The Confusion Between Government and Society

By Andrew Kern of the Principled Libertarian


Being a commonly misunderstood fellow, I am often wrongly accused of many things. The number of times I have been accused of wanting to get rid of roads is uncountable and the times I have been thought of as selfish or uncaring on account of my apprehension to support government welfare is likely nearly as many.

Many people will say things like, “We can do better as a society” – or – “We need to help those in need.” It is a considerable misconception to think I disagree with these statements.


Frédéric Bastiat summed it up well:

Frédéric Bastiat

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Society is a group of people who work together for the benefit of one another. Government is an organization that interferes in society.

Passing new laws and regulations is not “progressive”. It is a band-aid on the perceived wounds of society. People often turn to government to cover up society’s problems instead of addressing the root issue within society, which coincidentally usually happens to be caused by government interference in the first place.

“Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us” -Leo Tolstoy

Within a society, human interaction that is recognized as legitimate is done voluntarily. Government is different. Every law that is passed is ultimately enforced with violence or the threat of violence. In order to spend money on welfare, the state must first collect resources by coercion. We are forced to pay or we will face the consequences. Unlike in society, there is no choice. We must do as the state says, or we will be punished with fines or jail time. And if we refuse to pay the fines or go to jail, violence will be used upon us.

I am not opposed to roads. I am opposed to a government monopoly on something as vital as transportation. I cringe at the sight of traffic jams at rush hour and daydream about all the innovation and efficient use of resources the competition of a free market would provide. To think that a private road owner in a free market could stand to lose a small fortune in lost revenue from a traffic jam is laughable.

I am not opposed to charity. I am opposed to money being taken by force, given mostly to bureaucrats, wasted on counter-productive government programs, with the scraps going to those whom central planners decide needs it. I want charitable companies to compete against each other to see how well they can spend donations on actually helping people. And I want individuals to take an interest in their community and neighbors, instead of being told the welfare of the needy is a government affair.

I want parents to be able to take time off work, but I don’t want paid parental leave to be enforced with government coercion. We can work towards a society that values the family without succumbing to the temptation of mandatory paid time off that is backed up by government force.

I want to know what’s in my food, but I don’t need a law forcing companies to label GMOs. If people value food that is labeled, companies will voluntarily react to that demand.

…And so on and so on.

We do not progress by legislating new forms of coercion. We progress by being the change we want to see in the world. If you want to make a change for the better in our neighborhoods, communities, and our society, do it! Don’t succumb to the temptation to wield the great violent powers of government as a replacement for societal advancement.


This article originally appeared at Minnesotans for Liberty

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