Auberon Herbert discusses the “essence of government” when the veneer of elections are stripped away (1894)

Auberon Herbert

Found in The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays (1978 ed.)

Herbert argues in this essay written in 1894 that the true nature of government is the exercise of coercion and, once the veneer of elections and parliamentary oratory is stripped away, its purer essence is revealed:

We live in an age of active evolution, and the art of government is evolving like everything else round us. Dynamite is its latest and least comfortable development. It is a purer essence of government, more concentrated and intensified, than has ever yet been employed. It is government in a nutshell, government stripped, as some of us aver, of all its dearly beloved fictions, ballot boxes, political parties, House of Commons oratory, and all the rest of it. How, indeed, is it possible to govern more effectively, or in more abbreviated form, than to say: "Do this—or don’t do this—unless you desire that a pound of dynamite should be placed tomorrow evening in your ground-floor study." It is the perfection, the ne plus ultra, of government.

Auberon Herbert was one of the leading radical individualists in 19th century Britain. As a radical he was most concerned to rebut the charge that he advocated violence in any form. In this quote he asserts strongly that he “detests dynamite” in all its forms and in fact turns the criticism on its head by arguing that “dynamite” (i.e. force and violence) is rather “the essence of government” itself.