Reflections on a Metaphor
By Arnold Kling
On p. 114 of The Symbolic Uses of Politics, Murray Edelman writes,
Force signals weakness in politics, as rape does in sex.
Some reactions to this metaphor:
1. This suggests that there is political power that is not based on force, but is based on consent. Dan Klein’s essay on Overlordship touches on this issue.
I believe that President Obama sees himself as the duly appointed officer of the overlord. This overlord is the collectivity called “the people” or “the state.” It is one big voluntary club. Its officers are government officials. Its central apparatus consists of governmental institutions. Its official expression is government law: legislation, regulations, executive orders, and court rulings.
1. Perhaps the libertarian view, that government involves the initiation of force, is as extreme as saying that all sex is rape. What would it take for a libertarian to view government action as consensual? My answer would be government funded by donations and open to competition. How would non-libertarians draw the line between consensual government and non-consensual government?
2. In what sense is the relationship between citizens and government analogous to a marriage? That is, is it a mutual relationship, in which people want to be ruled as much as the rulers want to rule them? Should divorce be available as an option?
3. Economic regulations, such as a mandate to purchase health insurance, are
(a) the government’s prerogative, in the sense that one might claim that it is the man’s prerogative to have sex with his wife.
(b) nonconsensual infringement, in the sense that one might argue that a husband has no right to rape his wife
(c) consensual, in the sense that if the wife does not appeal to the authorities for help or sue for divorce, we infer that she does not really object.
(d) consensual, in the sense that Congress and the President represent the people, so that any laws that are enacted constitute consent by definition. Klein, in the passage quoted above, is suggesting that progressive ideology seems to make this sort of assumption.
Returning to Edelman, he seems to think that “symbolic reassurance” acts somewhat like a drug to achieve “quiescence” (interesting that he uses that term, rather than the more familiar “acquiescence”). But he hardly leaves one thinking of the political process as consensual.