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Samizdata quote of the day

Barney Frank famously said: “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

The key to understanding that is to know that “we” in Mr. Frank’s quip is “the looters”.

Perry Metzger of this parish.

32 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    The quote from former Congressman Barney Frank shows a deliberate refusal to accept the difference between voluntary cooperation and FORCE.

    Who were the three politicians given the most money by American bankers in recent years (in the run up to 2008)?

    Senator Barack Obama, Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank.

    So when President Obama supported “Dodd-Frank” the piece of legislation giving the government almost total control over virtually every aspect of financial services, the bankers (and other such) got exactly what they deserved.

    Partly Danegelt (pay the looters and they will leave you alone – errrr does not work).

    Partly worse than Danegelt – an active desire (by the bankers and other such who supported these politicians) to join in the looting (via the subsidies of the Federal Reserve and other Central Banks).

    Again those who join with bandits should not be surprised when the bandits turn on them.

    There is no honour among thieves.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    There are people in this world who not only want to deny you a voice, they want to deny you an identity.

    I watched with interest the media coverage of the commonwealth games opening ceremony – particularly the part about John Barrowman snogging a male dancer. “We” (Scotland) are a tolerant nation says the media. “We” don’t approve of the attitude of most of the commonwealth nations to homosexuality. “We” all think what Barrowman did was heroic, rubbing those backward African’s face’s in glorious man-on-man love.

    As I mulled on this attempted redefinition of Scottishness, I came to the conclusion that those guiding this narrative would attempt to deny me my identity altogether. I am the figurative “no true Scotsman” because I do not share their worldview. I do not reflect “Scottishness”. While I would in no way seek to curtail it, I don’t find homosexuality to be beautiful or marvellous or awesome. Perhaps largely due to my upbringing I can never shake the feeling that it is downright sinful. And my personal preferences aside, I also don’t think his behaviour was acceptable in terms of the games themselves (see 2nd to last paragraph). So to me, Barrowman was no hero. By the standards of what was presented in the media, holding this view nullifies my Scottishness altogether.

    I think that if you’re going to have a definition of Scottishness, it has to involve blood and heritage. I have both in this land, although much of my blood is Irish. But to those shaping the Zeitgeist, Scottishness is an amorphous concept that rests largely on

    A) living here


    B) contributing to the image of society they wish to propagate.

    So by their definition, an Iranian who has just stepped off the plane can be more Scottish than a 4th generation Scot like myself because he adds to the lovely post humanist rainbow that is 21st century Scotland, whereas I don’t.

    As an side, while I’m not their biggest fan, my understanding of things like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games is that they are meant to provide a platform for politically and socially disparate nations to engage with one another in a non-political sphere, and thereby facilitate future peaceful dialogue. It’s meant to reflect the (possibly apocryphal) tale of the German and British soldiers who played football in no-man’s land. Taking the opportunity to metaphorically kick all those nations who don’t agree with Britain on homosexuality in the bollocks struck me as juvenile. But to the right-on reshapers of public opinion, it’s OK for them because they’re right.

    I’ve said it a million times and I’ll keep saying it: being right doesn’t confer any special privileges on you. Everyone does what they do because (at some level or another) they believe it is the correct thing to do. Acting as though that is not the case is to impute bad faith in your opponents. Many of those on the left appear to genuinely believe that their opponents weigh up a situation, come to exactly the same conclusions as them about the best course of action, and then out of sheer malice decide to do what they know to be wrong. Acting as though “being right” is some new development politically that automatically trumps all dissenting claims is insane.

  • Mr Ed

    We, the looters of the United States, in Order to…

    has a ring of frankness to it.

  • JohnK


    The Christmas 1914 football matches certainly did take place, though not all along the line. Apparently the Cameronians refused to take part, and sent the Germans off with a flea in their ear. What that tells you about Scottishness I am not sure, maybe they would have preferred a Hogmanay truce instead.

  • As I am currently happen to be proofreading the part of my upcoming book about the Royal Saxon Army which deals with the Christmas Truce, I feel honour-bound to point out that the most detailed and credible account of a football match involves 2nd Btn. Seaforth Highlanders. The opposition were 9. Kgl. Sächs. Infanterie-Regiment Nr.133, from Zwickau in western Saxony. Ltn. Johannes Niemann of IR 133 included his own eyewitness account in the regimental history when he compiled it in 1969.

