by the constitution.

Wills’ Uses of Government

Wills does attempt to explain why government or The State is useful. He makes the
important and true argument that social cooperation is good and that this involves
exchange, markets, property etc. So why does this involve the state? He claims it is a
myth that the state is the enemy of social cooperation. He says the state is needed to
enforce contracts. A third party must apply sanctions (but who applies sanctions against
the state and prevents them from violating contracts?)

Unfortunately this misses several key points.

1. There are many examples of private / non-state law that cut off cheaters and
criminals (users of force and fraud) from society / the market. Law Merchant is a
well known example. (See and, both cover law that doesn’t involve state coercion.)
Admiralty law and common law were like most good things developed ‘privately’
by the concerned parties and then taken over by the state. (See the section The
Law and the Courts )
2. Wills argument is that we need a watchman state that defends against force and
fraud. Yet pretty much everyone he cites as anti-government was perfectly happy
with a watchman state that simply enforces people’s rights. They saw it as a
necessary evil.
3. Who will watch the watchmen? The state applies sanctions, but in cases involving
the state, the state is the third party enforcing the rules and applying sanctions.
4. The state presumes the violation of rights, contract etc. It can forcibly take your
property, void contracts, etc. If you resist its commands it can forcibly take your
5. Mutually beneficial exchange is the best deal that both parties can come up with
at the time. State intervention means that at least one party will be negatively
affected, since by definition this is the best deal they could come up with.
Obviously it may not objectively be the best deal, but in so far as both parties
agree to the exchange it is objectively and subjectively better than one where at
least one party does not wish to participate.
Given they way the state can impede social co-operation, he should be expected to
explain the state’s limits.
He also correctly mentions that the good of society also involves the interaction of
individuals through speech, art, writing etc. Again, why does this involve the state? Given
the long history of state suppression of philosophers, artists, this seems a bit silly.
Mencken’s writing is full of defenses of free thinkers attacked by the state. If the state is
prevented from persecuting people, engaging in inquisitions, censoring, etc it is by
definition limited.

He points out the rules are good. Again, why does this involve the state? What rules limit
the state? The strong argument against the state, or merely an argument in favor of limits,
is precisely that rules are good. Rules are limits. As Madison stated in the Federalist

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own
choice if the laws be ... so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be
repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant
changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be
(Quoted by James Bovard -

The state impedes social co-operation through taxation, and intervention at home and
abroad. The state can be seen as an extension of war with an admixture of other means,
plundering and conquering its territory. Some of the most important arguments against
the state want to limit it so it does not impede social co-operation. It is the state’s own
lack of rules, and rules are naturally limiting, which cause the social chaos.

People see in republics and constitutions a solid foundation of what is right and
wrong; some things cannot be decided or changed. There is a common and I
would say true evil in both democracy and so-called democracy – that right and
wrong can change. (I agree our conceptions or our understanding of right and
wrong can change, but right is right just as 2 + 2 = 4 even if it is hard for people
in any particular society to understand that truth.) Railing against democracy does
not get to the root of the problem, which is the incoherent or evil rules that people
are expected to follow. The state system is inherently contradictory, as what is
wrong for ordinary citizens is right for state officials. As Mises' works show, what
made the countries of Europe such a mess was not the ethnic composition of their
society or the forms of government, but to what degree that state was allowed to
interfere with society. The more interference, the worse the results. A king,
democracy, dictator, lord, republic, bureaucracy, colonial or communist regime
that does not interfere in society is usually a quite pleasant place to live, one that
does interfere is invariably unpleasant. As Hoppe points out, in our so-called
democratic regimes not only do the rulers have every incentive to interfere in
society while they still have power, but the people are more likely to permit them!
When more people realize that majority rule does not legitimize everything and
that they do not in fact rule, we will be farther along the road to a world without
“Democracy – the Form of Government Almost Never Tried!”

I think his real complaint is that without the state we won’t get social democracy,
socialized health care, social justice. He doesn’t argue this directly, but he does complain
repeatedly about the lack of social justice if we limit the state. He wants a Santa Claus
State, where all the nice people get lots of good things.

