How and Why the State Destroys Society
The Rise and Fall of Society
It is not incumbent
on a diagnostician to prescribe a remedy, and it would be quackery
for him to do so when he has misgivings as to its curative value.
It may be that the struggle between Society and the State is inevitable;
it may be in the nature of things for the struggle to continue until
mutual destruction clears the ground for the emergence of a new
Society, to which a new political establishment attaches itself
to effect a new doom.
malignancy is inherent in man. It would be silly to suggest that
four-footed males, driven by the reproductive urge, ought to know
better than engage in deathly battles over possession of females,
and it is possible that the historical struggle between the social
organization and the political organization is likewise meant to
this conclusion is found in the ground we have covered.
man where else can we begin? we find him impelled
by an inner urge to improve his circumstances and widen his horizon;
a self-generating capacity for wanting drives him from one gratification
to another. Each gratification represents an expenditure of labor,
which, because it produces a feeling of weariness, he finds distasteful.
His inclination is to bypass labor as much as possible, but without
sacrificing his betterment.
He brings to
bear on this natural modus operandi a peculiarly human gift:
the faculty of reason. (It is this faculty that suggests a possible
solution of the Society-State conflict, which we will discuss later.)
His reason tells him that the business of multiplying satisfactions
is best pursued by cooperation with his fellow man.
Society and its techniques: specialization and exchange, capital
accumulations, competition. Society is a labor-saving device, instinctively
invented; it is not a contractual arrangement any more than the
family is, but like the family it germinates in the composition
method yields more for less labor than individual self-sufficiency
does, yet the price it always demands is labor. There is no getting
away from that. Still, it is a price paid with reluctance, and out
of this inner conflict between cost and desires comes the drama
of organized man.
of getting something for nothing, the summum bonum, does
not banish hope or intimidate the imagination, and in his effort
to realize the dream, man frequently turns to predation: the transference
of possession and enjoyment of satisfactions from producer to nonproducer.
Since men work only to satisfy their desires, this transference
induces a feeling of hurt, and in response to that feeling the producer
sets up a protective mechanism.
conditions, he relies on his own powers of resistance to robbery,
his personal strength plus such weapons as he has at his disposal.
That is his Government. Since this protective occupation interferes
with his primary business of producing satisfactions, and is frequently
ineffective, he is quite willing to turn it over to a specialist
when the size and opulence of Society call for such a service. Government
provides the specialized social service of safeguarding the marketplace.
feature of this service is that it enjoys a monopoly of coercion.
That is the necessary condition for the conduct of the business;
any division of authority would defeat the purpose for which Government
is set up.
Yet, the fact
remains that Government is a human organization, consisting of men
who are exactly like the men they serve. That is, they too seek
to satisfy their desires with the minimum of exertion, and they
too are insatiable in their appetites. In addition to the run-of-the-mill
desires that possess all men, Government personnel acquire one peculiar
to their occupation: the adulation showered on them because they
alone exercise coercion. They are people apart.
that stem from the exercise of power arouse a passion for power,
particularly with men whose capacities would go quite unnoticed
in the marketplace, and the temptation is strong to expand the area
of power; the negative function of protection is too confining for
men of ambition. The tendency then in the world of officialdom is
to assume a capacity for positive functions, to invade the marketplace,
to undertake to regulate, control, manage, and manipulate its techniques.
In point of
fact, it does nothing of the kind, since the techniques are self-operating,
and all that political power can accomplish by its interventions
is to control human behavior; it effects compliance by the threat
of physical punishment. That, indeed, is the be-all and end-all
of political power. Yet, such is the makeup of the human that he
looks up to, and sometimes worships, the fellow human who dominates
his will, and it is this acquired sense of superiority that is the
principal profit of officialdom.
from negative Government to positive State is marked by the use
of political power for predatory purposes. In its pursuit of power,
officialdom takes into consideration the ineluctable something-for-nothing
passion, and proceeds to win the support of segments of Society
bent on feathering their nests without picking feathers.
It is a quid
pro quo arrangement, by which the power of compulsion is sublet
to favored individuals or groups in return for their acquiescence
to the acquisition of power. The State sells privilege, which is
nothing but an economic advantage gained by some at the expense
In olden times,
the privileged group were a land-owning class, who furnished military
support for political power, or a mercantilist group, who contributed
to the imperial coffers out of their politically generated monopoly
profits; with the advent of popular suffrage, making political preferment
dependent on wider favor, the business of bribery had to be extended,
and so came the subsidization of farmers, tenants, the aged, users
of electric power, and so on. Their vested interest in the State
makes them amenable to its purposes.
It is this
partnership in predation that characterizes the State. Without the
support of privileged groups the State would collapse. Without the
State the privileged groups would disappear. The contract is rooted
in the law of parsimony.
that puts the State into a bargaining position with its favorites
is taxation. In the beginning, when the simple community sets up
Government, it is admitted that its operatives cannot be productive
and therefore have to be supported by the marketplace. Services
must be paid for.
But the manner
of paying for Government service poses a problem: taxes are compulsory
charges, not voluntary payments, and their collection has to be
entrusted to the very people who live by them; the compulsory power
entrusted to them is used in the collection of their own wages.
