That is often how my forays into discussing state often end up with my friends in the Progressive blogsphere. If I inform then that libertarianism isn't what is preached by CATO or the AEI, they thank me but almost always tell em they will get around to discussing that more in-depth another day. Given the recent issues around free speech, human rights commission and the role of the state, I thought today was finally a good day.
"A government big enough to supply you with everything you need is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.... The course of history shows that as the government grows, liberty decreases." Thomas Jefferson
The "state" is a social institution, merely a relationship among people, laying down rules for human interaction. In that sense, the state is morally neutral; that is, it is a tool that is neither good nor evil in and of itself, but only in how it is used.
Sounds pretty tame, right?
That tool, unfortunately, is unique in human existence in that it is not voluntary and, to paraphrase Max Weber
, it "claims
to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force" usually within a geographic area. That means it can do things 'legitimately' that if you did them, it would be a crime.
The state become "evil" when it is used by people to do "evil" things. The Holocaust, the Gulag, genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans are examples of evil people utilizing the state for evil purposes.
The state can also seemingly be used for "good" as well. When placed in the hand of "good" people it can by used to stop the atrocities above.
The entire struggle between ideologies, between "left" and "right" has been to wrest control of this Leviathan and to use its power - the power of the sole use of force and coercion - to do "good". That power can force people to do things against their will, can confiscate and redistribute property and wealth to solve inequities.
If only the right people can just control it....
But the right people can never just "control it". The state is not just about relationships, its about privilege. The state is an entity which not only claims the monopoly on the "legitimate" use of force, it bestows that power on those who have wrested control of it and those people use that power and privilege to their own advantage, even to the detriment of others. And the whole time, they say its for "the greater good". Witness the crimes of Robert Mugabe, crimes that would be impossible without the apparatus of the state to carry them out - central bank printing presses and armed police.
But even in our own country, the use of state power to enhance and bestow privilege is commonplace. Regardless of who is in power, the regulations serve to help one group over the others. Even regulations said to be for safety can and are used to raise the barrier to entry into a market and stifling competition (thus raising prices). Laws are put in place that often help certain corporations or groups. Anti-union legislation, called "Right to Work" has the effect of keeping wages low, while pro-Union legislation creates artificial scarcity and drives prices up. So called "free trade" agreements allow for the flow of capital (good for big multinational corporations) but not labour (bad for small business and wage labourers). The state in Canada used its power to try to wipe out Aboriginal culture and language, "for their own good."
Our state today is no different in hierarchy and privilege granting, than it was 500, 1000 or 5000 years ago, we have merely changed the name of the King or Emperor or Chieftain to President or Prime Minister. Warlords, Dukes, and Oligarchs are now CEOs and Corporate officers, gaining the same kind of benefit and privilege from "legislatures" as their predecessors did from alliances with Kings. We aren't serfs and peasants, but wage slaves an indebted servants nonetheless, always hoping the next vote will actually make it all stop.
Because we have not choice. We must obey or the state and those who run it can 'legitimately' kidnap and imprison you or steal your property or enslave you for war.
Statism and the state are then, about preserving the privilege of those elites that can gain control of it. Just as racism, sexism and homophobia are really about maintaining or regaining similar privileges by oppressing others. It is a blunt, violent dangerous instrument.
What if there were no state? What if people could freely choose whether to associate and organize themselves? What if it were recognized that except for self-defense, there is no "legitimate" use of force against others? What if people could choose between differing, competing entities for the "services" the state currently "offers"?
I view the state as a gun. A large gun that is very powerful and has unlimited bullets. And there is only one and every so often, we decide who gets to shoot the gun. No the gun could be used to prevent one group from harming another, but often at the expense of another. Or it could be used to harm those groups. The gun never runs out of bullets because, no matter who controls it, they stick the gun in our face and steal our money in order to buy the bullets.
Lefties, if such a gun existed, would you not be demanding gun control? Or abolition of the gun?
Righties, if such a gun existed, would you want it used against you, to take your property? Would you want it to be given to those you disagree with?
I would like to see a truly voluntary society, one where we negotiate with each other, associate with each other and trade with each other, freely, without forced privilege or coercion. That means not state and "government" is only that which people agree to at any given time.
It would be easy to implement - make taxes voluntary. Make them specific. If I want my tax money to go to the SWC, and Planned Parenthood clinics or non-profit public healthcare, it would. If I did not want it to fund wars or subsidize the most profitable industry in the world, it wouldn't. If I decided I could get better service elsewhere, from non-governmental agencies, I could get it. I would be in control. We
would be in control.
Considering how historically the state has more often oppressed people than helped them, why would you want to give anyone that power.
I don't expect to "convert" anyone with this. I do hope that some people consider the what the state is more carefully and not assume having a state is the natural order of things. I hope people question the very existence and necessity of the state, rather than accept it "just because"...
So, the question is, why do we need an institution with the monopoly on legitimate violence? Why do we need a state?
Labels: anarchism, libertarian, the state, tools