"The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the
expense of everybody else." -Frederic Bastiat

As much as the constitution was about increasing state power, Tugwell, one of the
architects of the New Deal, was well aware that the New Deal was against the
constitutional concept of limits.

The Constitution was a negative document, meant mostly to protect citizens from
their government.... Above all, men were to be free to do as they liked, and since
the government was likely to intervene and because prosperity was to be found in
the free management of their affairs, a constitution was needed to prevent such
intervention.... The laws would maintain order, but would not touch the individual
who behaved reasonably.

To the extent that these new social virtues developed [in the New Deal], they were
tortured interpretations of a document intended to prevent them. The government
did accept responsibility for individuals’ well-being, and it did interfere to make
secure. But it really had to be admitted that it was done irregularly and according
to doctrines the framers would have rejected. Organization for these purposes was
very inefficient because they were not acknowledged intentions. Much of the
lagging and reluctance was owed to constantly reiterated intention that what was
being done was in pursuit of the aims embodied in the Constitution of 1787, when
obviously it was done in contravention of them.

quoted by
from Tugwell’s “Rewriting the Constitution,” published in the March 1968 issue
of The Center Magazine:

In the following sections we’ll examine some of the historical incidents and personages
Wills discusses.

Shay’s Rebellion
Wills uses Shays rebellion as his first example of the evils of anti-government thinking.
In American history this incident was interpreted as some sort of communist uprising, as
opposed to a revolt against real oppressions. It provoked George Washington to come out
of retirement and to support a central government.

It was portrayed at the time as a revolt by people who didn’t want to pay their debts. In
fact it was people who didn’t want to pay a high tax burden.

The book Shays' Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle.
supports that view, and it is discussed here by Gary North.

At the end of the revolution Massachusetts, unlike the other states, decided to pay its war
debts in full and in silver (hard currency.) This resulted in imposing a poll tax (a per
person tax regardless of ability to pay) and high property taxes. As it turned out much of
the debt was owned not by veterans, but merchants who’d bought it on the cheap. John
Hancock had not imposed high taxes, but troubled by gout he didn’t want to be Governor
in 1785 and the man selected supported enforcing tax collection. This led to the rebellion,
which was portrayed as dangerous enough to require a stronger central government.

“Baron von Steuben, who had served under Washington, identified the problem in
an article signed "Belisarius." Massachusetts had 92,000 militiamen on its rolls.
Why did the state need military support from Congress? He provided the correct
answer: the government was not representative of the opinions of the people.”

The revolt was in fact put down by an army paid for, not by the legislature, but by
wealthy citizens.

Shay’s rebellion was portrayed in letters to other Americans as a revolt by people who
didn’t believe in debt repayment, hard money, and property. Knox wrote to Washington

The machine works inversely to the public good in all its parts; not only is State
against State, and all against the federal head, but the States within themselves
possess the name only without having the essential concomitant of government,
the power of preserving the peace, the protection of the liberty and property of the

On the very first impression of faction and licentiousness, the fine theoretic
government of Massachusetts has given way, and its laws [are] trampled
underfoot. Men at a distance, who have admired our systems of government
unfounded in nature, are apt to accuse the rulers, and say that taxes have been
assessed too high and collected too rigidly. This is a deception equal to any that
has been hitherto entertained. That taxes may be the ostensible cause is true, but
that they are the true cause is as far remote from truth as light is from darkness.
The people who are the insurgents have never paid any or buy very little taxes.
But they see the weakness of government; they feel at once their own property
compared with the opulent, and their own force, and they are determined to make
use of the latter in order to remedy the former….

