Do we really need the state? A fellow who follows me on twitter (“Cyptid”) and appears to be a miniarch type libertarian spent most of late Saturday afternoon defending the necessity of the state. He kept saying that some foreign people would attack and kill us all — or at the least enslave us if we did not have a state to submit to. This is the normal non sequitur of the miniarch types where they claim that the necessity of society and cooperation proves that we need the state. They conflate the state and society.
So, what is the state? Like Murray N. Rothbard did, I like to define the state as that institution which possesses one or 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 a state.
I often run into people like “Cyptid” who claim that we must have a state and that anarchy is a “pipe dream”. We did not disagree on the horror that is that state. I continually talk to people who are convinced that having a state in charge of everyone’s life is the only way that mankind can exist, or at least exist in a society even though they agree with me that there are countless examples of the state harming perfectly innocent people in various ways.
I contend that the state is an attack on society and not the protector of society but rather the state is a monster. A most dangerous monster.
Robert Higgs make makes a powerful argument for why the state is a monster:
Lest anyone protest that the state’s true “function” or “duty” or “end” is, as Locke, Madison, and countless others have argued, to protect individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property, the evidence of history clearly shows that, as a rule, real states do not behave accordingly. The idea that states actually function along such lines or that they strive to carry out such a duty or to achieve such an end resides in the realm of wishful thinking. Although some states in their own self-interest may at some times protect some residents of their territories (other than the state’s own functionaries), such protection is at best highly unreliable and all too often nothing but a solemn farce. Moreover, it is invariably mixed with crimes against the very people the state purports to protect, because the state cannot even exist without committing the crimes of extortion and robbery, which states call taxation (Nock 1939), and as a rule, this existential state crime is but the merest beginning of its assaults on the lives, liberties, and property of its resident population.
I could spend all day listing various horrors committed by the Evil Empire that is the United States Government. But that was not the issue; rather the issue is if we are doomed to always have to live under a state or else be overrun by some foreign people who did have a state.
Without a central state to attack, any invader would have a real problem as the invader would have to dominate over 300 million people in the area now known as the “US”. We have found that throughout history men will rise to defend their homes from a foreign invader and that is without any defense agencies. Many people have pointed out that Defense Agencies would arise to provide defense for paying customers from the criminals both domestic and foreign. The laissez faire free market has always been far more efficient and effective than any agency or program of the state — and there is no reason to believe that would not remain the case if the area of defense.
A recurring theme of “Cyptid” was that the native Americans were wiped out by the Europeans as they took over north America. That argument neglects to mention that the invading Europeans came with very little in the way of “A State” which invalidates the whole example, but it does bring to mind “the old west”. According to the research of Terry L. Anderson and P. J. Hill, the old west from the 1830s to around 1900 was very much like an anarcho-capitalist society. And anarchy in effect. They tell us that in effect; “private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved.” They also tell us that the common popular perception that the Old West was chaotic and that there little respect for property rights is totally false. There were “land clubs” and other organizations formed to allow people to cooperate with each other in the absence of a brutal government to dictate affairs to them.
The real question is how would the defense of the anarchist society be financed. After all, with enough money a strong deterrent defensive operation could be assembled. There are many who have studied that issue who believe that big businesses will tend to pay the bulk of the defense costs since they stand to lose the most in the event of any attacks. Since big businesses have to pass all costs on to the consumers, we see that the costs of defense would be spread out among the whole population just as it is now — only far more efficient. The defense providers in an anarchy are interested in keeping the peace and in defense — not invading other countries as the evil empire has done for nearly three centuries.
We can not know exactly how different people would decided to operate mutual defense organizations any more than people 100 years ago could describe modern social media via the internet. But we can say that men and women would join together to provide for a common defense in some manner without the need for a slave master government to force them to do so.