The State



The Anatomy of the State
by Murray N. Rothbard

The State is almost universally considered an institution of social service. Some theorists venerate the State as the apotheosis of society; others regard it as an amiable, though often inefficient, organization for achieving social ends; but almost all regard it as a necessary means for achieving the goals of mankind, a means to be ranged against the “private sector” and often winning in this competition of resources. With the rise of democracy, the identification of the State with society has been redoubled, until it is common to hear sentiments expressed which violate virtually every tenet of reason and common sense such as, “we are the government.” The useful collective term “we” has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If “we are the government,” then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also “voluntary” on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that “we owe it to ourselves”; if the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail for dissident opinion, then he is “doing it to himself” and, therefore, nothing untoward has occurred. Under this reasoning, any Jews murdered by the Nazi government were not murdered; instead, they must have “committed suicide,” since they were the government (which was democratically chosen), and, therefore, anything the government did to them was voluntary on their part. One would not think it necessary to belabor this point, and yet the overwhelming bulk of the people hold this fallacy to a greater or lesser degree.

We must, therefore, emphasize that “we” are not the government; the government is not “us.” The government does not in any accurate sense “represent” the majority of the people.[1] But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority.[2] No organicist metaphor, no irrelevant bromide that “we are all part of one another,” must be permitted to obscure this basic fact.

If, then, the State is not “us,” if it is not “the human family” getting together to decide mutual problems, if it is not a lodge meeting or country club, what is it? Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet.[3] Having used force and violence to obtain its revenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate the other actions of its individual subjects. One would think that simple observation of all States through history and over the globe would be proof enough of this assertion; but the miasma of myth has lain so long over State activity that elaboration is necessary.

What the State Is

Man is born naked into the world, and needing to use his mind to learn how to take the resources given him by nature, and to transform them (for example, by investment in “capital”) into shapes and forms and places where the resources can be used for the satisfaction of his wants and the advancement of his standard of living. The only way by which man can do this is by the use of his mind and energy to transform resources (“production”) and to exchange these products for products created by others. Man has found that, through the process of voluntary, mutual exchange, the productivity and hence, the living standards of all participants in exchange may increase enormously. The only “natural” course for man to survive and to attain wealth, therefore, is by using his mind and energy to engage in the production-and-exchange process. He does this, first, by finding natural resources, and then by transforming them (by “mixing his labor” with them, as Locke puts it), to make them his individual property, and then by exchanging this property for the similarly obtained property of others. The social path dictated by the requirements of man’s nature, therefore, is the path of “property rights” and the “free market” of gift or exchange of such rights. Through this path, men have learned how to avoid the “jungle” methods of fighting over scarce resources so that A can only acquire them at the expense of B and, instead, to multiply those resources enormously in peaceful and harmonious production and exchange.

The great German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer pointed out that there are two mutually exclusive ways of acquiring wealth; one, the above way of production and exchange, he called the “economic means.” The other way is simpler in that it does not require productivity; it is the way of seizure of another’s goods or services by the use of force and violence. This is the method of one-sided confiscation, of theft of the property of others. This is the method which Oppenheimer termed “the political means” to wealth. It should be clear that the peaceful use of reason and energy in production is the “natural” path for man: the means for his survival and prosperity on this earth. It should be equally clear that the coercive, exploitative means is contrary to natural law; it is parasitic, for instead of adding to production, it subtracts from it. The “political means” siphons production off to a parasitic and destructive individual or group; and this siphoning not only subtracts from the number producing, but also lowers the producer’s incentive to produce beyond his own subsistence. In the long run, the robber destroys his own subsistence by dwindling or eliminating the source of his own supply. But not only that; even in the short-run, the predator is acting contrary to his own true nature as a man.

We are now in a position to answer more fully the question: what is the State? The State, in the words of Oppenheimer, is the “organization of the political means”; it is the systematization of the predatory process over a given territory.[4] For crime, at best, is sporadic and uncertain; the parasitism is ephemeral, and the coercive, parasitic lifeline may be cut off at any time by the resistance of the victims. The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society.[5] Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation. The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.[6] One method of the birth of a State may be illustrated as follows: in the hills of southern “Ruritania,” a bandit group manages to obtain physical control over the territory, and finally the bandit chieftain proclaims himself “King of the sovereign and independent government of South Ruritania”; and, if he and his men have the force to maintain this rule for a while, lo and behold! a new State has joined the “family of nations,” and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm.

How the State Preserves Itself

Once a State has been established, the problem of the ruling group or “caste” is how to maintain their rule.[7] While force is their modus operandi, their basic and long-run problem is ideological. For in order to continue in office, any government (not simply a “democratic” government) must have the support of the majority of its subjects. This support, it must be noted, need not be active enthusiasm; it may well be passive resignation as if to an inevitable law of nature. But support in the sense of acceptance of some sort it must be; else the minority of State rulers would eventually be outweighed by the active resistance of the majority of the public. Since predation must be supported out of the surplus of production, it is necessarily true that the class constituting the State – the full-time bureaucracy (and nobility) – must be a rather small minority in the land, although it may, of course, purchase allies among important groups in the population. Therefore, the chief task of the rulers is always to secure the active or resigned acceptance of the majority of the citizens.[8] ,[9]

Of course, one method of securing support is through the creation of vested economic interests. Therefore, the King alone cannot rule; he must have a sizable group of followers who enjoy the prerequisites of rule, for example, the members of the State apparatus, such as the full-time bureaucracy or the established nobility.[10] But this still secures only a minority of eager supporters, and even the essential purchasing of support by subsidies and other grants of privilege still does not obtain the consent of the majority. For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the “opinion-molders” in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.