The creed is, that the property of the United States has been protected from the
confiscations of Britain by the joint exertions of all, and therefore ought to be the
common property of all; and he that attempts opposition to this creed is an enemy
to equality and justice, and ought to be swept from the face of the earth. In a
word, they are determined to annihilate all debts public and private, and have
agrarian laws, which are easily effected by means of unfunded paper money,
which shall be a tender in all cases whatever. The numbers of these people may
amount, in Massachusetts, to one-fifth part of several populous counties; and to
them may be added the people of similar sentiments from the States of Rhode
Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, so as to constitute a body of twelve or
fifteen thousand desperate and unprincipled men. They are chiefly of the young
and active part of the community, more easily collected than kept together
afterward. But they will probably commit overt acts of treason, which will compel
them to embody for their own safety. Once embodied, they will be constrained to
submit to discipline for the same reason…

These is no evidence that the accusations that the rebellion was a form of communist
revolt are true. The leaders were in fact the solid citizens of western Massachusetts. What
had in fact happened is that people paid with worthless paper had sold it, and now the
people were expected to pay off the previously worthless paper with hard money
collected via taxes.

Having proceeded to this length, for which they are now ripe, we shall have a
formidable rebellion against reason, the principle of all government, and against
the very name of liberty. This dreadful situation, for which our government have
made no adequate provision, has alarmed every man of principle and property in
New England. They start as from a dream, and ask what can have been the cause
of our delusion? What is to give us security against the violence of lawless men?
Our government must be braced, changed, or altered to secure our lives and
property. We imagined that the mildness of our government and the wishes of the
people were so correspondent that we were not as other nations, requiring brutal
force to support the laws…

But we find that we are men, – actual men, possessing all the turbulent passions
belonging to that animal, and that we must have a government proper and
adequate for him….

The people of Massachusetts, for instance, are far more advanced in this
doctrine, and the men of property and the men of station and principle there are
determined to endeavor to establish and protect them in their lawful pursuits; and,
what will be efficient in all cases of internal commotions or foreign invasions,
they mean that liberty shall form the basis, – liberty resulting from an equal and
firm administration of law.

They wish for a general government of unity, as they see that the local
legislatures must naturally and necessarily tend to the general government. We
have arrived at that point of time in which we are forced to see our own
humiliation, as a nation, and that a progression in this line cannot be productive of
happiness, private or public. Something is wanting, and something must be done,
or we shall be involved in all the horror of failure, and civil war without a
prospect of its termination. Every friend to the liberty of his country is bound to
reflect, and step forward to the dreadful consequences which shall result from a
government of events. Unless this is done, we shall be liable to be ruled by an
arbitrary and capricious armed tyranny, whose word and will must be law…

Knox’s successful letter to Washington to gain support for a more powerful central
government was couched in terms of liberty, property, limited government and preventing
tyranny by unlimited government fanatics.

One of the bases of nullification can be seen in Jefferson’s quote –
As Jefferson wrote on November 10, 1798: "Resolved, that the several States
composing the United States of America, are not united on the principles of
unlimited submission to their General Government; but that by compact under the
style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto,
they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that
Government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary
mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General
Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and
of no force . . ."

One of the other bases was the American Revolution itself which established the right of
secession and nullification of imposed laws. The American Colonies were founded by
seceding from the British Empire and nullifying its laws.

Wills feels that Jefferson was being overly paranoid about the Alien and Sedition acts and
shouldn’t have supported nullification followed by secession. He says Jefferson was
concerned that Hamilton supported monarchy. He fails to mention that Hamilton did
support monarchy. Hamilton wanted an executive for life with special powers. Monarchy
also meant not just a king, who might have limited powers. The word monarchy means
one ruler as opposed to rule by the people or an oligarchy. Any kind of centralized
executive or state bureaucracy unanswerable to the people or the ruling class was
monarchy and considered tyrannical. This was exactly the kind of executive Hamilton
It should be noted as well that the fights over slavery and the tariff were causes of the
civil war. The federal government was used to support slavery and force non-slave states
to respect slavery. Without this support, it would have been easier for slaves to escape.
Similarly the tariff was used to support northern and corporate welfare interests, and it
depended on Federal enforcement. Lincoln in 1861 was more than happy to see the
constitution amended to make slavery permanent, so long as the tariff taxes continued to
be collected. Nullification worked to counteract the two big issues that tore the US apart
– slavery and the tariff. Fearful of one side taking control and imposing itself everywhere,
the country split.

There doesn’t appear to be any passages addressing Calhoun’s important point that The
State creates two classes of citizen’s – the tax payer and the tax eater. The tax payers are
forced to support the tax eaters. The tariff raised most its revenue from the South. This
revenue was then used for national projects, many obviously of questionable real benefit
to anyone except those lobbying for them.