    1st Btn. Cameronians indeed refused to fraternise, but the territorial 1/5th Btn. attached on their flank took part with enthusiasm. According to them it was ‘a regular’ on their side who took a pot-shot at the Saxons during the fraternisation, provoking a very brief exchange of fire which killed Cpl. Walter Smith of the 1/5th (see link above).

    NB: having ploughed through all of the avilable accounts from both sides, I am of the opinion that there were very probably several football matches (all rather rough and ready in nature).

  • CaptDMO

    Gosh, that’s a pretty wide stance there Barney.

  • ap

    The name we give the things we choose to do together is usually a corporation. Government is the things we are compelled to do together.

  • Laird

    ap, not sure if that was a typo, but we don’t need a “corporation” to voluntarily do things together. The word I would use is “cooperation”.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Congressman Franks was consistent, both personally and politically, in his enthusiasm for BOHICA.


  • bloke in spain

    On the face of it, there’s nothing really to disagree with in the Franks quote. No matter how libertarian a society you wish for, you are going to wish to “do things together” – enforce those property rights you’re all so keen on – so somewhere along the line you have to have some form of government. It’s really about whether you choose to be governed by looters.

  • On the face of it, there’s nothing really to disagree with in the Franks quote.

    I think you cannot divorce the quote from who says it if you want to understand what is being conveyed. What Franks wants “us” to “do together” involves abridging, indeed negating, your property rights, not enforcing them.

  • bloke in spain

    This really is the fail, isn’t it Perry? Franks is nothing to do with “what we (or at least what any libertarian) might choose to do together”
    It’s not government’s the problem. It’s the gangs of looters like Franks, manage to capture government.

  • Sort of, but only if you operate from the premise government can ever be what we might want it to be. I agree that a ‘libertarian’ government (whatever that might mean) should be very different, but therein lies the problem.

    I suspect that is precisely why folks like Perry Metzger are full blown anarchists (ie once you have ‘government’, at least in the current sense that word is understood, people like Franks will inevitably capture it)… and I am not sure he and other anarcho-capitalists are wrong, and there is much evidence they are right. But the reason I am a minarchist rather than an anarchist is I do think as a practical matter we will always have to settle for ‘better’ rather than ‘ideal’. So yes, the trick then is how to come up with a limited government that does not get captured by looters, or at least to limit what they can actually do with the apparatus of collective coercion (ie the limited part of limited government).

    Without a doubt easier said than done, but that does not mean it is not worth trying. I actually want a bunch of guys with guns on tap when 300 Roma decide my field would be a great place to call home.

    They took a good stab at it in 1776, but the fact there was slavery built in from the get-go was an indication that this particular code had some fatal bugs. Many very good basic ideas though, if only they had built in some linguistic error correction to make intent clearer and less easy to incrementally finesse it to the point much of it is now completely inverted. Circa 2014 the US state is a monster of exactly the sort they wanted to avoid in 1776. Capture is almost complete and almost total.

  • rfichoke

    I don’t believe it is possible to have government not run by looters. If you think you’ve found one, you’re deceived. The best you can hope for is to keep government small enough and local enough that the people can drag their corrupt officials out in the street and shoot them if things get too bad. Of course, small local governments are easier to replace with peaceful means too. So you’re less likely to need the violent option.

  • bloke in spain

    Anyone read Starship Troopers by Heinlein?
    He posits a democratic society where the vote is only available to those who’ve donated a portion of their lives to voluntarily serving the community (not meaning a paid career in community service) & standing for election restricted to entitled voters. Pretty well excludes the possibility of the “professional politician”. Even career administrators would be severely limited because a large proportion of the administrated would be those volunteers.

  • rfichoke: yes you have pretty much just summed up the whole minarchist thesis 😀

  • Anyone read Starship Troopers by Heinlein?

    Yes and one of the things I like about Heinlein is he did not hold that out as an optimal solution, so much as a viable solution given the fact there was an interspecies war-of-extermination going on 😀

    The movie was a travesty btw.

