0 Items  Total: $0.00

What Is Government?

(the short answer)

What Must Be Understood


I’m going to keep this very short, so it can be passed on to as many people as possible. It is extremely important, and every free person in the modern world needs to understand this! Here goes:

Many modern Americans don’t understand what government is. The huge problem with this is that since they don’t know what it is, why it exists, and what it is for, they expect the wrong things from it.

This causes government to do much more than it should, and simultaneously to avoid doing some things it truly ought to do.

Q: What is government?

A: Government is force.

Government is force, pure and simple.

George Washington said:

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

This is the view the American Founders had of government. It is the view that the people of every free nation in history had of government. And when this view changed, these nations lost their freedoms.


What They Knew

Any other view of government leads to a loss of freedom. As Thomas Jefferson put it:

“[F]ree government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power….In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”

Clearly the Founders had a different view of government than many people today. They called it “force,” “fire,” and said that it must be “bound down by chains” to keep it from causing problems.

Anything and everything the government does is done by force or the threat of force. There are no exceptions.Anyone who doesn’t believe this simply doesn’t understand how government works or what it is.

Like fire, government can be very helpful to human beings—but if it is allowed to burn beyond the bounds of the stove or the fireplace (e.g. the Constitution), it naturally hurts people.

Government was first invented to protect people from negative force—but in history government itself has been the biggest abuser.

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Here’s what this means in practical terms: Anything that is best done by force, can be done by government. Anything that can be done in a better way than by force, shouldn’t ever be done by government. For example:

  • Fighting foreign invaders with guns who are trying to kill, rape, and pillage can be best accomplished by force. Use government.
  • Stopping criminals in the city who want to steal, murder, hurt or destroy can be best done by force. Use government.
  • Healing the sick in hospitals isn’t best done by force. Use the private sector.
  • Educating the children in our communities isn’t best done by force. Use the private sector.
  • Loving the poor and struggling and helping them get back on their feet in a community aren’t best done by force. Use the private sector.
  • Etc., etc.

This is the principle. It is a law of the universe. If we try to break it or ignore it, our freedoms will continue to decrease.

If something government does can be done in a better way than by force, government should stop doing it. Indeed, it must stop doing it, or our freedoms will be lost.

Until modern Americans understand this, they’ll continue to vote as they do and we’ll continue to watch our freedoms dwindle.

Whenever you use the word “government” from now on, start inserting the word “force.” In fact, government is force—always, without exception.


odemille Reconsidering the White House   Oliver DeMille Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.



  1. Thank you for emphasizing this essential equation; we have to start with this definition.
    But can we talk a little bit more about force? Do we really understand what is force, what are its effects?
    We don’t, right? And that is the problem. We have no way of knowing the ripple effects of force.
    Is force ever the BEST way to get something done?
    We know examples of force being met with pacifism and working out BETTER because of it.
    Now certainly there are times when force is justified, but what does that really mean? What does it mean for something to be justified?
    Doesn’t it mean that every single ripple effect is accounted for, that every reaction to infinity is absorbed until balance is restored?
    I’m sure there is a perfect reaction to a forceful act that would perfectly restore balance and peace to the system interrupted by the initial instigation, but can we ever know, let alone achieve that perfect response? Doesn’t a forceful reaction just cause all sorts of new ripples going in different directions, and perpetuate the chaos?
    Why isn’t the corollary to ‘government is force,’ ‘don’t use it’?
    It seems like this is the corollary in the eternal scheme, why isn’t it here?
    Because we’ve been told instances when force is justified, after the third or fourth offense?
    Then we’re back to what justified means. Justified means that somebody absorbs the effects, somebody suffers. This is inescapable.
    We all hope that is not us. Should we really institutionalize the avoidance?
    I mean, thank God for The Scape Goat, but how can I ever condone force? How can I ever condone government?
    (I know this kind of straining can be counterproductive, but I’m strained.)