Few, comparatively, as they are, the agents and employees of the government
constitute that portion of the community who are the exclusive recipients of the
proceeds of the taxes. Whatever amount is taken from the community, in the form
of taxes, if not lost, goes to them in the shape of expenditures or disbursements.
The two — disbursement and taxation — constitute the fiscal action of the
government. They are correlatives. What the one takes from the community, under
the name of taxes, is transferred to the portion of the community who are the
recipients, under that of disbursements. But, as the recipients constitute only a
portion of the community, it follows, taking the two parts of the fiscal process
together, that its action must be unequal between the payers of the taxes and the
recipients of their proceeds. Nor can it be otherwise, unless what is collected from
each individual in the shape of taxes, shall be returned to him, in that of
disbursements; which would make the process nugatory and absurd. Taxation
may, indeed, be made equal, regarded separately from disbursement. Even this is
no easy task; but the two united cannot possibly be made equal.

Such being the case, it must necessarily follow, that some one portion of the
community must pay in taxes more than it receives back in disbursements; while
another receives in disbursements more than it pays in taxes. It is, then, manifest,
taking the whole process together, that taxes must be, in effect, bounties to that
portion of the community which receives more in disbursements than it pays in
taxes; while, to the other which pays in taxes more than it receives in
disbursements, they are taxes in reality — burthens, instead of bounties. This
consequence is unavoidable. It results from the nature of the process, be the taxes
ever so equally laid, and the disbursements ever so fairly made, in reference to the
public service.
The necessary result, then, of the unequal fiscal action of the government is, to
divide the community into two great classes; one consisting of those who, in
reality, pay the taxes, and, of course, bear exclusively the burthen of supporting
the government; and the other, of those who are the recipients of their proceeds,
through disbursements, and who are, in fact, supported by the government; or, in
fewer words, to divide it into taxpayers and tax-consumers.
John C. Calhoun - A Disquisition on Government

Given that he saw the clearly exploitative nature of the tariffs and taxes it is not
surprising that Calhoun supported the right of South Carolina to nullify them.

"Protection against what? Against violence, oppression, or fraud? If so,

Government is bound to afford it. . . . It is the object for which Government is

But Calhoun saw through the protectionist charade. "No; it [the protectionist tariff
bill] is against neither violence, oppression, nor fraud. . . . Against what, then, is
protection asked? It is against low prices" (TEC, p. 196).

The proponents of tariff protection would never advocate having the government
write checks to manufacturing interests. "No; that would be rather too open,
oppressive, and indefensible." Instead, they disguise the special-interest subsidy
as "protection," which is nothing but "tribute, levy, exaction, monopoly, plunder .
. ." (TEC, p. 197).

"[I]ncreased demand and prices consequent on the exclusion of the article from
abroad, would tempt numerous adventurers to rush into the business, often
without experience or capital; and the increased production, in consequence,
thrown into the market, would greatly accelerate the period of renewed distress . .
. and demand for additional protection." (TEC, p. 202)

"Every protective tariff that Congress has ever laid, has disappointed the hopes of
its advocates; and has been followed, at short intervals, by a demand for higher
duties" (TEC, p. 202).

Applying Madison's theme from Federalist #10, where he warns of the political
destructiveness of the "violence of faction," Calhoun posed the rhetorical
question: "Can anything be imagined more destructive of patriotism, and more
productive of faction, selfishness, and violence, or more hostile to all economy
and accountability in the administration of the fiscal department of Government"
than protectionist tariffs?