  • bloke in spain

    @ Perry
    The movies usually are 😀

    On the basis, democracy is the worst option apart from all the alternatives, surely a viable solution would be acceptable. I really don’t like the sound of “optimal” solutions. We’ve had a few of those, haven’t we?
    From what I remember of the book, the requirement of “community service” wasn’t limited to military. That the character served in combat infantry, that there was a war to fight, just suited the plotline. The essence was the requirement to serve where needed, doing what was needed, according to ability. So, presumably, if one was a qualified engineer & later in life wished to earn the right to vote, one might find oneself doing engineering work on a public project. But under the public service conditions & pay. But no guarantee on nature of service. You’d need some way of stopping those with “pull” finessing their way into voting rights/politics.
    What I liked was the optionality. You could go through life without ever doing public service. But you’d never be rated as a responsible adult. Never have a say in how society is governed. Tough on those physically or mentally incapable of serving, of course. But should that be a problem? A society built like this would be very protective of its dependents. You’re pretty well breeding for responsibility.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    “The government is the people” ought, perhaps, to be known as “The Great Fatuity.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    If you want to earn the right to vote, do what I’ve been saying all along: Provide goods or services that people want to buy, and use part of the revenue to purchase a maximum of one vote for that election cycle. Other conditions also apply, but we needn’t get into the details just here.

    In this way you DO provide “community service,” i.e. a service to the community.

    There is no need for taxation. The only revenue the government, such as it is, will get is from the voters’ payments. In such a system, government is so limited in what it may do that its expenses are minimal.

    But no system whatsoever is foolproof. This one wouldn’t be either. (I’m assuming that it starts out at least with the vision of Liberty, that is political liberty in the libertarian sense, as its core principle. If somebody wants to fund a totalitarian Communist dictatorship similarly, he or she will have to get somebody else to do the design work.) But I do think that if it starts out with a commitment to liberty, it will last for quite awhile, as long as the people are smart enough to keep their commitment fed and watered.

  • Paul Marks

    Both military service and earning a vote financially are interesting ideas.

    Of course the evil “feudal” streak in me is not totally horrified by John Jay’s “terrible” statement. “Those who own the land should rule it”.

    After all it was the “evil” John Jay who both freed his own slaves and campaigned for the end of slavery in New York (losing one Governorship election over the matter) – eventually achieving the largest peaceful freeing of slaves that the world had yet seen. The supporters of democracy such as Jefferson forgot to free their slaves – or end slavery in their States (they also forgot about the private property rights of certain Indians).

    But only women would vote for such an evil man – which is why democrats wisely removed the vote from female property owners in New Jersey (I do not believe they had the vote in New York) and opposed freed blacks (regardless of how much property they acquired after being freed) having the vote.

    By the way – under none of the proposed systems would I have the vote (being dirt poor and physically useless).

    I look at the twists in the rug – but to straighten the rug means moving the chairs and tables, and then I might as well hoover up and….

    And I just can not be bothered – so I carry on looking at the twists in the rug hating them (and me).

    So it might be a good idea for someone like me to not have the vote.

  • Paul Marks

    Chairman Barney Frank was indeed consistent.

    Consistently vile and evil.

  • Paul Marks

    Laird – ap used the word “usually” and he (assuming ap is a he) was correct.

    Churches, charitable trusts, clubs and societies, and most business large business ventures are all bodies corporate (corporations).

    See Church Law (as well as private Law Merchant) from the middle ages to this day.

  • Miv Tucker

    From Mindswap, by Robert Sheckley:
    “That which you call a crime when one man does it, you call a government when many men do it”.

  • Alex

    I like that Miv. SQoTD material, surely?

  • bloke in spain

    With a pay for the right to vote & using the money raised to fund government services, reckon you’ve just about reinvented feudalism, there. The “government services” would largely consist of extracting the voting money from the non-voting population. Back to hereditary barons.

  • Julie near Chicago

    What Perry (deH) said. Lather, rinse, repeat….

    However, the remark about the Romas raises a question I’ve had for some time. In the allegedly anarchist system preferred by non-communitarian anarchists, or anarcho-capitalists, or individualist-anarchists, or whatever you want to call them, wouldn’t there sooner or later come into being a loose (or not so loose) association of individuals or households or whatever that would get together to defend their property (their land, their homes, themselves, their stuff) against squatters and other miscreants?

    In other words, would a police force of some kind actually be necessary? I should think the people themselves would band together to fend off Bad Guys. IF, of course, the anarchists were all on more-or-less the same page regarding the idea that liberty (or “individual freedom” or “my right to do as I please with my own stuff”) requires self-defense sometimes, and that cooperative efforts amongst humans are sometimes necessary — especially in the area of self-defense.

    Now in the “Not So Wild, Wild West” (which I still haven’t read, sigh) you certainly did have brigandage, and sometimes bands of brigands were taken on and defeated either by vigilantes* or by other bands of brigands. One hopes that sometimes they were defeated by the locals, banding together as above.

