The Good Life, No. 2: (Self) Government


This post is part of a new series which explores the freedom-loving mindset and the pursuit of a classically liberal lifestyle in Michigan. Comments are welcome.

“Government is not reason, is not eloquence – it is force.”

These words, usually attributed to George Washington, succinctly describe a libertarian attitude towards that entity whose use of coercion is legal and legitimate, but today, I’m thinking about them more in terms of how one might apply them to himself. The Mackinac Center’s president reminded us today that the term “government” doesn’t have to be inflammatory; at its most basic definition, it is merely a value-neutral term for the application of control. We govern our children, our finances, and, most importantly, ourselves. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) can help us tie these concepts of government and self together:

“He knows not how to rule a kingdom that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village; nor he a village that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself; neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite her vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.”

Of course, none of us will be called to rule a kingdom anytime soon, but my object in including this quotation is to demonstrate the eloquence with which Grotius demonstrates the necessity of reason to the proper use of force or control. Reason is not government, but reason IS necessary to governance, and governance can be ennobled by eloquence. And Grotius doesn’t forget to qualify his statement: we must have right reason. For that, classical liberals have a variety of guides to whom to turn – Locke, Smith, Hayek, von Mises, Hazlitt.

Talk To Me: What has been your most recent insight into well-reasoned self-government? Who is your intellectual mentor?

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One thought on “The Good Life, No. 2: (Self) Government

  1. I’d have to add Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison to the fold of “mentors.” Although admittedly not pure theorists in the mold of Smith or Locke, they instilled a lot of those ideas into the founding of our nation. They gave a bigger voice to the theorists, without which those ideas might never have achieved the acclaim they enjoy today.

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