It is evident that the State needs the intellectuals; it is not so evident why intellectuals need the State. Put simply, we may state that the intellectual’s livelihood in the free market is never too secure; for the intellectual must depend on the values and choices of the masses of his fellow men, and it is precisely characteristic of the masses that they are generally uninterested in intellectual matters. The State, on the other hand, is willing to offer the intellectuals a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus; and thus a secure income and the panoply of prestige. For the intellectuals will be handsomely rewarded for the important function they perform for the State rulers, of which group they now become a part.[11]

The alliance between the State and the intellectuals was symbolized in the eager desire of professors at the University of Berlin in the nineteenth century to form the “intellectual bodyguard of the House of Hohenzollern.” In the present day, let us note the revealing comment of an eminent Marxist scholar concerning Professor Wittfogel’s critical study of ancient Oriental despotism: “The civilization which Professor Wittfogel is so bitterly attacking was one which could make poets and scholars into officials.”[12] Of innumerable examples, we may cite the recent development of the “science” of strategy, in the service of the government’s main violence-wielding arm, the military.[13] A venerable institution, furthermore, is the official or “court” historian, dedicated to purveying the rulers’ views of their own and their predecessors’ actions.[14]

Many and varied have been the arguments by which the State and its intellectuals have induced their subjects to support their rule. Basically, the strands of argument may be summed up as follows: (a) the State rulers are great and wise men (they “rule by divine right,” they are the “aristocracy” of men, they are the “scientific experts”), much greater and wiser than the good but rather simple subjects, and (b) rule by the extent government is inevitable, absolutely necessary, and far better, than the indescribable evils that would ensue upon its downfall. The union of Church and State was one of the oldest and most successful of these ideological devices. The ruler was either anointed by God or, in the case of the absolute rule of many Oriental despotisms, was himself God; hence, any resistance to his rule would be blasphemy. The States’ priestcraft performed the basic intellectual function of obtaining popular support and even worship for the rulers.[15]

Another successful device was to instill fear of any alternative systems of rule or nonrule. The present rulers, it was maintained, supply to the citizens an essential service for which they should be most grateful: protection against sporadic criminals and marauders. For the State, to preserve its own monopoly of predation, did indeed see to it that private and unsystematic crime was kept to a minimum; the State has always been jealous of its own preserve. Especially has the State been successful in recent centuries in instilling fear of other State rulers. Since the land area of the globe has been parceled out among particular States, one of the basic doctrines of the State was to identify itself with the territory it governed. Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its people with the State was a means of making natural patriotism work to the State’s advantage. If “Ruritania” was being attacked by “Walldavia,” the first task of the State and its intellectuals was to convince the people of Ruritania that the attack was really upon them and not simply upon the ruling caste. In this way, a war between rulers was converted into a war between peoples, with each people coming to the defense of its rulers in the erroneous belief that the rulers were defending them. This device of “nationalism” has only been successful, in Western civilization, in recent centuries; it was not too long ago that the mass of subjects regarded wars as irrelevant battles between various sets of nobles.

Many and subtle are the ideological weapons that the State has wielded through the centuries. One excellent weapon has been tradition. The longer that the rule of a State has been able to preserve itself, the more powerful this weapon; for then, the X Dynasty or the Y State has the seeming weight of centuries of tradition behind it.[16] Worship of one’s ancestors, then, becomes a none too subtle means of worship of one’s ancient rulers. The greatest danger to the State is independent intellectual criticism; there is no better way to stifle that criticism than to attack any isolated voice, any raiser of new doubts, as a profane violator of the wisdom of his ancestors. Another potent ideological force is to deprecate the individual and exalt the collectivity of society. For since any given rule implies majority acceptance, any ideological danger to that rule can only start from one or a few independently-thinking individuals. The new idea, much less the new critical idea, must needs begin as a small minority opinion; therefore, the State must nip the view in the bud by ridiculing any view that defies the opinions of the mass. “Listen only to your brothers” or “adjust to society” thus become ideological weapons for crushing individual dissent.[17] By such measures, the masses will never learn of the nonexistence of their Emperor’s clothes.[18] It is also important for the State to make its rule seem inevitable; even if its reign is disliked, it will then be met with passive resignation, as witness the familiar coupling of “death and taxes.” One method is to induce historiographical determinism, as opposed to individual freedom of will. If the X Dynasty rules us, this is because the Inexorable Laws of History (or the Divine Will, or the Absolute, or the Material Productive Forces) have so decreed and nothing any puny individuals may do can change this inevitable decree. It is also important for the State to inculcate in its subjects an aversion to any “conspiracy theory of history;” for a search for “conspiracies” means a search for motives and an attribution of responsibility for historical misdeeds. If, however, any tyranny imposed by the State, or venality, or aggressive war, was caused not by the State rulers but by mysterious and arcane “social forces,” or by the imperfect state of the world or, if in some way, everyone was responsible (“We Are All Murderers,” proclaims one slogan), then there is no point to the people becoming indignant or rising up against such misdeeds. Furthermore, an attack on “conspiracy theories” means that the subjects will become more gullible in believing the “general welfare” reasons that are always put forth by the State for engaging in any of its despotic actions. A “conspiracy theory” can unsettle the system by causing the public to doubt the State’s ideological propaganda.

Another tried and true method for bending subjects to the State’s will is inducing guilt. Any increase in private well-being can be attacked as “unconscionable greed,” “materialism,” or “excessive affluence,” profit-making can be attacked as “exploitation” and “usury,” mutually beneficial exchanges denounced as “selfishness,” and somehow with the conclusion always being drawn that more resources should be siphoned from the private to the “public sector.” The induced guilt makes the public more ready to do just that. For while individual persons tend to indulge in “selfish greed,” the failure of the State’s rulers to engage in exchanges is supposed to signify their devotion to higher and nobler causes – parasitic predation being apparently morally and esthetically lofty as compared to peaceful and productive work.

In the present more secular age, the divine right of the State has been supplemented by the invocation of a new god, Science. State rule is now proclaimed as being ultrascientific, as constituting planning by experts. But while “reason” is invoked more than in previous centuries, this is not the true reason of the individual and his exercise of free will; it is still collectivist and determinist, still implying holistic aggregates and coercive manipulation of passive subjects by their rulers.

The increasing use of scientific jargon has permitted the State’s intellectuals to weave obscurantist apologia for State rule that would have only met with derision by the populace of a simpler age. A robber who justified his theft by saying that he really helped his victims, by his spending giving a boost to retail trade, would find few converts; but when this theory is clothed in Keynesian equations and impressive references to the “multiplier effect,” it unfortunately carries more conviction. And so the assault on common sense proceeds, each age performing the task in its own ways.