That this function
should be pursued with vigor is understandable. Yet, where political
power is under the constant surveillance of Society, the urgency
to increase taxes for the purpose of enlarging political power can
be held in leash. But this restraint loses potency as Society grows
in size and in complexity of interests; the preoccupation of its
members with productive enterprise dims their interest in public
affairs, which tend to become the private concern of officials.
of political power, which is merely its release from the restraint
of social sanctions, ensues, and tax levies grow apace. The political
establishment the court of Louis XIV or the equally nonproductive
bureaucracy of the modern "welfare" state thus
acquires self-sufficiency; it has the wherewithal to meet its enforcement
payroll and to invest in power-accumulating enterprises.
There is always
good and sufficient reason for more and more taxes. Solomon's temple,
the roads of Rome, the rearing of "infant industries,"
military preparedness, the regulation of morals, the improvement
of the "general welfare" all call for drafts on
the marketplace, and the end product of each draft is an increase
in the power of the State.
Some of the
appropriations seep through to some members of Society, thus satisfying
the something-for-nothing urge, at least temporarily, and so stimulate
a disposition to tolerate the institution and to obliterate understanding
of its predatory character. Until the State reaches its ultimate
objective, absolutism, its answer to tax-grumbling is that the "other
fellow" pays all the levies and that seems to satisfy.
fast through the biography of political institutions, the practice
of buying the support of privileged and subsidized groups sloughs
off when the State becomes self-sufficient; that is, when the marketplace
is completely under its domination. The State then becomes the only
privileged class. Custom and necessity reduce Society to a condition
of subservience to the bureaucracy and the police, the components
of the State.
is currently known as totalitarianism, but it is in fact nothing
but conquest, the conquest of Society by the State. So that, whether
or not the State originated in conquest, as some historians hold,
the end result of unchecked political institutions is the same:
Society is enslaved.
The end is
not yet. The stature of the State grows by predation, the stature
of Society shrinks in proportion. For an explanation for this antithesis
we return to the composition of man. We find that he works only
to satisfy his desires, of which he has a plenitude, and that his
output of effort is in proportion to his intake of satisfactions.
If his investment
of labor yields no profit, or if experience tells him none can be
expected, his interest in laboring flags. That is, production declines
by the amount of expropriation he must endure; if expropriation
is severe enough and evasion becomes impossible, so that he learns
to accept it as a way of life and forgets what it actually is, his
output tends to the minimum of mere existence.
the State thrives on what it expropriates, the general decline in
production that it induces by its avarice foretells its own doom.
Its source of income dries up. Thus, in pulling Society down it
pulls itself down. Its ultimate collapse is usually occasioned by
a disastrous war, but preceding that event is a history of increasing
and discouraging levies on the marketplace, causing a decline in
the aspirations, hopes, and self-esteem of its victims.
When we speak
of the disappearance of a civilization we do not mean that a people
has been extinguished. Every holocaust leaves survivors. What is
implied by the fall of a civilization is the disappearance from
memory of an accumulation of knowledge and of values that once obtained
among a people.
arts and sciences, the religion and manners, the ways of living
and of making a living have been forgotten. They have been obliterated
not by a pile of dust but by a general lack of interest in marginal
satisfactions, in the things men strive to achieve when the struggle
for existence is won. One can manage to get along without knives
and forks when the getting of food is trouble enough, and the first
business of raiment is to provide warmth, not adornment.
as the primary necessaries accumulate, the human begins to dream
of new worlds to conquer, including the world of the mind
culture, ideas, values. The accumulating conquests become the indicia
of a civilization. The loss of a civilization is the reverse of
that process of cultural accumulation. It is the giving up, as a
matter of necessity, of those satisfactions that are not essential
to existence. It is a process of forgetting through force of circumstance;
it is abstinence imposed by environment.
will for a while impose abstinence, but the record shows that man
is quite capable of overcoming such obstacles to his ambitions.
The obstacle he does not seem able to overcome is his inclination
to predation, which gives rise to the institution of the State;
it is this institution that ultimately induces a climate of uselessness,
of lack of interest in striving, and thus destroys the civilization
it feeds upon. Or so the record shows: every civilization that declined
or was lost carried an all-powerful State on its back.
a State means a weakening of the instruments of coercion by means
of which property in the fruits of one's labors was transferred
to nonproducing rulership or its supporting accomplices. Thereafter,
maybe for centuries, freedom prevails, men learn to dream and hope
again, and the realization of each dream through effort encourages
further fantasy and generates more effort; thus wealth multiplies,
knowledge accumulates, manners take shape, and the nonmaterial values
attain importance in man's hierarchy. A new civilization is born.
of the lost civilization is recaptured by accident, what is dug
up has to be relearned; the new civilization does not grow out of
its predecessor, but emerges from the efforts of the living. At
any rate, history tells us, a civilization no more than gets started
when a political institution attaches itself to it, feeds on it,
and in the end devours it. And the roundelay starts all over again.
Chodorov (18871966), one of the great libertarians of the
Old Right, was the founder of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists
and author of such books as The
Income Tax: Root of All Evil. Here he is on "Taxation
Is Robbery." And here
is Rothbard's obituary of Chodorov.
Best of Frank Chodorov