The State versus an “Anarchist Society”

Murray Rothbard once gave a definition of “The State” and an “Anarchist Society” before he launched into an explanation of how an anarchy might work. I would like to take a look at his definitions today. He wrote:

In attempting to outline how a “society without a state” – that is, an anarchist society – might function successfully, I would first like to defuse two common but mistaken criticisms of this approach. First, is the argument that in providing for such defense or protection services as courts, police, or even law itself, I am simply smuggling the state back into society in another form, and that therefore the system I am both analyzing and advocating is not “really” anarchism.

This sort of criticism can only involve us in an endless and arid dispute over semantics. Let me say from the beginning that I define the state as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area. An institution not possessing either of these properties is not and cannot be, in accordance with my definition, a state.

On the other hand, I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual. Anarchists oppose the state because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.

Nor is our definition of the state arbitrary, for these two characteristics have been possessed by what is generally acknowledged to be states throughout recorded history. The state, by its use of physical coercion, has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly of defense services over its territorial jurisdiction. But it is certainly conceptually possible for such services to be supplied by private, non-state institutions, and indeed such services have historically been supplied by other organizations than the state. To be opposed to the state is then not necessarily to be opposed to services that have often been linked with it; to be opposed to the state does not necessarily imply that we must be opposed to police protection, courts, arbitration, the minting of money, postal service, or roads and highways. Some anarchists have indeed been opposed to police and to all physical coercion in defense of person and property, but this is not inherent in and is fundamentally irrelevant to the anarchist position, which is precisely marked by opposition to all physical coercion invasive of, or aggressing against, person and property.

The crucial role of taxation may be seen in the fact that the state is the only institution or organization in society which regularly and systematically acquires its income through the use of physical coercion. All other individuals or organizations acquire their income voluntarily, either (1) through the voluntary sale of goods and services to consumers on the market, or (2) through voluntary gifts or donations by members or other donors. If I cease or refrain from purchasing Wheaties on the market, the Wheaties producers do not come after me with a gun or the threat of imprisonment to force me to purchase; if I fail to join the American Philosophical Association, the association may not force me to join or prevent me from giving up my membership. Only the state can do so; only the state can confiscate my property or put me in jail if I do not pay its tax tribute. Therefore, only the state regularly exists and has its very being by means of coercive depredations on private property.

We often get into disputes on twitter as to the nature of the State or Government. Some say that one should refer to the State, as Rothbard did, rather than to “government” since some people think the word government can refer to private “governments” in an anarchy that develop naturally and contractually. I understand that, but in the USA we have the word “State” tied so closely with political divisions like Florida or Texas and so one must use the word “Government” when referring to the central Federal Government. Like so many times, the words we use get confused to the benefit of the State. One wonders if much of it is on purpose.


The State asserts a “coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area” which is said to give the State the “right” to have the monopoly on all legitimate use of force in the given territorial area. This leads to the State ultimately asserting that it has the “right” to demand that all citizens behave in whatever arbitrary manner that the State wishes. The obedience of the subject masses becomes the ultimate goal of the entity we call the State. Of course, the State is really the favored minority that make up the leadership of the State and the enforcement of the decisions of these rulers comes through a group of bureaucrats and uniformed thugs who may enforce the dictates as they see fit and at their whim. Hence we get petty tyrannies and inconsistencies throughout the system — besides the raw tyranny of the rulers themselves.

“All government, in its essence, is organized exploitation, and in virtually all of its existing forms it is the implacable enemy of every industrious and well-disposed man.” ~ H.L. Mencken

The State operates on the premise that it owns its subjects. Ownership is defined as controlling a person or thing and the State believes it has the right to control everyone. I dissented from that position some time back with a post called “You don’t own me!“. The State does not have a right to control me or my property.

The State operates on the promise that since it holds that it owns everyone then it is obvious that it owns all things also. This leads to the idea that the State may institute whatever taxes it so pleases to do. The idea that some group or the other should pay more taxes because they are not paying their “fair share” come directly from the idea that the State owns all and only allows you to keep what it wants to allow you to keep.

“The great non sequitur committed by defenders of the State …  is to leap from the necessity of society to the necessity of the State.” ~ Murray Rothbard

In an anarchist society then, there is simply no entity that may legally aggress against the person or property of any individual. This is a simple concept but seems to confuse many people. They think that we need a State to protect them in spite of the evidence of history that tells us that the State is the beast you need protection from!


One thought on “The State versus an “Anarchist Society”

  1. Pingback: The State Versus An “Anarchist Society” - Unofficial Network

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