Does the government own everything? No, of course not, that’s a silly idea, you say. But is it so silly?
I read an article on gun control a while back, and in it the author made a very pithy comment about gun buy-backs-where the local government or police department offers cash to citizens who voluntarily turn in their guns to the Police. The comment was something along the lines of “How can it be called a gun ‘buy-back’ when the government never owned the guns in the first place?” Despite being purely about guns, it got me to thinking about the wider implications.
The government doesn’t own everything, neither does it really own anything until it takes it away from someone else. So in America it seems natural for us to go through our lives not really thinking about government. We buy a lawnmower from a neighbor; we don’t pay sales tax, why should we? It wasn’t the government’s lawn-mower, it was my neighbor’s lawnmower, and before that it was Honda’s lawnmower. Why should the government be involved? In the same vein, we are always inherently suspicious about government, or at least we should be.
But Europeans…they came from a system where once upon a time the government did own everything. The local lord or baron or marquis or earl…he owned the forest, and all the deer in it, he owned the land and you had to get his permission to grow crops on it (and give him some of the crops). You couldn’t own land because the lord owned it. The government was the default owner and overseer of the land and the people and the resources. You didn’t even own yourself; you were a serf who belonged to a lord.
In America we established a government and for most of our history most of the population lived beyond the reach of even a local government, let alone the federal government. In Europe, the government is and it will be, as it has been. The government simply exists, and it is the supreme being through which all things must pass.
In essence, in America we see everything as divorced from government until government has good reason to involve itself, whereas in Europe everything is automatically under the purview of government, unless you yourself can give an adequate reason for the government not to involve itself in your affairs.
I could be wrong, but I do think this historical tie to feudalism and serfdom still serves as the basis for European politics. I think the history of an overwhelming state is why Europeans feel the need for government to be in their lives; they welcome the nanny state because they lack that “pioneer spirit” of bold adventure, going it alone. They have never ventured out into the wild where there is no one to take care of them but they themselves. Wherever they have gone, there was a government there, waiting to oppress them. And that government owned the land they tread upon. And yet they trust their government? And, so it seems, Americans increasingly trust their own, despite all the evidence they shouldn’t.
So what is my point about this? About how the government doesn’t own everything? Well…I am not entirely sure. Just that every individual owns oneself, and thus is entitled to other rights like life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness, free from government molestation.