State, Society, and Government
by Ben Stone
As has been noted by others, people have a tendency to confuse society and/or government with the State. In discussions of freedom, this is a point of confusion that often ends in a person proclaiming something idiotic like, “You want to abolish laws!” or “You believe in a fantasy world where everyone is good!” or the laughable, “Who’s going to save you when the criminals break down your door and there’s no cops to call!”
For now, let’s set aside the obvious retort, “When seconds matter the police are 8 to 12 minutes away.” or my favorite, “If someone is breaking down my door I’ll only need the cops for body removal and insurance forms.”
The State is an entity made up of a collection of individuals who utilize force, theft, and fraud in an attempt to maintain a monopoly of violence within a geographic boundary or national border. Individuals functioning as the State glean their income using what Franz Oppenheimer called “the political means” as opposed to people who use the free market in what Oppenheimer called “the economic means”. Another way of saying it is to refer to the tax feeders and the taxpayers. There are variations within these groups such as those who provide real services that the State has usurped, teachers, firefighters, police, courts, and other government positions but we will cover that later in the essay. Additionally there are those who are parasitic to both the State and the taxpayers, but again that’s for different essay. At this point lets just focus on the State as the collection of individuals using methods that, under any other circumstances would be considered criminal, in order to expand or maintain their monopoly of violence and income.
Society is a set of individuals with common bonds who develop and set norms of behavior within their group. For example, in some societies it’s considered ill mannered to eat with your left hand. Now at this point such restrictions wouldn’t be called laws but guidelines or standards of behavior. To violate them will bring consequences but without the State those consequences are limited. So then a person who eats with the wrong hand (for our example) may not be invited to dine with others or may be considered backward and not trusted or “dirty” and may be shunned. Perhaps a shopkeeper wouldn’t what them in his place of business or a potential mate could refuse to wed this backward savage. Having had our vision so fogged by living under a State, we often fail to understand how much power rests in the hands of society and how powerful a tool shunning can be. When taken to its logical conclusion, those who refuse to conform to society are generally exiled from that society. Yet in that exile also comes freedom from that society. The left-hander in our example can simply seek people more tolerant/intelligent.
When the State invades the functions of society an ugly manifestation occurs. Simple behavioral guidelines become regulations and then, when they fail, laws. So the uncouth diner goes from first being ticketed and fined, to eventually charged with crimes against the State and his left arm chopped off.
You say my example is extreme and unrealistic? Then consider the evolution of drunk driving laws in America. At first, if caught driving drunk you could expect to be escorted home or taken to the police station to sleep it off. As long as you hadn’t done any harm or damage, your behavior was simply frowned upon. Now you can be stopped for absolutely no reason other than to see if you have been drinking. You can be tested for alcohol and you can be arrested even if you don’t show the slightest sign of impairment. You can actually be convicted for refusing to be tested and under the right circumstances and for repeat offenses, you can actually be imprisoned even though you may never have caused damages or harm to any person or their property.
All kinds of arguments can be made about keeping the roads safe or what have you, but none of those arguments can escape the glaring fact that you can be arrested, fined, punished, imprisoned, and if you resist, killed for a “crime” where no person or property were harmed. Additionally people who had nothing to do with your “crime” will be robbed (taxed) at the point of a gun to pay for this “enforcement” whether they agree with it nor not.
A free society has an abundance of tools to deal with harmful or unacceptable behavior but the State only has one. The iron fist is the answer to every question asked of the State.
Just for giggles, consider the coming terror of our age: Texting while driving. The drunk driving of tomorrow! What will be the eventual reaction of the State when people continue texting?
It has often been said that the government which governs least governs best. (And by “govern” I use the old definition of the term: to keep things normal or steady while providing for basic security) I don’t categorically disagree with that statement as far it’s generally intended to go, but I find it lacking in several areas. For example, if you’ve been harmed by a thief to the extent of the loss of $100 and you entrust your government to provide justice and remedy that harm, a government that only recovers $20 may be governing the least yet surely lacking in its role in bringing justice. Or, lets say an invading army marches across your land, burns 80% of your farm and consumes 80% of your stored goods. You would hardly be satisfied with a minimalist government that only protected you by a margin of 20%, now would you? So lets talk about what we should expect from a government.