  2. I love this article and this topic. I recently read Orrin Woodward’s book, And Justice for All. In it I found the best description and explanation I have ever seen about the question of the proper role of government.

    I have seen positive declarative statements in the past about the “proper role of government and asked, why is force the proper role of government. In reading And Justice for All, I learned that I was looking at this statement the wrong way. The declaration is not about the propriety of giving force to government, but the propriety of giving any other authority to the institution that has been delegated the authority of force.

    The proper role of government is restricted to force because force has been delegated to government in civilized society. That is the reason governments are formed – to centralize, and thus contain the use of force. Otherwise, chaos will reign as individuals overstep their proper use of force. Both chaos and tyranny are examples of force extending beyond its proper boundaries.

    No other authority should be delegated to the same place force has been delegated – history proves that it is the nature of delegated force to extend beyond its boundaries, similar to a fire, unless tightly contained.

    In answer to the comments of “JOSPEHS”: I don’t presume to be an authority on this, but here are my thoughts on your questions. First of all, thank you for raising them. A people who are closer to never using force are a righteous people. The increased use of force to get things done is an indication that force is needed in order to get the basic good things accomplished by a society. If more people were leaning toward the idea that the corollary to ‘government is force,’ should be ‘don’t use it’ the world would be a better place.
    However, we do not live in a world filled with angels. The corollary of force is not ‘don’t use it.’ It’s not a matter of whether it’s justified. It’s a matter of whether something is the proper use of it. The proper use would be the season and purpose which is set by the Lord.
    Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8
    “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

    A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

    Since He has set a purpose and appropriate time (season) for everything, including force, we should seek to understand what He defines as the proper use of everything, including force. The most important guideline is personal revelation. If you never feel inspired to use force against another individual, then you are the one responsible for that choice and the Lord will provide a way for you to completely avoid the use of force and justify any consequences in your life for your good. Similarly, if someone does feel inspired to use force, they are responsible for that choice and the Lord will provide a way to use it appropriately, justifying the consequences.
    An example of where I feel the use of force may be proper:
    When an individual demonstrates an inclination to abuse the freedoms of others, it is the proper use of force to restrict his interactions.
    When any government has demonstrated a tendency to abuse the freedoms of any individual or group of individuals, it is not only the proper use of force, but the duty of those individuals or that group of individuals, to alter or abolish that form of government, either by revolution or by immigration.

  3. Joseph,

    Way to make us think deep! As always.

    Honestly, this is a big question you ask. In fact, it’s “the Heuristic Question.” As C.S. Lewis framed this, every curriculum is designed to prepare the participants for something, so why is life so hard? Specifically, why is it so hard in the way it is hard? That is, what kind of battle is God fighting that is so challenging that to train his people for it he sends them to mortality and had them learn through the challenges, pains, and struggles of this world? It must be a mighty battle indeed, Lewis affirms.

    Is there force involved in the battle He is fighting? Almost certainly, in my opinion, and Lewis’s, or why would so many of the lessons in mortality be needed? If God is the perfect curriculum planner, then this test of life is the perfect preparation for something awesomely challenging! Perhaps such a challenge requires no force, but that seems doubtful given a world where force is such a central theme.

    From another perspective (Joe seemed to be hinting at this), perhaps the challenge God faces requires us to be deeply immune to the temptation to use force. Maybe he wants us to become beings who always allow freedom—whatever the challenge. Imagine Lord Acton’s quote in this scenario: “Power corrupts, and absolute power…actually, we never give in to the temptation to use force.”

    Or, a third view: Maybe force is a key part of God’s nature—he just always uses it righteously. Actually, I guess this is just the first view in different words. Even stronger words: Perhaps God is a Warrior, the greatest Warrior in the universe, and knowing when to use force and when not to us it—perfectly—is the great lesson we’re supposed to be learning as humans.

    Joe, you’ve asked what might be THE question.