Thus, ideological support being vital to the State, it must unceasingly try to impress the public with its “legitimacy,” to distinguish its activities from those of mere brigands. The unremitting determination of its assaults on common sense is no accident, for as Mencken vividly maintained:

The average man, whatever his errors otherwise, at least sees clearly that government is something lying outside him and outside the generality of his fellow men – that it is a separate, independent, and hostile power, only partly under his control, and capable of doing him great harm. Is it a fact of no significance that robbing the government is everywhere regarded as a crime of less magnitude than robbing an individual, or even a corporation? . . . What lies behind all this, I believe, is a deep sense of the fundamental antagonism between the government and the people it governs. It is apprehended, not as a committee of citizens chosen to carry on the communal business of the whole population, but as a separate and autonomous corporation, mainly devoted to exploiting the population for the benefit of its own members. . . . When a private citizen is robbed, a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed, the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before. The notion that they have earned that money is never entertained; to most sensible men it would seem ludicrous.[19]

How the State Transcends Its Limits

As Bertrand de Jouvenel has sagely pointed out, through the centuries men have formed concepts designed to check and limit the exercise of State rule; and, one after another, the State, using its intellectual allies, has been able to transform these concepts into intellectual rubber stamps of legitimacy and virtue to attach to its decrees and actions. Originally, in Western Europe, the concept of divine sovereignty held that the kings may rule only according to divine law; the kings turned the concept into a rubber stamp of divine approval for any of the kings’ actions. The concept of parliamentary democracy began as a popular check upon absolute monarchical rule; it ended with parliament being the essential part of the State and its every act totally sovereign. As de Jouvenel concludes:

Many writers on theories of sovereignty have worked out one . . . of these restrictive devices. But in the end every single such theory has, sooner or later, lost its original purpose, and come to act merely as a springboard to Power, by providing it with the powerful aid of an invisible sovereign with whom it could in time successfully identify itself.[20]

Similarly with more specific doctrines: the “natural rights” of the individual enshrined in John Locke and the Bill of Rights, became a statist “right to a job”; utilitarianism turned from arguments for liberty to arguments against resisting the State’s invasions of liberty, etc.

Certainly the most ambitious attempt to impose limits on the State has been the Bill of Rights and other restrictive parts of the American Constitution, in which written limits on government became the fundamental law to be interpreted by a judiciary supposedly independent of the other branches of government. All Americans are familiar with the process by which the construction of limits in the Constitution has been inexorably broadened over the last century. But few have been as keen as Professor Charles Black to see that the State has, in the process, largely transformed judicial review itself from a limiting device to yet another instrument for furnishing ideological legitimacy to the government’s actions. For if a judicial decree of “unconstitutional” is a mighty check to government power, an implicit or explicit verdict of “constitutional” is a mighty weapon for fostering public acceptance of ever-greater government power.

Professor Black begins his analysis by pointing out the crucial necessity of “legitimacy” for any government to endure, this legitimation signifying basic majority acceptance of the government and its actions.[21] Acceptance of legitimacy becomes a particular problem in a country such as the United States, where “substantive limitations are built into the theory on which the government rests.” What is needed, adds Black, is a means by which the government can assure the public that its increasing powers are, indeed, “constitutional.” And this, he concludes, has been the major historic function of judicial review.

Let Black illustrate the problem:

The supreme risk [to the government] is that of disaffection and a feeling of outrage widely disseminated throughout the population, and loss of moral authority by the government as such, however long it may be propped up by force or inertia or the lack of an appealing and immediately available alternative. Almost everybody living under a government of limited powers, must sooner or later be subjected to some governmental action which as a matter of private opinion he regards as outside the power of government or positively forbidden to government. A man is drafted, though he finds nothing in the Constitution about being drafted. . . . A farmer is told how much wheat he can raise; he believes, and he discovers that some respectable lawyers believe with him, that the government has no more right to tell him how much wheat he can grow than it has to tell his daughter whom she can marry. A man goes to the federal penitentiary for saying what he wants to, and he paces his cell reciting . . . “Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech.”. . . A businessman is told what he can ask, and must ask, for buttermilk.
The danger is real enough that each of these people (and who is not of their number?) will confront the concept of governmental limitation with the reality (as he sees it) of the flagrant overstepping of actual limits, and draw the obvious conclusion as to the status of his government with respect to legitimacy.[22]

This danger is averted by the State’s propounding the doctrine that one agency must have the ultimate decision on constitutionality and that this agency, in the last analysis, must be part of the federal government.[23] For while the seeming independence of the federal judiciary has played a vital part in making its actions virtual Holy Writ for the bulk of the people, it is also and ever true that the judiciary is part and parcel of the government apparatus and appointed by the executive and legislative branches. Black admits that this means that the State has set itself up as a judge in its own cause, thus violating a basic juridical principle for aiming at just decisions. He brusquely denies the possibility of any alternative.[24]

Black adds:

The problem, then, is to devise such governmental means of deciding as will [hopefully] reduce to a tolerable minimum the intensity of the objection that government is judge in its own cause. Having done this, you can only hope that this objection, though theoretically still tenable [italics mine], will practically lose enough of its force that the legitimating work of the deciding institution can win acceptance.[25]

In the last analysis, Black finds the achievement of justice and legitimacy from the State’s perpetual judging of its own cause as “something of a miracle.”[26]

Applying his thesis to the famous conflict between the Supreme Court and the New Deal, Professor Black keenly chides his fellow pro-New Deal colleagues for their shortsightedness in denouncing judicial obstruction:

[t]he standard version of the story of the New Deal and the Court, though accurate in its way, displaces the emphasis. . . . It concentrates on the difficulties; it almost forgets how the whole thing turned out. The upshot of the matter was [and this is what I like to emphasize] that after some twenty-four months of balking . . . the Supreme Court, without a single change in the law of its composition, or, indeed, in its actual manning, placed the affirmative stamp of legitimacy on the New Deal, and on the whole new conception of government in America.[27]

In this way, the Supreme Court was able to put the quietus on the large body of Americans who had had strong constitutional objections to the New Deal:

Of course, not everyone was satisfied. The Bonnie Prince Charlie of constitutionally commanded laissez-faire still stirs the hearts of a few zealots in the Highlands of choleric unreality. But there is no longer any significant or dangerous public doubt as to the constitutional power of Congress to deal as it does with the national economy. . . .
We had no means, other than the Supreme Court, for imparting legitimacy to the New Deal.[28]

As Black recognizes, one major political theorist who recognized – and largely in advance – the glaring loophole in a constitutional limit on government of placing the ultimate interpreting power in the Supreme Court was John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was not content with the “miracle,” but instead proceeded to a profound analysis of the constitutional problem. In his Disquisition, Calhoun demonstrated the inherent tendency of the State to break through the limits of such a constitution:

