Today I just started an online course on political philosophy, which is one of my favorite subjects, and one of the assignments of that course is to write a weekly “argumentative reflection” that deals with a question of controversy in which I and the other students of the class have three tasks: to dentify and explain one answer to that question, to raise an objection or concern about that answer, and to identify and explain which answer under that heading you find most persuasive, and why. This answer is supposed to take between 250 and 750 words in total, which does not seem to be a particularly demanding requirement. However, it happens to be a good length for a blog post, so I will endeavor over the next few weeks to include these posts for class as blog posts for the amusement and reflection of my friends and the random strangers who find their way onto this blog.
The most problematic argument I find for the need for a state is to serve as a paternalistic entity to stand on our behalf against wicked and corrupt businessmen. It is tempting for the state to fill the spaces left when other institutions—families, communities, businesses, and churches among them—fail, but this temptation is ultimately troublesome. Usually this is accompanied by the justification that the state does not have to follow the same rules of economy as smaller institutions because of its supposed economies of scale, as argued by Keynes and others of his ilk, but such arguments tend to ignore the diseconomies of scale that lead to immense inefficiency and waste as a result of the lack of moral fiber among those who handle public goods, or who use legislation as a way to receive private benefit from public action, or because of the difficulty in accounting for the sums that slip through the fingers of ineffective government agencies more concerned with having a permanent budget than with solving any of the problems that they are charged to address.
Despite the clear illegitimacy of the sort of government that we are familiar with as a result of its corruption and inefficiency, there is still a legitimate role of government with the power of the sword to execute justice against internal evildoers as well as defend the populace from foreign invasion. Although we associate this source of legitimacy with John Stuart Mill’s “Harm Principle,” the origins of this idea go back further and were explained at some length by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the Roman church, in which he articulated a clear defense of the legitimacy of even the Roman state (hardly a noble or enlightened state) on the grounds that civil authorities are the servants of God with a legitimate task in enforcing the law against evildoers, with the assumption that those who are lawful and orderly citizens should be able to expect no trouble from those authorities, so long as they are doing their jobs properly. Although few civil leaders now would relish to be accountable to God for how they enforce His moral standards, or even our own laws, it does provide for legitimacy as a subsidiary authority in a way that is familiar to many people in our times (particularly those who dwell in lands where religious law serves as the basis for the body politic). After all, given the fact that the legitimacy of the state is most troublesome due to moral reasons, it would appear that morality needs to be given more attention in building trust for the existence and activity of the state.