I think we have all heard tell of the above mentioned “libertarian litmus test”, and while I may not agree with the terminology, I have always felt it usefully applicable in conversation. This question comes from an article written by Murray Rothbard, published in The Libertarian Forum in July of 1977, entitled “Do You Hate the State?”. Rothbard’s article elegantly explains the importance of such a question, but here I will only discuss that nature of the State that so many of us have come to hate. Let us investigate into what the State actually and truly is before we render judgment, shall we?
We will start with the most basic definitions of the broadest sense of government and who better to start with than Webster’s himself? According to Webster’s online dictionary, the relevant definition of a State is:
“5. A. a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory; especially: one that is sovereign”.1
This seemingly straightforward and innocuous introduction followed by the emphasis on sovereignty is very indicative of this lack of a fulfilling definition. What is “state sovereignty”? A famous professor of geo-politics once defined State sovereignty to me as the ability to murder your own citizens without international interference. This is a fact, and our meddling in Pakistan and Yemen (et. al…) are only highlighting the US-led global police force violating the sovereignty of every non-“western”-compliant nation.
Accepting the two prior assertions it is necessary that in order to be in favor of the State and Statism one must meet the following conditions. Firstly, you must have a willful desire to give up a portion of your own personal sovereignty (self-ownership, dominion). For it is impossible that a sovereign “politically organized” body could be organized without the wealth of its subjects. Secondly, you must also demand of each and every human being within the territory occupied by your preferred “political body” that they too live according to the desires of others. Therefore one must be insistent upon others to give up their own personal sovereignty as well.
Thirdly, to support the State one must be willing to shoot and kill any of his “countrymen” that refuse your claim of ownership over their own bodies. This might seem like a philosophical abstract, but every day Americans put Americans into cages for victimless crimes all in the name of the State. What would happen if someone unjustly incarcerated attempts to escape? That is one example of the inevitable, and countless breaches of personal sovereignty committed by the State.
I’ve come to this hardly sympathetic conclusion about the nature of the State simply by taking the standard Webster’s definition to its logical conclusion. And while even under such a benign definition as Webster’s supplied, the State can hardly be considered an institution of virtue. But since we are not usually satiated by standard and benign definitions, let us look at a more rational view of the State, as expressed in Murray Rothbard’s essay Anatomy of the State.
Anatomy of the State Before even giving his own definition of the State he decries the practice altogether magnificently,“The useful collective term ‘we’ has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life.”2 One of the most effective uses of the term “we” by the propaganda machine was in regards to the military. Instead of making posters for “Our Boys” like was done in the first World War, it has been simply assumed that each and every American is at war with “terror”, or whatever the Great Satan du jour. I did not invade Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other place on Earth; it was simply people who threaten physical force to violate my sovereignty, in order to violate the sovereignty of yet another victim of Statism. Collectivism kills.
So how did Rothbard define the state?
“Briefly, the State is the organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion.”3
Rothbard continues on to reference a German political philosopher who described what he saw as two distinctive ways to increase wealth. Franz Oppenheimer suggests that there is an “economic means” and a “political means”, the difference being in that the former is voluntary and the latter is coercive. The view of our economy through a similar lens, one that sees a sector consisting of only coercive interaction and one made up entirely of voluntary human action, is much clearer. This lens reveals the beauty of the free market, the human race, and the potential for prosperity being strangled by the State.
In further criticism, Rothbard says the State is a provider of “a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic class in society”. Furthermore, “The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conflict and exploitation.”4
Rothbard put the State in the light it belongs. Logic and morality applies to each and every person no matter the pretty blue uniform.
To add one more definition of that State we go to twitter, and we have reached out to an expert on the matter, and this is how @thestatesucks defines the State: “People in costumes and suits, utilizing a monopoly on force to commit institutional violence on other unsuspecting humans.”5
Please keep in mind the three definitions we’ve discussed today, Webster’s, Rothbard’s, and @thestatesucks’s.
To ask again, do you hate the State?
This article was inspired by, and I'm certain ideas were borrowed from Rothbard.