Why do people submit to governments?

One of the most important insights is that all political states, benign or tyrannical, exist on a foundation of popular consent. The state is a coercive, aggressive monopoly managed by a committee of armed parasites. Rothbard’s “gang of thieves writ large”. Governments are populated by the power hungry who consume looted wealth and give us war, murder, disorder, senseless regulations, and victimless criminal statutes instead of voluntary, mutual cooperation. Inevitably any government grows consuming and blocking private production and services until no production is left to deliver on the promises that politicians make. As we approach the point where the promises are impossible to fulfil more and more people will begin to see the fraud.

There is a battle shaping up in the world driven by the ever increasing failure of governments to give the populous the booty that they have promised and instead given them slavery and poverty. On one side we see the forces of archy (statism) which is political rule and authority. On the other side we see its only alternative which is anarchy; the absence of political rule. Some have said that this battle is the battle between individualism and collectivism, between liberty and the state, between freedom and slavery.


There are only two sides to the question of the state; you are for it or you are against it. It does you no good to try to be in the middle and call for a “small state”. It is true that a small, weak state is better than a strong, powerful one but it is still a gang of thieves writ large. Experiment after experiment tells us that any attempt at a middle ground between archy and anarchy is doomed to failure. It is our job to educate our fellow citizens of the world to the true nature of the state; to turn them into enemies of the state and all it represents.

Roy Childs once wrote:

It is my contention that limited government is a floating abstraction which has never been concretized by anyone; that a limited government must either initiate force or cease being a government; that the very concept of limited government is an unsuccessful attempt to integrate two mutually contradictory elements: statism and voluntarism. Hence, if this can be shown, epistemological clarity and moral consistency demands the rejection of the institution of government totally, resulting in free market anarchism, or a purely voluntary society.

But in general, the people do not realize that there are only the two options. They don’t realize that there is any alternative to having a government at all. Many of our “civil liberties” friends on the left who are aware of the growing draconian nature of the American Empire want to “fix” the government not eradicate it. Why? Why do people agree to be looted and otherwise oppressed by government and its minions? It is that they do not see that there is no way to constrain the power and scope of a government and that they believe in government’s inevitability.

In the 1500s Étienne de La Boétie wrote about this central problem of political theory: Why do people consent to their own enslavement? Why do people, in all times and places, obey the commands of the government, which always constitutes a small minority of the society?

La Boétie observed:

I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they…

Governments must have this mass submission to be one of consent or at least resigned acceptance rather than only fear. The government can not use fear alone as that would lead to revolt. Governments once used the Church to convince the people to believe in their rulers, but with the power of the Church on the wane for centuries now, they use ideology supplied by their willing minions in the intellectual class.

… Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? … If a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice? When not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred provinces, a thousand cities, a million men, refuse to assail a single man from whom the kindest treatment received is the infliction of serfdom and slavery, what shall we call that? Is it cowardice? … When a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth… What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough … ?

La Boétie was opposed to the tyranny of government and to the people’s consent to their own enslavement as do the radical libertarians of today. The central fact that we must teach the public is that the state, any state no matter how ruthless and despotic, rests in the long run on the consent of the majority of the public. Give up on hoping that the state schools or state funded intellectuals will divulge this insight since they are part of the parasitic class themselves. In the words of the sci-fi novel “Dune”, the sleepers must awaken.

Libertarian theorist Lysander Spooner observed:

The ostensible supporters of the Constitution, like the ostensible supporters of most other governments, are made up of three classes, viz.: 1. Knaves, a numerous and active class, who see in the government an instrument which they can use for their own aggrandizement or wealth. 2. Dupes – a large class, no doubt – each of whom, because he is allowed one voice out of millions in deciding what he may do with his own person and his own property, and because he is permitted to have the same voice in robbing, enslaving, and murdering others, that others have in robbing, enslaving, and murdering himself, is stupid enough to imagine that he is a “free man,” a “sovereign”; that this is a “free government”; “a government of equal rights,” “the best government on earth,” and such like absurdities. 3. A class who have some appreciation of the evils of government, but either do not see how to get rid of them, or do not choose to so far sacrifice their private interests as to give themselves seriously and earnestly to the work of making a change.

Some writers call the people “sheeple” or “zombies” because most people are brainwashed to love and adore their state; to love the most vicious predators and threats to society. The State and its loyal flunkies are mankind’s eternal enemy.

Our prime task is one of education. We must teach the people that that the government is the enemy. We must “deprogram” them. We must overcome the propaganda of the state that tells them that there must always be a state of some sort. We must understand that the state rests on the consent of the slaves to their enslavement and then we must teach the slaves this essential truth.


8 thoughts on “Why do people submit to governments?

  1. Great article.
    I have come to doubt the education process. I am reading about agorism. I believe one should try to avoid the state in his personal life, Harry Browne´s way. I have plans to read about Agorism, as well.

  2. I came to your blog to find a WordPress Theme that wouldn’t put such big spaces between quoted paragraphs. However, since your post has a very similar topic as the post I just made, I thought I’d share: http://peacerequiresanarchy.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/the-monkey-master-fable/

    This subject is one that not enough libertarians (and people in general) understand. La Boetie’s “The Politics of Obedience: Discourse on Voluntary Servitude” is a classic must-read.

    I’m compiling a list of quotes from thinkers who have made similar insights as La Boetie on my quotes page, here, under the “How To Achieve A Free Society” section: http://peacerequiresanarchy.wordpress.com/quotes/#howto

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