The State Is an Evil Vine

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The state brings forth bitter and poisonous fruit. Mankind has planted and cultivated this evil vine. The state is an evil vine whose growing branches reach further and further into society, spreading its more and more deadly yield.

What is this vine? It is an organization of men. From whence arises this vine? From groups within society that planted its seed. From whence comes the continual enlargement of this vine? From the continuous watering and fertilization by groups within society. How is the vine’s life maintained? Why do not those being poisoned tear this plant out by its roots? Society’s vintners use power and taxes to protect the vine; they skillfully pay off selected groups in society to defuse rebellion. They use persuasion, education, and sundry appeals to attract support to this vine of evil. What constitutes the enlargement of the vine and its branches? The growth of its powers, taxes, invasions, aggressions, and dominance; the growth and spread of these among more and more people in society.

The evil vine beckons: "Come, tend to me, and I shall give thee life and increase. Come, and do my bidding, and I shall set thee free from worry and care. Ye shall eat of my fruit and ye shall have no thought of tomorrow. Tend to me, and I shall see thee made skillful and educated. I shall see thee in good health and cared for in thine old age when thou art infirm. I shall see that thy children and their children are cared for. I will relieve thee of thy greatest cares and concerns, asking only that thy cultivate and feed me. Ye shall not lack for work. Every enemy will I destroy on thy behalf. I am the vine of thy life. Recognize me as thy source and I shall reward thee with everlasting fruit."

The evil vine of state never lacks for willing vintners.

Society cannot function without justice and its conjoined order. If these were the state’s fruits, it would be sweet indeed. No one could properly complain. To produce justice and order, however, society will have to look elsewhere than the state; for the state is a vine that grows injustice and disorder.

Society can live without the vine of state. Eventually, it will learn how; because any society that uproots this poisonous vine will outpace the ones that do not. Any people that uproots this vine will thrive compared to those who do not.

Planting the evil vine of state will eventually be viewed as error. It will be seen as a wrong step in mankind’s social evolution. At some point in the future, with the grace of God, mankind will look back and marvel at the folly of those primitive peoples who, thinking themselves modern, relied upon states to bring them life, health, and abundance. Future people will marvel at the stupidity of people who planted an evil vine in their midst, especially a vine with such tough roots that it could not readily be removed once planted. They will wonder: How is it people in those days saw the poison fruit produced by their states and kept eating it? Why did they cultivate the plant further? They will shake their heads in disbelief at peoples the world over ruled by the strength and tenaciousness of such evil plants.

Cultivating the vine

A common metaphor among those who decry the state is that it is a parasite. It is an organism that fastens itself upon society and lives off of society. This metaphor has limited usefulness. It does not bring out key facts about the vine of state. Once the vine is planted, it is almost never uprooted; and the reason why is that anyone and any group in society can try to cultivate the plant. It sits there as a constant temptation, promising power, psychic benefits, and/or revenue to any body that succeeds in using it. And every time that it is used, the plant strengthens and society harvests more poisonous fruit.

If we examine the history of any act of state that enlarged it, we will often have great difficulty in tracing the causes back to their origins. Historians will typically disagree about causes and their relative importance. We will often not know either the aims of a law or the motives of those behind its passage. It will typically be easier to analyze who is harmed and who is helped by a law.

And even if we identify the aims and motives of those who have fed the vine of state, where does that get us? There is an infinite number of potential groups who for an infinite number of reasons wish to get something for nothing. They constitute an infinite reservation demand for access to the vine. Their use of it will be rationed by a political competition in which the costs of accessing and using the vine will also play a part.

The case of education

The history of the state’s control over education of children and over higher education in the U.S. provides an example of multiple groups and multiple causes working over a long period of time to assure state control. Rothbard traces the notion of state schools back to the Reformation and then forward to Prussia. But of course the idea goes back even further to Plato and perhaps earlier.

Over the 200-year course of centralizing lower education in state public schools and introducing a very heavy national influence over higher education, we invariably find pious promises of sweet fruit that are secularly religious in nature. The measures to be taken are said to be for the good of society, children, and mankind. They are said to strengthen the country and bring greater prosperity. If economists are promoting these laws, they speak of external benefits to society or remedying educational underinvestment. If educators are promoting these laws, they speak of bringing education to all, promoting equality, and doing a job that parents either fail to do or cannot do as well as professionals. Others speak of promoting the socialization of children brought about by mixing all types and classes or of promoting equality or of strengthening the foundations of democracy. Many speak of producing homogeneous citizens who will support the state, or of training workers to meet the demands of modern industry. Politicians may tell us that state education will be costless, and that its costs will be recovered in future tax revenues. They may say that we need education to produce engineers or scientists for the sake of the country’s national security. They may say that we need central control so that no child may be left behind.

