What is government? (Errico Malatesta – Anarchy)

What is government? The metaphysical tendency[1] which in spite of the blows it has suffered at the hands of positive science still has a strong hold on the minds of people today, so much so that many look upon government as a moral institution with a number of given qualities of reason, justice, equity which are independent of the people who are in office. For them government, and in a more vague way, the State, is the abstract social power; it is the ever abstract representative of the general interest; it is the expression of the rights of all considered as the limits of the rights of each individual. And this way of conceiving of government is encouraged by the interested parties who are concerned that the principle of authority should be safeguarded and that it should always survive the shortcomings and the mistakes committed by those who follow one another in the exercise of power.

[1] which is a disease of the mind in which Man, once having by a logical process abstracted an individuals qualities, undergoes a kind of hallucination which makes him accept the abstraction for the real being.

For us, government is made up of all the governors; and the governors — kings, presidents, ministers, deputies, etc. — are those who have the power to make laws regulating inter-human relations and to see that they are carried out; to levy taxes and to collect them; to impose military conscription; to judge and punish those who contravene the laws; to subject private contracts to rules, scrutiny and sanctions; to monopolise some branches of production and some public services or, if they so wish, all production and all public services; to promote or to hinder the exchange of goods; to wage war or make peace with the governors of other countries; to grant or withdraw privileges … and so on. In short, the governors are those who have the power, to a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical, intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige everybody to carry out their wishes. And this power, in our opinion, constitutes the principle of government, of authority.

Errico MalatestaAnarchy (1891)

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