One of the most basic reasons why we have a government is for the reason articulated by Thomas Hobbes over 350 years ago: without government, we would be in a “state of nature” in which there are: “no arts, no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Impossible as it would have been to believe just a week ago, New Orleans in the past few days has devolved to just such a Hobbesian state of nature. People have expressed shock and surprise that violence and chaos have erupted in New Orleans this week. But it should really come as no surprise; the local government in New Orleans is disabled and overwhelmed, and our national government is (for reasons unclear to me) simply not there. As Hobbes pointed out, a return to the state of nature is exactly what we should expect when government is absent.
There are many good reasons that we have governments, including but not limited to Hobbes’ reason. That’s why we agree to pay the taxes that support them. But this week, in the United States, our government has failed to fulfill one of it most basic duties to tens or hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Disgraceful does not begin to describe it.