    On the other hand, suppose a good-sized “country” operating under an anarchistic system (if such a thing were possible, see below) needed to defend itself against one Evil Empire or another. The advancing Mongol horde, the USSR, the Nazi Empire had it been allowed to come into being, the World-Wide Caliphate … Would it be able to muster up the fighting forces, the weaponry, the logistical support, the strategists to conquer the enemy?

    Of course, I said “allegedly” above. That’s because I’m not convinced that a stable anarchy is possible, except perhaps where households are very far apart geographically. But then the household itself is the “community,” be it only man, wife, kiddies, and grandparents…or Man and Dog for that matter. In such a case there is almost always some sort of de facto authority that sets and at least tries to enforce rules, and if things get too chaotic or unbearable for some of the inmates they either start shooting each other or go somewhere else.

    [“Almost always”: Where the household consists of a single couple I suppose it is possible that they are sufficiently like-minded that virtually all decisions are cooperative, or else not at issue. (“We’re having fish & chips for supper.” “Yes, dear.”] But to the extent that this happens, it seems to me the “authority” passes back and forth between the partners, as each “gives in” when he or she thinks the issue is more important to the other partner. On the other hand, this could be viewed not as a matter of transitory authority but rather as the exercise of autonomy by the one who “gives in.”]

    . . .

    *By the way, Wikipedia has an interesting article on vigilantes, for which it gives this rather broad definition:

    A vigilante … is a member of a self-appointed group that undertakes law enforcement without legal authority.

    It has the usual assortment of links, one of which is to its article on Ranch Rescue, which it seems to consider a vigilante group. Ranch Rescue exists (existed?) to defend the property of American ranchers in the Mexican-border states against squatters and so forth. The SPLC does not approve of them, which is just about a guarantee that they really are Good Guys. SNARK, but I pretty much mean that.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Breaking this anarchy line up, as it was getting quite long.

    Furthermore, in an anarchistic system, just how would the laws be decided — since anarchists insist that their system means only no “archy,” that is no rulers, no “government,” rather than “no RULES”? Even if everyone is on the same page “libertarianistically” (and just look at the variety of opinions…and of course not everyone who claims a fundamental position of libertarianism does so rightly, viz. the BHL’s for example) there are going to be cases where individuals disagree about what the “rule” should be. And about what should happen if someone breaks it.

    Finally (I think!), I have read that for a thousand years Ireland or some major part of it existed as an anarchy. Can anyone educate me about this — as to whether it is in some sense true, and if so, in what sense?

  • rfichoke

    There are a couple of books on the subject that have good reputations:

    Anarchy and the Law, by Edward Stringham

    The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce Benson

    I have read neither of these books, but they both receive good reviews and I’ve heard Bruce Benson interviewed about his book.

    I think the basic premise is that common law arose from local magistrates adjudicating in ways that satisfied nearly everyone and convinced both parties that justice had been served. Taken together, all of this case law formed an emergent order. But as the power of the monarchy grew, the king began demanding a portion of the proceeds from all torts as a fee, ostensibly in exchange for his protection and maintenance of public order.

    But you’ll need to read the books for the whole story. I’d like to read them myself but I haven’t had time yet.

  • Tedd

    It would make a lot more sense to say, “The free market is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Tedd — Good point.

    rfi, Thanks for the refs to the books. I will see if the library has them, or Amazon or Abebooks.

    It does seem to me that given the proper conditions of soil fertility, moisture, and composition, a shared and fairly sensible sense of justice might arise. I was thinking of just your example earlier. Maybe I’m just all naïve (or uneducated) and starry-eyed, but it seems to me that Britain, uniquely, developed such a sense.

    Then, just last night I ran across a short paper by Stephen Davies in the Libertarian Alliance archives, entitled “The Private Supply of ‘Public Goods’ in Nineteenth Century Britain.” Dr. Davies describes how private “police” and even “courts,” as well as other institutions, arose in the uncivilized days before The Gov made itself their provider. It’s certainly an encouraging paper and if (as I assume) it’s accurate, it would begin to seem that government really might be necessary only for the combined defense (and not for policing and courts).

    The URL to download the pdf is


  • Paul Marks

    “The Enterprise of Law” is interesting – the other work I know nothing about.

    As for “feudalism” – the island of Sark was “feudal” till a couple of years ago.

    People tend to confuse feudalism with serfdom – this is an error.

    One can have serfdom without feudalism (the late Roman Empire is an example – but there are many such examples) and one can have feudalism without serfdom.

    Indeed the “feudal” idea of the sworn word (the voluntary oath – with obligations on both parties) is actually radically incompatible with the serf idea (no oath on either side – no voluntary compact).