What is government?
An answer I hear a lot is, “It’s an elected body of individuals to represent the interests of a body of people.” It’s not hard to find exceptions to this definition. We call many unelected groups “government” (such as any dictatorship), and there are many elected entities which we do not call government (such as the members of a board of trustees). The point is, the writing of laws, operating through elections, or representing the interests of a group of people does not make a government.
There must be something else; something which uniquely gives a group of individuals enough control for them to be called a government; something which allows them to impose laws and have others listen. So why do we follow laws dictated by “the government”? Is it because we agree with them in all cases? Certainly not.
We listen because we don’t want to be arrested and imprisoned. If you defy a law and get caught, the government will use violent force to deprive you of life or liberty. No other entity can impose that upon us. If they try, “the government” declares war on them. Government is the only entity which can use violent force to control our actions. And that’s what defines them. Government is a monopoly on violence. “Government” and “violence” are synonymous.
That’s not to say that all government is wrong. Is violence always wrong? It’s certainly not wrong when used in self-defense, or in defense of the lives of our family members. There are many other situations where violence can be justified, but these situations are still very specific and limited.
So we all must ask ourselves, are we using government only for the things for which we would use violence? Or have we lost perspective, forgetting the connection between government imposition of laws and imposition through violence? Should we use violence to punish that guy who got high for fun in his own home, hurting nobody but himself? Should we use violence to force each and every person to make a contract with a health insurance company, whether it’s a good financial decision or not? Should we use violence to force charity? Should we use violence against people who make decisions leading to their own obesity?
These are all things we currently use government for, and there are many more examples of questionable uses. Is it right?
In this sense, Libertarianism is pacifism tempered by the right to self-defense (disclaimer: this is a quote I got from this dude). It is a philosophy of ethical treatment of human beings. Though libertarians often find themselves arguing on pragmatic grounds, in the end, it all comes down to a question of whether or not the ends justify the means.