    I’m leaning to viewpoints one and three above. But I’m still trying to figure it out…


  4. Ammon,
    Right on! Well articulated. I agree.

  5. Oliver,
    I love the logic and simplicity of this method. It is such a simple way to create a common foundation to start a conversation with someone that you may disagree with on whether government participation in any endeavor is necessary or not.
    How would you decipher the role of government in the creation and upkeep of public facilities such as county roads and interstates? I can see, that the building and maintenance could easily, and much more efficiently, be done by private enterprise, but who hires that private enterprise? A government committee? With our current system, that seems ripe for special deals.
    While the building/maintaining roadways does not require force, it would seem to me that it could fall under the General Welfare clause. What’s the right line of thinking in this case? Other than limiting the amount of resources that the government has (taxes), like you outlined in your book Leadershift with Orrin Woodward (which was fantastic, by the way), is there a way to perform services like these as efficiently as the private sector does them, with the government overseeing the project? Thanks for all you do.

  6. Terry, great question. It reminds me of a conversation taking place on Facebook, where I respond to others: https://www.facebook.com/chelsea.goodrich1/posts/10152808641594479

  7. Terry, as for your specific question on Government vs. Private (utilities and other infrastructure), I’ve had enough questions on the topic that I’m going to write an article specifically on the topic. Watch for it!

  8. Wow,
    I have been trying to find a source on “the Heuristic Question” for years. I could have sworn I remembered you attaching it to Lewis, and I feel like I’ve scoured his works, but unsuccessfully. Is it in Abolition of Man?

    I don’t know how you cut so quickly and precisely through my poorly articulated questioning, but you did, right to, as you put it, THE question.

    I won’t belabor THE question here, except to wonder that a lot of our imaginations about what we are being prepared for seem to fall far short of the idea that “that same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there,” especially considering that becoming like God might mean that one of our best and brightest children rebels against us and spend eternity trying to destroy our other children.

    Then there is all the importance placed on learning to function somewhat blindly. If we are being prepared for mansions and a sea of glass offering visions of all things, wouldn’t a better test have been to give each of us all sorts of wealth and all knowledge in this simulation–to see what we’d do with them?

    I’m not questioning the test; I’m questioning our idea of what it is we’re being prepared for.

    While I’m drawing on LDS scripture, it is the idea that “everlasting dominion” will flow unto us forever “without compulsory means” that causes me to lean to the second viewpoint you suggest. I wonder if we’ve been offered this buffered environment in which we can play with force, in order to come out of it drained of any presumption that force will get us anywhere.

    Nevertheless, force has been justified, at least for the time being. I just don’t want to take that lightly; justification is a weighty matter. I appreciate the weight that your article places.

    So where do I find Lewis’ treatment of the subject?

  9. Lewis doesn’t say, “heuristic question”; he shows it. Especially in Abolition of Man, and the entire “Green book” discussion, i.e., curriculum and books have a purpose and the first analysis is to deconstruct that purpose. This is the basis of heurism – the whole point of it, really. Plato’s dialogs do this also; but I think Lewis did it the most effectively in Abolition. Aquinas does it as well, but it is so esoteric (not to mention voluminous) that it’s hard to dig out. Emerson was also fantastic at showing heuristic inconsistencies. Trying to bring to mind the one other writer that’s on the tip of my tongue. I’ll post again when I remember it.

  10. If you choose force, you have already lost your freedom!
    Obviously the chains of the constitution have not been successful in taming force while maintaining freedom.
    If you take a broader view of “government” I think you can differentiate 2 basic forms of government, coercive (the force you have explained) and non-coercive, which is voluntary. I prefer non-coercive.
    Force exists all around us in nature, the fire you mentioned and gravity, etc. Natural force governs our lives in many ways and when we violate it, we get hurt. Coercive government is not natural, it is imposed or chosen.
    Force is not the proper role of government. It is one form of government. Coercion is never justified. Defense is justified.

Speak Your Mind