"that active, vigilant, and well-trained corps, which lives on Government, or

expects to live on it; which prospers most when the revenue is the greatest, the
treasury the fullest, and the expenditures the most profuse" and which will
faithfully support "whatever system shall extract most from the pockets of the rest
of the community, to be emptied into theirs"

Gun Control and Militia

It is ironic that Wills relies on the infamous plagiarist Emory University Professor
Michael A. Bellesiles. This was torn apart by a variety of historians and the Professor
resigned. See Stromberg’s Bellesiles vs. History

Logically it isn’t clear how the revolutionary war was won in the first place given the
supposedly ineffectual nature of the militia and the lack of weapons. The war was started
by the militia fighting, at Lexington and Concord, the British force sent to seize the
colonists’ arms. He also seems to ignore the loss of an entire British force of 10,000
during the Saratoga campaign. The root of the loss was the constant harassment of the
expedition and the gathering of volunteers and militia to surround and defeat the isolated

Throughout the war the British found themselves unable to impose themselves at any one
point without the permanent stationing of troops. What was so striking was the
ineffectual nature of the regular British army to impose its rule in the face of broad

As Stromberg says –

The militia had proved "inept" and "incapable" of doing whatever it was they
were supposed to do – an interesting political question left hanging in the wind, as
it has no immediate bearing on the evils of guns and the fecklessness of the
American colonists. A clue: the militia was no good for conquering Canada, from
1758 to the War of 1812. Lucky Canadians. That militias were not ideal for
empire-building might be in their favor.
Bellesiles vs. History -

I don’t believe he confronts Nock’s main argument - The state rests on coercion. It is the
political means of gaining wealth through force. It takes from voluntary production and
trade, the fruits of society and cooperation. It produces nothing.

While Nock didn’t believe the state is necessary, it was in fact a parasite, given that it is
consuming resources it must be kept in some sort of bounds regardless of one’s views of
its necessity to society.
He quite rightly recognizes that Mencken in addition to having a gift with words that
made him very funny and probably the best American stylist of all time, was in fact
completely serious in his attacks. Mencken lived through WWI and the red scares and
saw what happened when the state was not limited. Today Wills lives in an America
where Americans and Foreigners alike are imprisoned without trial or even particularly
good reasons, so he may more appreciate Mencken’s concerns. Mencken also supported
the rights of free thinkers and morons alike to their opinions as long as they did not force
them upon others.

H. L. Mencken said in 1940 politicians “will all promise every man, woman and child in
the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for
chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to
unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable,” because they
understand that “votes are collared under democracy, not by talking sense but by talking
nonsense.” Given the incentives in place, it is no surprise he believed the more limits on
the state better.

Socialized Health Care

The scholars in the Austrian school, especially Von Mises, Rothbard, and Hayek have
consistently shown that socialist policies can not meet their stated objectives to make
people wealthier and able to obtain more good and services. Since state intervention in
society can not meet its stated objectives, the state can either admit failure and abandon
its policies or blame society and intervene further in an attempt to ‘fix’ the problem. This
intervention too will not meet its stated objectives, but the whole process will increase
state power if the people believe the state is doing something about the problem.
Eventually of course the state will admit failure, as happened when the Soviet Union
began to collapse, communist China changed its economic policies, or the US left
Vietnam. Many of the problems the state tries to fix are the result of some earlier state
intervention, the other problems are usually inherent in the nature of things and along the
lines of not being able to have our cake and eat it too.

The following is an attempt to list the logical implications of socialized health care.

The state will provide health care to everyone who needs it. The State will take resources
from society and allocate them to provide health care to everyone. The following
examples allow that people may still be allowed to purchase health care.

The resources available are limited to a maximum 100% of society’s wealth.

These resources will then be allocated back to society. The state must figure out how to
allocate the limited resources to create the greatest quantity of health care. It is therefore
constrained by economic law.
People will be given benefits they’re either unwilling or unable to pay for. (Otherwise
there would be no additional benefits and therefore no point.) It they’re unwilling to pay,
they must not value the benefits as much as those they will pay for. If they’re unable to
pay someone else must. The people taxed will have less money to pay for the benefits
they value. If people are unable to pay (being poor or overly taxed) someone else must
pay, who will then have less money to pay for the benefits they value.

People will consume those benefits offered for free. This increases the demand for health
care without increasing the resources available. It also shifts people and resources who
are providing health care to paying customers who are patients, to providing health care
to the new paying customer the state. This can drive up the price of health care that
people pay for, as the paying customers must now bid against the state for health care.
This makes it more expensive for everyone to buy the services they desire. This may
make the state contemplate making private purchase of health care illegal, thereby
decreasing demand for and cost of health care services it purchases.