A written constitution certainly has many and considerable advantages, but it is a great mistake to suppose that the mere insertion of provisions to restrict and limit the power of the government, without investing those for whose protection they are inserted with the means of enforcing their observance [my italics] will be sufficient to prevent the major and dominant party from abusing its powers. Being the party in possession of the government, they will, from the same constitution of man which makes government necessary to protect society, be in favor of the powers granted by the constitution and opposed to the restrictions intended to limit them. . . . The minor or weaker party, on the contrary, would take the opposite direction and regard them [the restrictions] as essential to their protection against the dominant party. . . . But where there are no means by which they could compel the major party to observe the restrictions, the only resort left them would be a strict construction of the constitution. . . . To this the major party would oppose a liberal construction. . . . It would be construction against construction – the one to contract and the other to enlarge the powers of the government to the utmost. But of what possible avail could the strict construction of the minor party be, against the liberal construction of the major, when the one would have all the power of the government to carry its construction into effect and the other be deprived of all means of enforcing its construction? In a contest so unequal, the result would not be doubtful. The party in favor of the restrictions would be overpowered. . . . The end of the contest would be the subversion of the constitution . . . the restrictions would ultimately be annulled and the government be converted into one of unlimited powers.[29]

One of the few political scientists who appreciated Calhoun’s analysis of the Constitution was Professor J. Allen Smith. Smith noted that the Constitution was designed with checks and balances to limit any one governmental power and yet had then developed a Supreme Court with the monopoly of ultimate interpreting power. If the Federal Government was created to check invasions of individual liberty by the separate states, who was to check the Federal power? Smith maintained that implicit in the check-and-balance idea of the Constitution was the concomitant view that no one branch of government may be conceded the ultimate power of interpretation: “It was assumed by the people that the new government could not be permitted to determine the limits of its own authority, since this would make it, and not the Constitution, supreme.”[30]

The solution advanced by Calhoun (and seconded, in this century, by such writers as Smith) was, of course, the famous doctrine of the “concurrent majority.” If any substantial minority interest in the country, specifically a state government, believed that the Federal Government was exceeding its powers and encroaching on that minority, the minority would have the right to veto this exercise of power as unconstitutional. Applied to state governments, this theory implied the right of “nullification” of a Federal law or ruling within a state’s jurisdiction.

In theory, the ensuing constitutional system would assure that the Federal Government check any state invasion of individual rights, while the states would check excessive Federal power over the individual. And yet, while limitations would undoubtedly be more effective than at present, there are many difficulties and problems in the Calhoun solution. If, indeed, a subordinate interest should rightfully have a veto over matters concerning it, then why stop with the states? Why not place veto power in counties, cities, wards? Furthermore, interests are not only sectional, they are also occupational, social, etc. What of bakers or taxi drivers or any other occupation? Should they not be permitted a veto power over their own lives? This brings us to the important point that the nullification theory confines its checks to agencies of government itself. Let us not forget that federal and state governments, and their respective branches, are still states, are still guided by their own state interests rather than by the interests of the private citizens. What is to prevent the Calhoun system from working in reverse, with states tyrannizing over their citizens and only vetoing the federal government when it tries to intervene to stop that state tyranny? Or for states to acquiesce in federal tyranny? What is to prevent federal and state governments from forming mutually profitable alliances for the joint exploitation of the citizenry? And even if the private occupational groupings were to be given some form of “functional” representation in government, what is to prevent them from using the State to gain subsidies and other special privileges for themselves or from imposing compulsory cartels on their own members?

In short, Calhoun does not push his pathbreaking theory on concurrence far enough: he does not push it down to the individual himself. If the individual, after all, is the one whose rights are to be protected, then a consistent theory of concurrence would imply veto power by every individual; that is, some form of “unanimity principle.” When Calhoun wrote that it should be “impossible to put or to keep it [the government] in action without the concurrent consent of all,” he was, perhaps unwittingly, implying just such a conclusion.[31] But such speculation begins to take us away from our subject, for down this path lie political systems which could hardly be called “States” at all.[32] For one thing, just as the right of nullification for a state logically implies its right of secession, so a right of individual nullification would imply the right of any individual to “secede” from the State under which he lives.[33]

Thus, the State has invariably shown a striking talent for the expansion of its powers beyond any limits that might be imposed upon it. Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise, we must assert that the State is profoundly and inherently anticapitalist. In a sense, our position is the reverse of the Marxist dictum that the State is the “executive committee” of the ruling class in the present day, supposedly the capitalists. Instead, the State – the organization of the political means – constitutes, and is the source of, the “ruling class” (rather, ruling caste), and is in permanent opposition to genuinely private capital. We may, therefore, say with de Jouvenel:

Only those who know nothing of any time but their own, who are completely in the dark as to the manner of Power’s behaving through thousands of years, would regard these proceedings [nationalization, the income tax, etc.] as the fruit of a particular set of doctrines. They are in fact the normal manifestations of Power, and differ not at all in their nature from Henry VIII’s confiscation of the monasteries. The same principle is at work; the hunger for authority, the thirst for resources; and in all of these operations the same characteristics are present, including the rapid elevation of the dividers of the spoils. Whether it is Socialist or whether it is not, Power must always be at war with the capitalist authorities and despoil the capitalists of their accumulated wealth; in doing so it obeys the law of its nature.[34]

What the State Fears

What the State fears above all, of course, is any fundamental threat to its own power and its own existence. The death of a State can come about in two major ways: (a) through conquest by another State, or (b) through revolutionary overthrow by its own subjects – in short, by war or revolution. War and revolution, as the two basic threats, invariably arouse in the State rulers their maximum efforts and maximum propaganda among the people. As stated above, any way must always be used to mobilize the people to come to the State’s defense in the belief that they are defending themselves. The fallacy of the idea becomes evident when conscription is wielded against those who refuse to “defend” themselves and are, therefore, forced into joining the State’s military band: needless to add, no “defense” is permitted them against this act of “their own” State.