There is never a shortage of temptations to grow the vine of state. Still less is there a shortage of rationales to justify this growth. Vine cultivators are highly adept at manufacturing justifications for what they want to do anyway for their own reasons. Looking at the collection of people promoting state control of education, it is extraordinary that they are able to discover whole branches of hitherto unseen beneficial fruits. It is remarkable that we have so many of these socially-minded and unselfish people in our midst who seem to gain no personal benefit from their manifold recommendations to cultivate the evil vine of state.

Nevertheless, when they get their way, the poisonous fruits of state-run education arise in the form of miseducated, undereducated, and uneducated sons and daughters. We should not wonder at such a result since state control circumvents a competitive private market for educational services in favor of a more cartel-like environment in which each local public school system has a degree of monopoly that it would never have in a free market, as well as a mandated source of demand from students and a tax-based source of revenue.

It is quite easy to spot a number of less altruistic motives for state control of education.

In an environment of reduced competition, both administrators and teachers gain at the expense of students and taxpayers. This occurs both in lower and higher education.

The Morrill Act of 1862 that established land grant colleges said that "the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts…" The emphasis on military education was intentional. Coming as it did during the War Between the States, one aim of this legislation was to increase the supply of military officers for the U.S. Army. According to the Office of Military Science at Siena College: "Many unskilled volunteer and militia officers experienced problems in learning to become effective military leaders virtually overnight. To remedy this situation, the Land-Grant Act of 1862 (also known at the Morrell [sic] Act) gave states federal land to raise capital and establish colleges that would teach agriculture, science, and military tactics. This program was intended to produce a large pool of reserve officers for the United States Army." Land grant colleges instituted mandatory military training programs as a predecessor to the later ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.) Supporters easily found euphemisms of phrase such as the notion that this embodied a citizen military.

Another aim of the Morrill Act was politically to bring western states, who would establish such schools, under the fold of the North. Yet another aim was to subsidize agriculture indirectly by state support of agricultural education. This subsidy was enhanced in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 that created added agricultural extension services.

The branch created by the Morrill Act grew into a limb when The National Defense Act of 1916 created ROTC, making it compulsory for land grant colleges. This was the act that federalized the state militias and turned them into army reserves. ROTC programs soon spread to hundreds of other colleges because the Act provided for money, equipment, and instructors going to colleges with such programs. In 1964, ROTC added scholarships, just in time to expand the training for the Vietnam War.

All federal education acts had the effect of centralizing education at the national level. Similarly, individual states, in the name of equality and other high-sounding aims, have centralized education at the state as opposed to the local levels.

Politicians are not unaware that state-controlled education produces a "standardized brand" of person, far more compliant and willing to support the vine of state. Disraeli thought the standard brand would tend toward science and business and away from moral, political, legal, and historical issues. The state-educated would be less capable of questioning the state.

Destruction of private education is a key plank in destroying the civil order in favor of the state order.

At times, other aims and motives played into use of the state to control education. Historians have mentioned such factors as controlling the black vote in the South after 1865 and controlling the immigrant populations flooding into the Northeast.

The fact that state subsidies go directly to institutions of higher education, more so than to students, is a telling fact. This has caused hundreds of private colleges to close their doors. The recipient state institutions obviously heavily fertilize the evil vine. The sponsoring politicians make hay out of the pork barrel.

Huge national subsidies to universities, public and private, from agencies like NSF, NIH, NASA, EPA, and others now effectively have most large universities firmly in the grip of the federal government. While they currently like federal support, in years to come, the vine will entangle these institutions in new directions.

The state’s existence is the message

This brief review of education shows what is typical of the state’s growth: multiple motivations and multiple directions occurring over long periods, but adding up to the spread of the evil vine and the deepening of its roots.

The root fact supporting this growth is that once the vine has been planted in our midst, it beckons all to its use. The incentive to use it cannot be turned off once the vine has been firmly planted. And every use of the vine strengthens its roots.

I am as curious as the next man as to why we have a particular state law. But when we examine a broad range of states across the entire world, we shall have quite a lot of difficulty explaining the pastiche of laws that one state has as compared with that of another. The precise course of a state’s growth will often be hard to understand in terms of who did what and why. Tracing growth back to basic causes will not be easy. And if we focus too much attention on that question, we miss seeing the biggest cause of all.

The biggest cause of a state’s growth is that there is a state in a country. Once it is there, it will be used. Its use will make it grow. Removing it will become increasingly difficult, until perhaps the vine exudes so much poison or becomes so tangled up in its own excesses that it collapses.

Ending states

Justice within society, yes. The state, no.

States are planted because people demand that they be planted, as exemplified by 1 Samuel 8:5—7: "5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. 6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. 7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."

Only by a people’s change of heart can the evil vine be uprooted and the people turn away from its promises of sweet and free fruits which in actuality turn out to be poisonous and costly. To remove a state is both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world. People need only learn what Moses taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:3: "3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." People need only not give in to the temptation of the evil vine. Matthew 4: 1—4: "1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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