The state will have to allocate resources to meet demand for health services. However
people, who don’t have to pay, can demand more health services than there are resources
to provide.

People will be seen as a drain on state resources. By contrast a paying customer increases
the resources of a health care organization.

The state will have to create a standard of some sort to allocate limited resources to meet
demand. At a certain point people won’t get everything that they want, there will not be
enough resources available. This will leave many people still dissatisfied, and with less
resources to purchase the services they want. (Assuming they’re allowed to purchase
health care at all.)

One method of limiting demand is lines. People will not be able to get care when they
want it. They’ll have to wait. Obviously health care is not a right if you have to wait for it
or depend on someone else to provide it.

The old standard to allocate resources was that people could buy health care or get it as
charity. What standard will the state use? It wishes to give people health care they can’t
or won’t buy. By definition all people requesting health care are a drain on state
resources. Which drains are more worthy than others? If the state only gives the least
expensive care, how does this help the people who can’t afford the level of care they
want? If it gives expensive care, it takes resources away from other people who don’t
require expensive treatment.

It should be clear that in this case health care can not be a right, as you don’t get the care
that you want when you want it. Instead you get the care the state allocates to you. If you
have to wait it isn’t a right.
(On Canadian medical system wait times which are measured in weeks.) In addition you
may not have the right to purchase health care at all. So now if you could have afforded
health care, you’re worse off as you have to wait and you can’t purchase care.

Logically therefore socialized medicine can help shift resources to health care. But it can
not increase the quantity of health care people are able to pay for. Nor can it non-
arbitrarily decrease the demand for the free health care it provides. It therefore has no
standard by which to allocate and ration health care. It is therefore unable to improve up
charity and purchase as ways of allocating health care. If Wills goals are to lessen the
amount of health care the well off can purchase he may well succeed. However he may
also make it harder for everyone to purchase the health care they want. Many resources
will be diverted away from health care for charity cases and paying customers to health
care provided free by the state. However much of the states health care will be services
no one was willing or able to pay for in the first place. They are therefore comparatively
wasteful. Instead of people getting what they were willing and able to pay for, people get
services that they didn’t value enough to pay for, or that were too expensive to provide to
everyone. The state has no way to allocate resources that does a better job, therefore if
Wills objective is to help people he will fail.

Books like Gary Wills’ are important because they help provide ideological cover for The
State. Wills book was written at the end of the Clinton administration, and the 1990s were
full of right wing anti-government rhetoric. Michael Potemra, deputy managing editor of
National Review explained in 2000 why it was important to not blame the government
for the deaths of women and children Waco:

We’re about to have a national election to transfer power to a new

administration.... To be effective in doing the work of government, that new
administration will need to count on a public sense of its legitimacy. It’s
important, therefore, that we not encourage the fantasies of those who want to
believe the worst about our American institutions.
(Quoted by

If American’s are taught to not distrust government they won’t question why The State is:

Spying on Americans, bribing and bombing other countries, bailing out

businesses, in wars, arresting people with out trial, deporting people, torturing,
running concentration camps, prosecuting people for victimless crimes, raising
taxes, running up massive debts, imprisoning so many people, spending so much,
ramming evolution or faith based state charity down people’s throats, fighting a
war on drugs, providing sub-standard infrastructure, forcing children to attend
schools that don’t educate, and why there is a nearly endless list of things the
State either subsidizes or bans.
Instead they’ll not ask questions because we have to trust that the government is doing
the right thing; even when it is clearly doing something Americans think is wrong.

Gary Wills is correct that many Americans want a strong state that will impose the
policies they want. Gary Wills is the same way. Gary Wills should realize that not he is
not likely to get the kind of policies he wants but rather the policies he doesn’t. If he does
get the policies he wants, then he’ll get the socialist policies he does want ‘good and hard’
and they won’t help people any more than International Socialism helped Russia and
China and National Socialism help Germany. It should be little wonder many Americans
distrust government and they want it limited – in the 20th century they’ve seen what the
unlimited State can do.

I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed
and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put
away childish things.
Joseph Sobran -