In war, State power is pushed to its ultimate, and, under the slogans of “defense” and “emergency,” it can impose a tyranny upon the public such as might be openly resisted in time of peace. War thus provides many benefits to a State, and indeed every modern war has brought to the warring peoples a permanent legacy of increased State burdens upon society. War, moreover, provides to a State tempting opportunities for conquest of land areas over which it may exercise its monopoly of force. Randolph Bourne was certainly correct when he wrote that “war is the health of the State,” but to any particular State a war may spell either health or grave injury.[35]

We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely – those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax. Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State’s openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d’etre.[36]

How States Relate to One Another

Since the territorial area of the earth is divided among different States, inter-State relations must occupy much of a State’s time and energy. The natural tendency of a State is to expand its power, and externally such expansion takes place by conquest of a territorial area. Unless a territory is stateless or uninhabited, any such expansion involves an inherent conflict of interest between one set of State rulers and another. Only one set of rulers can obtain a monopoly of coercion over any given territorial area at any one time: complete power over a territory by State X can only be obtained by the expulsion of State Y. War, while risky, will be an ever-present tendency of States, punctuated by periods of peace and by shifting alliances and coalitions between States.

We have seen that the “internal” or “domestic” attempt to limit the State, in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, reached its most notable form in constitutionalism. Its “external,” or “foreign affairs,” counterpart was the development of “international law,” especially such forms as the “laws of war” and “neutrals’ rights.”[37] Parts of international law were originally purely private, growing out of the need of merchants and traders everywhere to protect their property and adjudicate disputes. Examples are admiralty law and the law merchant. But even the governmental rules emerged voluntarily and were not imposed by any international super-State. The object of the “laws of war” was to limit inter-State destruction to the State apparatus itself, thereby preserving the innocent “civilian” public from the slaughter and devastation of war. The object of the development of neutrals’ rights was to preserve private civilian international commerce, even with “enemy” countries, from seizure by one of the warring parties. The overriding aim, then, was to limit the extent of any war, and, particularly to limit its destructive impact on the private citizens of the neutral and even the warring countries.

The jurist F.J.P. Veale charmingly describes such “civilized warfare” as it briefly flourished in fifteenth-century Italy:

the rich burghers and merchants of medieval Italy were too busy making money and enjoying life to undertake the hardships and dangers of soldiering themselves. So they adopted the practice of hiring mercenaries to do their fighting for them, and, being thrifty, businesslike folk, they dismissed their mercenaries immediately after their services could be dispensed with. Wars were, therefore, fought by armies hired for each campaign. . . . For the first time, soldiering became a reasonable and comparatively harmless profession. The generals of that period maneuvered against each other, often with consummate skill, but when one had won the advantage, his opponent generally either retreated or surrendered. It was a recognized rule that a town could only be sacked if it offered resistance: immunity could always be purchased by paying a ransom. . . . As one natural consequence, no town ever resisted, it being obvious that a government too weak to defend its citizens had forfeited their allegiance. Civilians had little to fear from the dangers of war which were the concern only of professional soldiers.[38]

The well-nigh absolute separation of the private civilian from the State’s wars in eighteenth-century Europe is highlighted by Nef:

Even postal communications were not successfully restricted for long in wartime. Letters circulated without censorship, with a freedom that astonishes the twentieth-century mind. . . . The subjects of two warring nations talked to each other if they met, and when they could not meet, corresponded, not as enemies but as friends. The modern notion hardly existed that . . . subjects of any enemy country are partly accountable for the belligerent acts of their rulers. Nor had the warring rulers any firm disposition to stop communications with subjects of the enemy. The old inquisitorial practices of espionage in connection with religious worship and belief were disappearing, and no comparable inquisition in connection with political or economic communications was even contemplated. Passports were originally created to provide safe conduct in time of war. During most of the eighteenth century it seldom occurred to Europeans to abandon their travels in a foreign country which their own was fighting.[39]
And trade being increasingly recognized as beneficial to both parties; eighteenth-century warfare also counterbalances a considerable amount of “trading with the enemy.”[40]

How far States have transcended rules of civilized warfare in this century needs no elaboration here. In the modern era of total war, combined with the technology of total destruction, the very idea of keeping war limited to the State apparati seems even more quaint and obsolete than the original Constitution of the United States.

When States are not at war, agreements are often necessary to keep frictions at a minimum. One doctrine that has gained curiously wide acceptance is the alleged “sanctity of treaties.” This concept is treated as the counterpart of the “sanctity of contract.” But a treaty and a genuine contract have nothing in common. A contract transfers, in a precise manner, titles to private property. Since a government does not, in any proper sense, “own” its territorial area, any agreements that it concludes do not confer titles to property. If, for example, Mr. Jones sells or gives his land to Mr. Smith, Jones’s heir cannot legitimately descend upon Smith’s heir and claim the land as rightfully his. The property title has already been transferred. Old Jones’s contract is automatically binding upon young Jones, because the former had already transferred the property; young Jones, therefore, has no property claim. Young Jones can only claim that which he has inherited from old Jones, and old Jones can only bequeath property which he still owns. But if, at a certain date, the government of, say, Ruritania is coerced or even bribed by the government of Waldavia into giving up some of its territory, it is absurd to claim that the governments or inhabitants of the two countries are forever barred from a claim to reunification of Ruritania on the grounds of the sanctity of a treaty. Neither the people nor the land of northwest Ruritania are owned by either of the two governments. As a corollary, one government can certainly not bind, by the dead hand of the past, a later government through treaty. A revolutionary government which overthrew the king of Ruritania could, similarly, hardly be called to account for the king’s actions or debts, for a government is not, as is a child, a true “heir” to its predecessor’s property.

History as a Race Between
State Power and Social Power

Just as the two basic and mutually exclusive interrelations between men are peaceful cooperation or coercive exploitation, production or predation, so the history of mankind, particularly its economic history, may be considered as a contest between these two principles. On the one hand, there is creative productivity, peaceful exchange and cooperation; on the other, coercive dictation and predation over those social relations. Albert Jay Nock happily termed these contesting forces: “social power” and “State power.”[41] Social power is man’s power over nature, his cooperative transformation of nature’s resources and insight into nature’s laws, for the benefit of all participating individuals. Social power is the power over nature, the living standards achieved by men in mutual exchange. State power, as we have seen, is the coercive and parasitic seizure of this production – a draining of the fruits of society for the benefit of nonproductive (actually antiproductive) rulers. While social power is over nature, State power is power over man. Through history, man’s productive and creative forces have, time and again, carved out new ways of transforming nature for man’s benefit. These have been the times when social power has spurted ahead of State power, and when the degree of State encroachment over society has considerably lessened. But always, after a greater or smaller time lag, the State has moved into these new areas, to cripple and confiscate social power once more.[42] If the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries were, in many countries of the West, times of accelerating social power, and a corollary increase in freedom, peace, and material welfare, the twentieth century has been primarily an age in which State power has been catching up – with a consequent reversion to slavery, war, and destruction.[43]

