home of the canton movement

Here is an excellent article from The Daily Bell that goes into great depth explaining why a government of cooperation is better than a government of coercion. He talks about the tendency of government-as-we-know-it to cause antagonism between people, to foster strife, and how the opposite, dealing with people according to the Golden Rule, fosters empathy and cooperation, even among people who have their differences (that would be all of us).

While the canton movement assumes that people have their differences, and that any particular territory would have multiple cantons that reflect these differences, it also assumes that these same cantons would work together for various causes that they share. This arrangement, of recognizing differences while at the same time looking for real commonality (as opposed to the horrid “bi-partisanship” that we hear so much about), can truly foster peace.

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[I am reposting this article which originally appeared here in December 2010 because I like it.]

Some people see government as a positive force in human society. Others see it as a necessary evil, something that has its flaws, but that we need nonetheless. Still others, myself included, see that there is a terrible flaw in government-as-we-know-it, government that is based on coercion.

That terrible and fatal flaw in coercive government comes from the very fact that it operates by coercion, because it is this basis that runs contrary to basic human rights, rights we have by nature and nature’s God. In stark contrast to government by coercion is the type of government described by the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes human nature and the inalienable rights that come from it, and the government by consent that naturally follows from those rights.

Any government that does not recognize human nature, and the rights that naturally flow from that nature, is thereby unnatural, and has the seed of its own destruction within it. This would not be so bad if it was only the government that was destroyed by this failure to understand human nature. The great and enduring tragedy, however, is that this fatal flaw in government by coercion results in the destruction of human society to a staggering extent, and the enormous human suffering that comes with it. Failure to properly perceive the flaw in government by coercion results in war, tyranny, and the inevitable destruction of the livelihood of millions of people, if not the direct destruction of the people themselves.

The people who see government by coercion as either beneficial to humanity or no more that a necessary evil look upon the evils that seem to come so easily from the hearts of their fellow men, evils that they see government protecting them from, and fail to recognize how much of this evil comes from a reaction against the inhumanity of government rather than the failings of human nature. When government is based on a proposition that coercion is a necessary and core element of government, that people must, in fact, be forced to do what is right (beyond what is required to protect life and property), it is the government itself that produces in its unhappy subjects violent reactions. It is impossible that government by coercion could fail to produce revulsion and violence in many of the people it oppresses. The human rights written on the hearts of every person will recognize the evil of repression that government inflicts, and will oppose it, consciously or otherwise.

What will save us from this calamity? We need to recognize the flaw that exists in government that does not operate on the basis of free human choice, on the true consent of all governed. We need to create the structures of human cooperation that can replace government by coercion with government by cooperation.

We are so far from this, it seems to me that it might take centuries more of human misery to recognize the truth of the inherent flaw within government by coercion, and to have the courage and conviction it will take to build governments based on cooperation and consent. That would be tragic.

The Blame Game

When things go wrong, we look to blame someone. Very rarely do we blame ourselves. It’s a natural tendency not to want to look bad in the eyes of other people, so we look around us for someone else to blame.

It is too easy to look at the political and economic disasters in the world today and blame politicians, pundits, and business leaders. But the fact is, they only do what any normal person (yes, the one looking back at you from the mirror) would do in the same situation. In general, we are no better or worse than those we would like to place the blame on for our present sad state.

In fact, it is precisely that person in the mirror than you should be blaming. We are not without the ability to make things better. But to even begin that task, we have to take responsibility for the way things are now, and also responsibility for finding ways to fix it. At that point, blame is pointless and useless. Instead, we need courage and fortitude. We need to encourage one another to resolve to do something, based on our best judgement of what would be most helpful. And then we need to do it.

Creating cantons is first of all taking personal responsibility for the way things are in the world right now, and resolving to do something about it.

Go to a mirror and take a look. The person you see there is really to blame for the way things are. That person is also key to making things better.

A Happy Serf

Greg wrote: “I welcome ideas such as yours, I just wonder how it could accomplish everyone’s needs, knowing that people are so diverse. For ex if I want a pool in my neighbourhood, and my neighbours do not want it, it won’t help me if I signed with the canton that favors a pool but the people who are members of my canton do not live in my neighbourhood. In the end, it comes down to who your neighbours are.”

Libertarianism is an attempt to determine what is the proper place of coercion within human society. The Non-Aggression Principle limits the use of force to the reaction of a victim to the threat or occurrence of aggression by another. Needless to say, those who support the nearly unlimited power of government to do whatever a majority of the elite favor do not hold to the Non-Aggression Principle.

