What is the Government?

Popular Opinion

It’s the thing that distributes resources for the public good, administers justice, and helps the poor.

Expert Opinion

Government is an agency of legitimized coercion. The special characteristic that distinguishes governments from other agencies of coercion (such as ordinary criminal gangs) is that most people accept government coercion as normal and proper. The same act that is regarded as coercive when done by a private individual seems legitimate if done by an agent of the government.[1] (David D. Friedman, economist, theoretical physicist, and Professor of Law at Santa Clara University)
The nation-state…is a set of institutional forms of governance maintaining an administrative monopoly over a territory with demarcated boundaries (borders), its rule being sanctioned by law and direct control of the means of internal and external violence.[2] (Anthony Giddens, British sociologist and professor at Cambridge and London School of Economics and the fifth most-cited humanities scholar in the world)
…we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence. Hence, ‘politics’ for us means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.[3]  (Max Weber, jurist, political-economist, and highly influential sociologist)
States are criminal organizations…Through taxation, the state aggresses against the property of the individual and, through a variety of compulsory monopolies it enjoys, the state aggresses against the free exchange of goods and services in the area of which it claims control. (Gerard Casey, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University College Dublin, Ireland).[4]
[The state is] that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion.[5] (Murray Rothbard, Austrian economist and endowed Professor at University of Nevada)
…government as we know it for the past several thousand years [is] a monopoly operating ultimately by threat or actual use of violence, making rules for and extracting tribute from the residents of the territory it controls.[6] (Robert Higgs, economic historian)
The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Ideologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.[7] (Franz Oppenheimer, Germany’s first Chair of Sociology)
The Nation is nothing at all but simple force. Not in a single Nation are the people of one race, one history, one culture, nor the same political opinion or religious faith. They are simply human beings of all kinds, penned inside frontiers which mean nothing whatever but military force.[8] (Rose Wilder, American journalist, novelist, and political-theorist)
Government then is solely an instrument or mechanism of appropriation, prohibition, compulsion, and extinction.[9] (Isabel Paterson, Canadian novelist and political-theorist)
Empires [governments] employ a proprietary theory whereby ruling elites claim a material share of all things: land, production, traded goods, and labor. The payment (often in kind) of taxes, tributes, rents, and forced labor by peasants to local and foreign elites ensures a continual source of wealth.[10] (Warren Carter, leading scholar on the Roman Empire, writing about “taxation” in a leading reference work)
The functions of governments are to act as a mechanism to take wealth from some and transfer it to others, and to discriminate among groups on the basis of their relative power in order to determine who gains and who loses.[11] (Bruce Benson, Professor of Economics at Florida University)
Very much like terrorists…bandits challenge the state’s monopoly on certain types of violence. A state is a robber-band that has been recognized as legitimate by other states; a robber-band is an unrecognized state or one that operates within territory claimed by another state. Just like legitimate states, the popularity and policies of bandits are variable.[12] (William Arnal, a biblical scholar writing about “banditry” in a leading reference work)
The State…is the organization of the political means…[which] stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation…an irresponsible and all‑powerful agency standing always ready to be put into use for the service of one set of economic interests as against another. [13](Albert Nock, journalist, social critic, and Episcopal minister)


[1] David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom, third edition (Createspace, 2014), 108.

[2] Anthony Giddens, Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985), 2:121.

[3] Max Weber, “Politik als Beruf,” in Gesammelte Politische Schriften (Muenchen, 1921), pp. 396-450.

[4] Gerard Casey, Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State (London/New York: Continuum, 2011), 1-3.

[5] Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (Auburn: Von Mises Institute, 2006), 56-58.

[6] Robert Higgs, Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy (Oakland: Independent Institute, 2012), 12.

[7] Franz Oppenheimer, The State, trans. John Gitterman (Black Rose Books, 2007, originally published New York: B and W Huebsch, 1908), 15.

[8] Rose Wilder, The Discovery of Freedom (New York: John Day Company, 1943), 139.

[9] Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1993, orig. 1943), 88.

[10] Warren Carter, “Taxation,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006), 4:478.

[11] Bruce Benson, The Enterprise of Law (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1990), 43.

[12] William Arnal, “Banditry,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006), 1:388.

[13] Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, the State, (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1935).