In this century, the human race faces, once again, the virulent reign of the State – of the State now armed with the fruits of man’s creative powers, confiscated and perverted to its own aims. The last few centuries were times when men tried to place constitutional and other limits on the State, only to find that such limits, as with all other attempts, have failed. Of all the numerous forms that governments have taken over the centuries, of all the concepts and institutions that have been tried, none has succeeded in keeping the State in check. The problem of the State is evidently as far from solution as ever. Perhaps new paths of inquiry must be explored, if the successful, final solution of the State question is ever to be attained.[44]


* Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays by Murray N. Rothbard (Auburn: Mises Institute, 2000 [1974]), pp. 55-88.

[1] We cannot, in this chapter, develop the many problems and fallacies of “democracy.” Suffice it to say here that an individual’s true agent or “representative” is always subject to that individual’s orders, can be dismissed at any time and cannot act contrary to the interests or wishes of his principal. Clearly, the “representative” in a democracy can never fulfill such agency functions, the only ones consonant with a libertarian society.

[2] Social democrats often retort that democracy – majority choice of rulers – logically implies that the majority must leave certain freedoms to the minority, for the minority might one day become the majority. Apart from other flaws, this argument obviously does not hold where the minority cannot become the majority, for example, when the minority is of a different racial or ethnic group from the majority.

[3] Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper and Bros., 1942), p. 198.

The friction or antagonism between the private and the public sphere was intensified from the first by the fact that . . . the State has been living on a revenue which was being produced in the private sphere for private purposes and had to be deflected from these purposes by political force. The theory which construes taxes on the analogy of club dues or of the purchase of the service of, say, a doctor only proves how far removed this part of the social sciences is from scientific habits of mind.

Also see Murray N. Rothbard, “The Fallacy of the ‘Public Sector,”‘ New Individualist Review (Summer, 1961): 3ff.

[4] Franz Oppenheimer, The State (New York: Vanguard Press, 1926) pp. 24�27:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. . . . I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of need while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means”. . . . The State is an organization of the political means. No State, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which objects may be taken away or appropriated by warlike robbery.

[5] Albert Jay Nock wrote vividly that

the State claims and exercises the monopoly of crime. . . . It forbids private murder, but itself organizes murder on a colossal scale. It punishes private theft, but itself lays unscrupulous hands on anything it wants, whether the property of citizen or of alien.

Nock, On Doing the Right Thing, and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Bros., 1929), p. 143; quoted in Jack Schwartzman, “Albert Jay Nock – A Superfluous Man,” Faith and Freedom (December, 1953): 11.

[6] Oppenheimer, The State, p. 15:

What, then, is the State as a sociological concept? The State, completely in its genesis . . . is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group of men on a defeated group, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.

And de Jouvenel has written: “the State is in essence the result of the successes achieved by a band of brigands who superimpose themselves on small, distinct societies.” Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (New York: Viking Press, 1949), pp. 100�01.

[7] On the crucial distinction between “caste,” a group with privileges or burdens coercively granted or imposed by the State and the Marxian concept of “class” in society, see Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 112ff.

[8] Such acceptance does not, of course, imply that the State rule has become “voluntary”; for even if the majority support be active and eager, this support is not unanimous by every individual.

[9] That every government, no matter how “dictatorial” over individuals, must secure such support has been demonstrated by such acute political theorists as Étienne de la Boétie, David Hume, and Ludwig von Mises. Thus, cf. David Hume, “Of the First Principles of Government,” in Essays, Literary, Moral and Political (London: Ward, Locke, and Taylor, n.d.), p. 23; Étienne de la Boétie, Anti-Dictator (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), pp. 8�9; Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998), pp. 188ff. For more on the contribution to the analysis of the State by la Boétie, see Oscar Jaszi and John D. Lewis, Against the Tyrant (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1957), pp. 55�57.

[10] La Boétie, Anti-Dictator, pp. 43�44.

Whenever a ruler makes himself dictator . . . all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant.

[11] This by no means implies that all intellectuals ally themselves with the State. On aspects of the alliance of intellectuals and the State, cf. Bertrand de Jouvenel, “The Attitude of the Intellectuals to the Market Society,” The Owl (January, 1951): 19�27; idem, “The Treatment of Capitalism by Continental Intellectuals,” in F.A. Hayek, ed., Capitalism and the Historians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), pp. 93�123; reprinted in George B. de Huszar, The Intellectuals (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1960), pp. 385�99; and Schumpeter, Imperialism and Social Classes (New York: Meridian Books, 1975), pp. 143�55.

[12] Joseph Needham, “Review of Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism,” Science and Society (1958): 65. Needham also writes that “the successive [Chinese] emperors were served in all ages by a great company of profoundly humane and disinterested scholars,” p. 61. Wittfogel notes the Confucian doctrine that the glory of the ruling class rested on its gentleman scholar-bureaucrat officials, destined to be professional rulers dictating to the mass of the populace. Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 320�21 and passim. For an attitude contrasting to Needham’s, cf. John Lukacs, “Intellectual Class or Intellectual Profession?” in de Huszar, The Intellectuals, pp. 521�22.

[13] Jeanne Ribs, “The War Plotters,” Liberation (August, 1961): 13. “[s]trategists insist that their occupation deserves the ‘dignity of the academic counterpart of the military profession.'” Also see Marcus Raskin, “The Megadeath Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books (November 14, 1963): 6�7.

[14] Thus the historian Conyers Read, in his presidential address, advocated the suppression of historical fact in the service of “democratic” and national values. Read proclaimed that “total war, whether it is hot or cold, enlists everyone and calls upon everyone to play his part. The historian is not freer from this obligation than the physicist.” Read, “The Social Responsibilities of the Historian,” American Historical Review (1951): 283ff. For a critique of Read and other aspects of court history, see Howard K. Beale, “The Professional Historian: His Theory and Practice,” The Pacific Historical Review (August, 1953): 227�55. Also cf. Herbert Butterfield, “Official History: Its Pitfalls and Criteria,” History and Human Relations (New York: Macmillan, 1952), pp. 182�224; and Harry Elmer Barnes, The Court Historians Versus Revisionism (n.d.), pp. 2ff.

