Competing Governments: The Collective Violence of War

The article below contains excerpts from L.K. Samuels’ new book, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.

War causes chaos; chaos does not cause war. The political disorder released during armed clashes is merely the symptom of collective violence exerted by by competing governing systems. Although multifaceted, the cause of war ultimately rests on the capacity of a structure to concentrate political authority in a way that denies autonomy to others. And when that power is consolidated within a geographical area, the political apparatus stands atop a slippery pyramid of power, exposed to volatile winds of change.

On the sociopolitical level, it can be argued that to accept the legitimacy of the state is to embrace the necessity for war. But when it comes right down to physical war and bloodshed, governments don’t protect people; people protect governments.

As political philosophers have admonished throughout the ages, the power to instill goodness is the same power with which to destroy it. To unleash raw, unadulterated power is to release uncontrollable consequences for society and abutting political systems. Government in and of itself is the foremost agent for destroying order and imposing chaos. Like chemical reactions, each time a government trespasses, the breakage releases an outburst of energy that leads to disturbances across the social-political landscape.

With a natural tendency to be suspicious, goal–oriented politicos keep a wary eye on political systems that border their jurisdiction. These intrapolitical conflicts are revealing. In some ways they resemble trained roosters in cockfighting arenas, circling about, puffing up their ruff of feathers and waiting for the perfect opportunity to lunge at a potential competitor. Take the deadly antics of territory–grabbing crime syndicates that engage in unlawful activities. They, like predatory governments, aspire to enlarge their geographical turf, and beam with delight when peeking over neighbors’ fences for possible goodies to plunder. This contest over political takings is perhaps the greatest cause of conflict and disharmony.

This antagonism is scalable to every level imaginable—angry mobs rioting against local authorities, guerrilla armies fighting across provinces in blood–drenched civil wars, national governments crossing international boundaries in preemptive strikes. There is no end to where or how an organized political unit will attempt to conquer rivals.

Amazingly, even radical movements that profess strong opposition to any form of government have been known to support the traditional role of governance. During anti-globalization protests at World Trade Organization conferences, self–proclaimed anarchists went so far as to demand more government controls over international trade. In 2010, during Greece’s financial crisis, anarchists took to the streets to protest proposed cuts in public spending that would reduce the size and scope of government, the exact opposite of anarchists’ stated goal to bring about a stateless society. Although most anarchists publicly bad–mouth violence, a number of them have planted bombs and assassinated world leaders, in bids to challenge or overthrow governments. In the final round, most agitators for political power become mesmerized by the thrill of riding in the saddle of power. And if they can seize the government’s mane, the journey leads them to the same politically charged dead–end.

Whether the strife is external or internal, the politically astute understand that conflict can be a heaven–sent tool to devour the weak or rub out potential in–house rivals. Both Hitler and Stalin systematically purged thousands of old–time comrades, resulting in show trials and executions that tested ideological loyalty. But it was playing the fear card that got the ball rolling.

Fear is the greatest political parlor ploy of all time. The phobia lying behind warfare prepares society for war, a sentiment echoed by historian Charles A. Beard (1874–1948), who accused the United States of getting involved in “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”1 The mere thought of death and destruction at the hands of outsiders can terrorize a citizenry into surrendering everything they have. Historically, such fear is misplaced. According to political scientist R.J. Rummel, citizens’ own governments are the greatest genocidal actors and mass killers of them all. In Death by Government (1994), Rummel showed that citizens have a much greater probability of dying at the hands of their own government than of foreign ones, again, adding credibility to the old adage that governments don’t protect people; people protect governments.1

In a 2007 update, Rummel estimated that over 272 million innocent, noncombatant civilians were intentionally murdered by their own governments during the twentieth century.2 Further, this “democide” was six times greater than the number killed in combat in all foreign and domestic wars. After years of research on war, collective violence, and democide, Rummel concluded that freer nations inflict less violence against their own citizens than do less tolerant ones, and that “free people never have famine.” Rummel wrote, “The less freedom people have the more violence, the more freedom the less violence. I put this here as the Power Principle: power kills, absolute power kills absolutely.”

President Ronald Reagan recognized the dangers of government intrusion and state–induced terrorism. Although responsible for the massive military build–up to counter the Soviet Union’s Cold War threat, Reagan announced in a 1981 interview with Barbara Walters that the major threat to freedom did not come from communist governments in Russia or China, but from government in the United States.4

L.K. Samuels is the editor and contributing author of Facets of Liberty: A Libertarian Primer, first published in 1985. He was President of Rampart Institute, which he and Robert LeFevre founded in Orange County, California. His In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action was published by Cobden Press in 2013. Visit his website at For more information on L.K. Samuels, see his Wikipedia page:

1 Charles Beard told historian Harry Elmer Barnes in 1947 that the foreign policy of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman was “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”

2 R.J. Rummel, Death by Government, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

3 R.J. Rummel, The Blue Book of Freedom: Ending Famine, Poverty, Democide, and War, Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 2007.

4 David R. Henderson and John Hancock, “The Meaning of July 4th,” website, posted July 2, 2007. Professor Henderson was a senior economist for energy and health policy with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984.