A government should first and foremost, protect us from foreign aggressors. If a government fails at this task it hardly matters what other task it may accomplish. Of course we must define a foreign aggressor before we can check our government’s performance. The word “foreign” could mean “strange” but when used in this context it’s better defined as an aggressor from a different geographical area and/or society. Likewise, a government must be able to protect us from domestic aggressors, those near us and within our society. So protection of the individual and the individual’s property should be the highest priority of a government. Protection from aggressors goes hand in hand with dispute resolution and justice. If government is charged with protecting individuals and their property then government must have a means of determining whom the aggressor is and what must be done to bring justice.
Time has proven that government serves efficiently in the capacity of standardized weights and measures. Businesses can and has done this on their own on a local scale, but government has the advantage of being able to make agreements with other governments thereby providing a larger market for business than would otherwise exist.
Government must be somehow funded, otherwise its incapable of hiring individuals to accomplish the tasks required of it.
Lastly government must be subject to some form of governance. In other words, if individuals need a government for the reasons listed above and that government is made up of individuals, then by its very nature government needs governance because it is simply a collection of individuals.
Throughout the ages, mankind has experimented with a variety of models of government with a wide range of results. Many, but not all of those experiments ended up with the government being supplanted by the State and eventually a failure of the State causing a failure of the government, and usually the society. The most notable examples of these failures are easy to spot because of one of the great characteristic of the State. Namely, State propaganda, or as it’s better known as, written history. Most of us know about governments that were supplanted by the State and latter collapsed. We could name a few here, such as ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, or we could point to Central America in pre-Columbian times. But lacking the propaganda of the State, few of us think about Stateless governments that lasted many thousands of years longer among the Gaelic, Celtic, Germanic, and other so call barbarians across northern and eastern Europe, the Steppes and even Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North America. Without a State, many people maintained successful governments that protected and nurtured rich societies, bringing us from squatting under trees and rock overhangs through the Stone Age and almost to the modern age. The majority of Medieval Europe including some large cities and many towns and villages remained Stateless or virtually Stateless for most of their history and some areas were able to limit the encroachment of the State right up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
Medieval Europe wasn’t exactly a libertarian utopia, but at its worst, large groups of people lived with no tax burden at all and if some local Duke or Prince became oppressive the average person could simply pack up their wagons and move to a freer town, city, or region. Try that today without the State’s permission. Try packing up your belongings in Rybnik Poland and hiking across the valley and over the hill to Ostrava, in the Czech Republic. Or better yet, try moving your family from Juarez Mexico to El Paso Texas without the blessings of the State.
The governments of the American Colonies, as documented by Murray Rothbard in his masterful work Conceived In Liberty, were largely Stateless up until after the French and Indian War when England attempted to pay its bloated war debt by robbing the wealth of the colonists. Even then the son of an immigrant Ulster Scot, having lived his entire life in Appalachia could grow a field of corn, harvest it, turn it into whisky, barrel it, transport it to a city, and sell or trade it without paying one penny of tax or asking the permission of one bureaucrat. Much of Appalachia was Stateless and governed by its clans from the 1660’s well into the 1800’s, with its own distinct culture, laws, courts, roads, and contracts while surrounded by what could only be considered “hostiles” to its west as well as south and east. Twice, invading armies attempted to move through Appalachia and were soundly rebuffed by voluntary militia. One of those times was when Appalachians spontaneously united to stop a British force under Patrick Ferguson by soundly defeating and killing him at the Battle of King’s Mountain, the false history of which is a perfect example of how the State lies to justify itself. The other time was the Whisky Rebellion; an event equally lied about by the State, when some 500 Appalachians put the taxman in his place. Washington wisely avoided the mountain folk and their militia while parading his forces up and down the low country and proclaiming victory, a tactic he perfected during the War of Independence. Staying out of the Appalachian hill country at that time may have been the single smartest thing Washington did in his entire life.
Having said all of the above on the topic of government, I would like to point out three things.
- None of the above precludes more than one government functioning in the same geographical region as long as that government is not polluted by a State.
- None of the above requires a government to initiated force on an individual or any other government as long as that government is not polluted by a State.
- None of the above prevents an individual’s involvement with a government from being on a strictly voluntary basis if that government is not polluted by a State.
So then we can see that a free society can have a government, and that government need not be in the clutches of the State.