[15] Cf. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism, pp. 87�100. On the contrasting roles of religion vis-�-vis the State in ancient China and Japan, see Norman Jacobs, The Origin of Modern Capitalism and Eastern Asia (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1958), pp. 161�94.

[16] De Jouvenel, On Power, p. 22:

The essential reason for obedience is that it has become a habit of the species. . . . Power is for us a fact of nature. From the earliest days of recorded history it has always presided over human destinies . . . the authorities which ruled [societies] in former times did not disappear without bequeathing to their successors their privilege nor without leaving in men’s minds imprints which are cumulative in their effect. The succession of governments which, in the course of centuries, rule the same society may be looked on as one underlying government which takes on continuous accretions.

[17] On such uses of the religion of China, see Norman Jacobs, passim.

[18] H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Knopf, 1949), p. 145:

All [government] can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.

[19] Ibid., pp. 146�47.

[20] De Jouvenel, On Power, pp. 27ff.

[21] Charles L. Black. Jr., The People and the Court (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 35ff.

[22] Ibid., pp. 42�43.

[23] Ibid., p. 52:

The prime and most necessary function of the [Supreme] Court has been that of validation, not that of invalidation. What a government of limited powers needs, at the beginning and forever, is some means of satisfying the people that it has taken all steps humanly possible to stay within its powers. This is the condition of its legitimacy, and its legitimacy, in the long run, is the condition of its life. And the Court, through its history, has acted as the legitimation of the government.

[24] To Black, this “solution,” while paradoxical, is blithely self-evident:

the final power of the State . . . must stop where the law stops it. And who shall set the limit, and who shall enforce the stopping, against the mightiest power? Why, the State itself, of course, through its judges and its laws. Who controls the temperate? Who teaches the wise? (Ibid., pp. 32�33)


Where the questions concern governmental power in a sovereign nation, it is not possible to select an umpire who is outside government. Every national government, so long as it is a government, must have the final say on its own power. (Ibid., pp. 48�49)

[25] Ibid., p. 49.

[26] This ascription of the miraculous to government is reminiscent of James Burnham’s justification of government by mysticism and irrationality:

In ancient times, before the illusions of science had corrupted traditional wisdom, the founders of cities were known to be gods or demigods. . . . Neither the source nor the justification of government can be put in wholly rational terms . . . why should I accept the hereditary or democratic or any other principle of legitimacy? Why should a principle justify the rule of that man over me? . . . I accept the principle, well . . . because I do, because that is the way it is and has been.

James Burnham, Congress and the American Tradition (Chicago: Regnery, 1959), pp. 3�8. But what if one does not accept the principle? What will “the way” be then?

[27] Black, The People and the Court, p. 64.

[28] Ibid., p. 65.

[29] John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1953), pp. 25�27. Also cf. Murray N. Rothbard, “Conservatism and Freedom: A Libertarian Comment,” Modern Age (Spring, 1961): 219.

[30] J. Allen Smith, The Growth and Decadence of Constitutional Government (New York: Henry Holt, 1930), p. 88. Smith added:

it was obvious that where a provision of the Constitution was designed to limit the powers of a governmental organ, it could be effectively nullified if its interpretation and enforcement are left to the authorities as it designed to restrain. Clearly, common sense required that no organ of the government should be able to determine its own powers.

Clearly, common sense and “miracles” dictate very different views of government (p. 87).

[31] Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, pp. 20�21.

[32] In recent years, the unanimity principle has experienced a highly diluted revival, particularly in the writings of Professor James Buchanan. Injecting unanimity into the present situation, however, and applying it only to changes in the status quo and not to existing laws, can only result in another transformation of a limiting concept into a rubber stamp for the State. If the unanimity principle is to be applied only to changes in laws and edicts, the nature of the initial “point of origin” then makes all the difference. Cf. James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), passim.

[33] Cf. Herbert Spencer, “The Right to Ignore the State,” in Social Statics (New York: D. Appleton, 1890), pp. 229�39.

[34] De Jouvenel, On Power, p. 171.

[35] We have seen that essential to the State is support by the intellectuals, and this includes support against their two acute threats. Thus, on the role of American intellectuals in America’s entry into World War I, see Randolph Bourne, “The War and the Intellectuals,” in The History of a Literary Radical and Other Papers (New York: S.A. Russell, 1956), pp. 205�22. As Bourne states, a common device of intellectuals in winning support for State actions, is to channel any discussion within the limits of basic State policy and to discourage any fundamental or total critique of this basic framework.

[36] As Mencken puts it in his inimitable fashion:

This gang (“the exploiters constituting the government”) is well nigh immune to punishment. Its worst extortions, even when they are baldly for private profit, carry no certain penalties under our laws. Since the first days of the Republic, less than a few dozen of its members have been impeached, and only a few obscure understrappers have ever been put into prison. The number of men sitting at Atlanta and Leavenworth for revolting against the extortions of the government is always ten times as great as the number of government officials condemned for oppressing the taxpayers to their own gain. (Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, pp. 147�48)

For a vivid and entertaining description of the lack of protection for the individual against incursion of his liberty by his “protectors,” see H.L. Mencken, “The Nature of Liberty,” in Prejudices: A Selection (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), pp. 138�43.

[37] This is to be distinguished from modern international law, with its stress on maximizing the extent of war through such concepts as “collective security.”

[38] F.J.P. Veale, Advance to Barbarism (Appleton, Wis.: C.C. Nelson, 1953), p. 63. Similarly, Professor Nef writes of the War of Don Carlos waged in Italy between France, Spain, and Sardinia against Austria, in the eighteenth century:

at the siege of Milan by the allies and several weeks later at Parma . . . the rival armies met in a fierce battle outside the town. In neither place were the sympathies of the inhabitants seriously moved by one side or the other. Their only fear as that the troops of either army should get within the gates and pillage. The fear proved groundless. At Parma the citizens ran to the town walls to watch the battle in the open country beyond. (John U. Nef, War and Human Progress [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950], p. 158. Also cf. Hoffman Nickerson, Can We Limit War? [New York: Frederick A. Stoke, 1934])

[39] Nef, War and Human Progress, p. 162.

[40] Ibid., p. 161. On advocacy of trading with the enemy by leaders of the American Revolution, see Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind in American Civilization (New York: Viking Press, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 210�11.

