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A World Without You

Last week, I wrote about my disgust with the Democratic Party’s tactics in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. That column generated quite a bit of mail – most of it positive. Some people worried, however, that I was endorsing the Republican Party as an end in itself, that I felt that it offered a coherent program for society.

Don’t worry. The Republican Party, as currently constituted, is simply the lesser of two evils. As I pointed out in another column, its notion of “treading water” relative to the interventionist state ignores the dynamics of the interventionist process, and has been a recipe for continued state growth. Today, however, it is the Democratic Party that is attempting to drive the state forward on its next step toward becoming the total state. This is why I believe our short term goals must include eliminating the Democrats as a viable force in American politics.

But the only long-term political goal worth striving for is the elimination of the state itself. History and theory agree that any state, whatever the intentions of its founders and however its “initial contract” is drawn up, ultimately will escape these straightjackets and strive toward realization of the total state.

Along the way, the state will pass through a period where it needs the governed to consent to its increasing power. Some of this consent it can simply buy through redistribution. This is unlikely to be sufficient, however, for reasons set out at length by Anthony de Jasay in The State. Others, however, can be prompted to consent by ideological means, by convincing them that the state is compassionate, protective, productive, in short, that it is necessary. De Jasay says, “People come to believe that because they have states, they need them.”

My friend Bob Murphy demonstrated the shallowness of some of these arguments for the state last week on LewRockwell.com. In a mail about my previous column, a friend suggested another raison d’etre for the state. He asked me, “Without government, how can the weak be protected?”

Perhaps this problem cannot be solved in a pure free market. But contemplate the following list for a moment:

  • The American Indian genocide
  • Black slavery in the US
  • The military conquest and occupation of the South by Northern US troops
  • The Armenian genocide
  • World War I
  • Mass starvation under Stalin
  • The Holocaust
  • The fire bombing of Dresden
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • The Chinese conquest and brutal repression of Tibet
  • The Chinese Cultural Revolution
  • The Vietnam War
  • The killing fields of Cambodia
  • Chernobyl
  • The death of 500,000 Iraqi children since the Gulf War

I could go on, but it hardly seems necessary. A short catalog such as the above suggests that the more salient question would be, “Without the state, who would slaughter the weak in such vast numbers?” As Martin van Creveld would put it, “The modern state has murdered countless MEEELLLLions of innocent people.”

In the above list I give the US more than its fair share of government atrocities. This is not because I feel the US is especially culpable as a country – quite the opposite. Rather, it is to show that it is not only non-democratic states that have victimized the weak, but even, and often, the world’s “beacon of democracy.”

Perhaps we can do no better than this. But it hardly seems possible that we can do worse. Given the horrific record of the state, why is its existence almost universally accepted as a given? De Jasay’s notion of false consciousness, brought about by the combined effects of the state’s activities and the citizens’ desire for comfort, peace of mind, and a trouble-free life, explains this puzzle.

In the film The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo that the matrix is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth – that we are slaves. We are being used as batteries, as energy generators. This is an apt metaphor for the condition of man under the state. Our living energy is not our own to expend for our freely chosen purposes. Rather, the state leaves us the illusion of enough freedom that we do not rebel, while it siphons off as much of our efforts for its purposes as it can. This does not happen through a mystical process or some mysterious conspiracy. It happens right in front of our eyes, and only the ideology of the state prevents us from acknowledging this fact. If you doubt that this is true, simply look at your next pay stub. When you consider that the deductions on it represent only a part of the state’s take, you will likely find that more than half of your efforts are simply taken by someone else and used for their purposes. You are a battery.

It is unpleasant to contemplate this reality. Desperately, we want to believe that the institution to which we sacrifice half of our work and which regulates us in the rest of our lives must be important. After all, if we thought for a minute that the state was simply out for itself, that we were just its tools… well, we might have to do something about it! Others might find us odd, or disturbing. Perhaps the Rotary Club would look askance on our membership. Even more troublesome is the idea that the state itself might become interested in us. Nevertheless, human freedom requires that we wake from our slumber.

What will come after the state? We may have guesses as to what that world will look like, but none of us has ever lived there. Our theories tell us it can work, and our eyes and hearts tell us it cannot be worse than domination by the state. But right now, it is not the exact contours of that world that are most important. As Neo says at the end of The Matrix:

I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you.

December 6, 2000

Gene Callahan is a regular contributor to mises.org.

2000, Gene Callahan