In Greg’s world, the use of force by government is necessary to see that a pool is available for the common use of all in his neighborhood (whether his neighbors want it or not). He apparently cannot imagine a group of people in his neighborhood creating an association for this purpose, to build and manage a pool for the benefit of whoever would seek membership. The propaganda machine of the state has been quite successful in convincing people that only by force can anything of worth be accomplished.

Today I write to my brothers and sisters of Greece. You are today where we will all soon be. Special interests and the elites have destroyed your economy (oikos + nomos), just as they are now destroying the world economy. Do not despair. Do not give up. Show the rest of the world that by distributing power back to the people (demos) thru voluntary associations (cantons, or the Greek equivalent of that word), you can once again make things right. Form cantons. Tell the politicians that the people alone have the right to decide how the revenues of government will be spent. Lead the world out of its current mess. You did it in the past. Do it again, right now. It is your history. It is your destiny. The world is watching you today.

Libertarian thought, based on the non-aggression principle, is an attempt to determine what the proper limit of force is in society. To put it another way, what is the proper limit of government (for government is the organization of society that claims the right to use force)? Anarchism, the logical extreme of libertarian thought, disposes of the need for government entirely by asserting that the right to use force comes down to the right of the individual to assert their boundaries over themselves and their possessions, to defend these boundaries as they see fit (while simultaneously respecting the boundaries of others as far as possible), and to seek assistance from others in this defense. None of this necessarily requires an organization that we would recognize as government. Nevertheless, if government adheres to the limits imposed on it by natural law, by recognizing such natural law principles as the non-aggression principle, the principle of subsidiarity, and the ultimate primacy of the human person in society, there is no reason to say that government so understood could not exist in a just society, though it would require a new definition of government.

The Declaration of Independence speaks clearly of the primacy of the human person vis-a-vis government: “government gets its just powers from the consent of the governed”. What it does not do is clearly analyze the limits of government (although if government did, in fact, get its just powers from the consent of the governed, it would most likely find its natural limits). The US Constitution attempted to set limits by spelling them out in a document, but failed in that endeavor because of the ingenuity of living humans to willfully reinterpret the dead written word beyond all reason.

It is the task of the current age to redistribute power to the people so broadly that no elite can again inflict unlimited government on a people with the will to be free.

Special interests are the disease afflicting governments everywhere.

Let’s discuss the disease. Governments at all levels, from municipal to national, are controlled by special interests. The money influx from special interests distorts what is supposed to be government of, by, and for the people. Each special interest is only interested in its own interests, but it recognizes the fact that, working together, they can control governments so that each of them can get most of what they want. And that’s exactly what they do.

I’m not telling you anything that a lot of people don’t already know. And there have been lots of attempts to wrestle back control of government from the special interests. Here is a short list of ideas to solve the problem that have been attempted or proposed:

  • Elect the “right” people to office
  • Institute term limits
  • Pay for elections with public funding
  • Control how much money lobbyists can give to legislators
  • Control how much money can flow into political campaign coffers

Most people now recognize that the crux of the problem has to do with money, and how it gets into the political system. What no one has yet figured out is how to channel the money so the special interests cannot control governments with it.

Special interests are the disease. Cantons are the cure.

What is a canton? It is a voluntary, ideologically-based organization, like a political party, but with a different purpose: to control how government revenues are spent. How would that work? Every citizen believes in a certain ideology. When a citizen chooses to join a canton that reflects his or her views, he does so by contract with the canton that lasts for one year, renewable. He authorizes his canton, thru this contract, to regulate how his proportion of total revenue for a particular government is spent. Thus, if a canton’s membership represents 30 percent of the eligible voters in a municipality, the canton is authorized to determine how 30 percent of the revenues of that municipality are spent for that year. If the canton does a good job at this, the citizens will renew their membership. If not, they choose a different canton that will do what they want. This is called responsive government, something we haven’t seen before.

While special interests pour lots of money into the political system, what they are really after is deals that will funnel some portion of government revenues into their pockets. All revenues ultimately come from the people. If government is of, by, and for the people, every penny of revenue that any government receives really belongs to the people. Cantons, by regulating proportionately according to the number of members they have, make sure that the REAL money in government is spent as the people want, not as the special interests want.

Each canton is also a special interest group, but one representing people. Working together, they can wrest control of governments from all the other special interests, and return government to what it is supposed to be: of, by, and for the people.

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