Three Categories of Human Activity
& the Proper Role of Government
by Sam Wells
There are three (3) areas of human activity:

1. Private personal actions which involve no one except that person and his own self and property. (e.g., smoking pot in the privacy of his own home; or watching his own TV in his own home as long as the noise doesn't harm someone else; or thinking unorthodox thoughts in the privacy of his own brain),

2. Voluntary (market) relations -- any relationship in which the wills of the participants coincide (agree) with respect to the terms of the relationship. (e.g., voluntary sexual intercourse in private quarters; working for an employer in exchange for a salary; buying a loaf of bread at supermarket; lending money out to gain interest or dividends; offering a lower price for ones product to persuade consumers to buy it),

3. Coercive Acts -- acts performed by a human or humans against the will or without the permission of an adult human with respect to that which is his own (his person or property).  This includes both the initiatory violence of criminality (e.g., murder; rape, theft; breech of contract; criminal tresspass; robbery; kidnaping; slavery; embezzlement) and retaliatory coercive acts in the pursuit of justice.  It should be noted that the realm of coercive/violent activities also includes the proper defensive and retaliatory use of violent force by government against criminals and foreign enemies.  These are not market actions.  When a police officer arrests you, he does not ask your permission.  (Market activities on the other hand do not involve the use of any coercion, either initiatory or retaliatory, but only by the voluntary consent of the particpants involved.)

The proper function of government is to use its powers to protect against and justly retaliate against category 3 -- BUT to leave alone categories 1 and 2. Hence, police protection, the courts, and national defense are legitimate functions of a proper government. Subsidizing tobacco farmers or bankers or home buyers is not. Dictating who we may associate with or not associate with is not.

Government (the primary institution of coercion in any society) should keep HANDS OFF categories 1 and 2.  Its only proper jurisdiction is suppressing category #3.  This is often referred to as a policy of laissez faire.

I contend (as did Algernon Sidney, John Lilburne, John Locke and Jefferson) that when a person violates the rights of others (murder, theft, rape, etc.) that person becomes a criminal (if convicted) and forfeits at least some of his rights to be left alone by the government. A peaceful person who does not initiate force against anyone does NOT forfeit his right to be left alone. Ideally, people should be free (from coercive interference) in their private affairs and voluntary relationships; on the other hand, those people who violate the rights of peaceful adult citizens should not be free and should not be left alone by the coercion of government. They should be arrested, tried, convicted, and punished and/or segregated from the rest of society through imprisonment.

It is because government by its nature has a monopoly on the legal use of force in society that it is such a dangerous creature, and why it must be bound down by rules ("the chains of the Constitution" as Jefferson put it). The wielding of force must not be left to arbitrary, capricious, and changing whims. It must be limited by principle.  What principle?  The principle of individual rights.

It is the principle of individual rights of peaceful adult citizens to person and property that sets a rational limit to the proper scope of government (society's institution of legal force); otherwise its power is logically UNlimited and there is no rational delineation point of its authority, no rational justification against slavery or death camps.


Related Articles or Documents
The Three Categories of Human Activity and How They Relate to the Proper Role of Political Government -- or, Where Libertarians Would Draw the Line

Dr. Walter Williams on Violence & the Moral Limits of Political Action

Separation of Force and Whim -- The Laissez-Faire Republic vs. Whimarchy: The Principle of Clearly Defined Individual Human Rights in a Limited Constitutional Republic versus the Tyranny of Unlimited Government by Whim

Constitutional Republic vs Democracy:  The Role of a Majority Vote in a Free Society Versus Unlimited Majority Rule in a Democracy  Did the founders of the United States of America intend to establish a democracy? Is a republic merely a representative democracy?

Selected Historical Documents   List of Major Documents, Books, Essays, Pamphlets, & Tracts in the Historical Development of the American Constitutional Republic, and how this increasingly placed legal limitations on the prerogatives of political rulers (first the King and then the Parliament itself), thus effecting a separation of whim from the use of government force by the assertion of private rights.

An Outline of Political Systems, and Where the Laissez-Faire Republic Fits