I’ve had a lot of response to my column on Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s
new book Democracy — The God That Failed, most of it enthusiastic.
A surprising number of citizens of this democracy have lost faith in
the state, democratic or otherwise.
It’s amazing how seldom we ask the most basic questions. What
is a state, anyway? Where does it get its authority? Might we be better
off without it?
These are serious questions. One scholar estimates that during the
twentieth century, states murdered about 177 million of their own subjects.
And that doesn’t count foreigners killed in wars. In order to
justify their own existence, states had better be doing someone a lot
of good, or be able to show that in the absence of states, even more
people would have been slaughtered. Neither proposition is credible.
“Wait a minute,” someone will say. “You’re
mixing apples and oranges. Sure, there are bad states, like the Soviet
Union, which murder millions. But there are also good states, which
don’t murder people and which protect their people from bad states.”
Well, it’s possible that a mildly rapacious state may afford
us some protection against a much worse one, just as one neighborhood
gang may offer safety against another. But all states are rapacious,
almost by definition.
What is a state? It is the ruling body in a territory, which claims
a monopoly of the legal right to command obedience. It may demand anything — our
earnings, our services, our lives. Once the right to command is conceded,
there are no limits on its power.
Many people think a state is a natural necessity of social life. They
can hardly conceive of society without the state.
This would be plausible if the state confined itself to enforcing
natural moral obligations — that is, if it protected us from
robbery, murder, and the like, otherwise leaving us alone. But what
if the state itself robs and murders, claiming the authority to do
Any two men will usually agree that neither may justly take the other’s
property or life. Nor does either owe the other obedience; that would
be slavery. But somehow the state claims what no individual may claim — a
right to the lives, property, and obedience of all within its power.
The state asserts its “right” to do things that would be
wrongs and crimes between private men. And most people accept this
claim! They think they have a moral duty to obey power!
So why do people think they have this duty? Of course, as the philosopher
Thomas Hobbes argued, the state ultimately rests on its power to kill
(or otherwise harm) those who disobey it. But this is a threat, not
a duty. If I demand your money at gunpoint, you will obey, but the
gun doesn’t create an obligation, merely a menace.
But the state pretends that all its demands, however arbitrary, are
moral obligations, even though those demands rest on force. If it were
confined to demanding only what decent people do anyway — refraining
from murder, robbery, et cetera — it might be bearable. But it
never stops with reasonable moral demands; at a minimum, even the most “humane” and “democratic” states
use the taxing power to extort staggering amounts of money from their
subjects. The predatory tendency of the state is inherent and expansive,
and nobody has found a way to control it. No control can long withstand
the monopolistic “right” to demand obedience in every area
of human activity the state may choose to invade. Systematized force — which
is all the state really is — follows its own logic.
Legal forms, moral rhetoric, and propaganda may disguise force as
something it is not. The idea of “democracy” has persuaded
countless gullible people that they are somehow “consenting” when
they are being coerced. The real triumph of the state occurs when its
subjects refer to it as “we,” like football fans talking
about the home team. That is the delusion of “self- government.” One
might as well speak of “self-coercion” or “self-slavery.”
No, the state, now grown to a monstrous magnitude, remains what Albert
Jay Nock called it: “our enemy, the State.” Maybe Professor
Hoppe is dreaming. Maybe anarchism couldn’t be sustained. Maybe
the evil of systematized force can never be eliminated in this fallen
world. But why pretend such an evil is a positive good?
Copyright © 2012 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on January 8, 2002.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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