[41] On the concepts of State power and social power, see Albert J. Nock, Our Enemy the State (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1946). Also see Nock, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (New York: Harpers, 1943), and Frank Chodorov, The Rise and Fall of Society (New York: Devin-Adair, 1959).

[42] Amidst the flux of expansion or contraction, the State always makes sure that it seizes and retains certain crucial “command posts” of the economy and society. Among these command posts are a monopoly of violence, monopoly of the ultimate judicial power, the channels of communication and transportation (post office, roads, rivers, air routes), irrigated water in Oriental despotisms, and education – to mold the opinions of its future citizens. In the modern economy, money is the critical command post.

[43] This parasitic process of “catching up” has been almost openly proclaimed by Karl Marx, who conceded that socialism must be established through seizure of capital previously accumulated under capitalism.

[44] Certainly, one indispensable ingredient of such a solution must be the sundering of the alliance of intellectual and State, through the creation of centers of intellectual inquiry and education, which will be independent of State power. Christopher Dawson notes that the great intellectual movements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were achieved by working outside of, and sometimes against, the entrenched universities. These academia of the new ideas were established by independent patrons. See Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961).


Demystifying the State
by Wendy McElroy

Mystification is the process by which the commonplace is elevated to the level of the divine by those who have a vested interest in its unassailability. Government is a perfect example of mystification at work. Government is a group of individuals organized for the purpose of extracting wealth and exerting power over people and resources in a given geographic area. Ordinarily people object to and resist thieves and robbers; but in the case of government, they do not because the government has created a mystique of legitimacy about its activities.

“Government is founded on opinion,” wrote William Godwin. “A nation must have learned to respect a king, before a king can exercise any authority over them.” Past governments used the divine right of kings, by which monarchs claimed the divinity of being appointed to rule by God, as a means of instilling this respect; rebellion against the king became rebellion against the will of God. Contemporary governments have replaced this with the legitimacy derived from such concepts as “democracy,” “equality,” the “motherland,” or the “American way of life.” Such patriotic concepts have the ability to rouse feelings of awe and reverence in the population. These reactions are ingeniously channeled to support the government, and in turn help create the mystique of legitimacy which governments need to survive.

In a libertarian context, the issue of state legitimacy reduces to one question: Does any individual or group have the right to initiate force? For the libertarian, it is always illegitimate to initiate force against nonaggressors. Libertarianism is the political philosophy based on the concept of self-ownership; that is, every human being, simply by being a human being, has moral justification over his or her own body. This jurisdiction, which is called individual rights, cannot properly be violated, for this would be tantamount to claiming that human beings are not self-owners.

If individuals cannot properly violate rights, then it cannot be proper for any organization or group of individuals to do so. Certainly the number of people involved in initiating aggression has no bearing on whether or not the violation of rights is legitimate. This was clearly pointed out by a 17th-century libertarian who wrote:

What can be more absurd in nature and contrary to all common sense than to call him Thief and kill him that comes alone with a few to rob me; and ���call him Lord Protector and obey him that robs me with regiments and troops? As if to rob with 2 or 3 ships were to be a Pirate, but with 50 an Admiral? But if it be the number of adherents only, not the cause, that makes the difference between a Robber and a Protector: I will that number were defined, that the Prince begins. And be able to distinguish between a Robbery and a Tax.

. . . Without a doubt, the most effective method by which the state creates a mystique is through control of education. The evolution of compulsory state-controlled schooling reads like a history of political maneuvering, in which the goal of teaching children literacy skills plays a minor role. Public education is by no means inept or disordered as it is made out to be. It is an ice- cold, superb machine designed to perform one very important job. The problem is not that public schools do not work well, but rather that they do. The first goal and primary function of schools is not to educate good people, but good citizens. It is the function which we normally label state indoctrination.

The early supporters of state education understood this. Horace Mann, for example, a 19th-century supporter of public education, saw it as a means of assimilating foreign elements into an otherwise established Protestant, puritan culture. With regard to the Irish Catholics, Mann maintained:

With the old not much can be done; but with their children, the great remedy is education. The rising generation must be taught as our children are taught. We say must be, because in many cases this can only be accomplished by coercion. . . . Children must be gathered up and forced into schools and those who resist and impede this plan, whether parents or priests, must be held accountable and punished.

From their inception, public schools were a form of social control. One Irish newspaper, which represented those children being unwillingly assimilated, observed:

The general principle upon which these compulsory schooling laws are based is radically unsound, untrue, and A-theistical. . . . It is that the education of children is not the work of the Church, or of the Family, but that it is the work of the State.

In contrast to the xenophobic fever with which many native Americans rushed to impose their cultural preferences upon immigrants, libertarians condemned state schools. Josiah Warren compared them to “paying the fox to take care of the chickens.” He realized that state control of education, like state control of religion, would create an orthodoxy which would suppress dissenting views. It would become a bureaucracy to serve the interest of the bureaucrats and those who ultimately controlled the state apparatus. When the statists insisted that compulsory, regulated education was necessary because people could not distinguish truth from falsehood and might be led astray, Herbert Spencer countered: “There is hardly a single department of life over which, for similar reasons, legislative supervision has not been, nor may be, established.”

Today, the ideal of social control through education has been realized. Like Pavlovian dogs, children enter and exit schools to the sound of bells. They begin each day by pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and by singing the national anthem. Through political science and history classes, which present severely slanted history, they are taught to revere democracy and the Constitution. School is “the twelve-year sentence” during which children are molded into good citizens. Indeed, as we have seen, the chief function of education is to train obedient citizens. “It is inevitable that compulsory, state-regulated schooling will reflect the philosophy of the status quo,” commented historian Joel Spring. “It is after all those who have political and social power who gain the most benefit from the existing political climate and depend on its continuation.” In practical terms, the public school system has assumed the role of an official church by imbuing its subjects with a genuflecting respect for the state.

The state projects an image of massive strength, the image of a self-perpetuating, self-contained institution upon whose goodwill the people depend. In fact, the reverse is true. Government rests upon the goodwill of the people. Without their support, it becomes fragile and will eventually disintegrate. A government is no more powerful than the human resources, the skills, the knowledge, and attitudes of obedience it commands. Every dollar the state spends has been taken from an individual. It has no resources of its own. Every law it maintains is enforced by an individual. As Étienne de la Boétie, observed of the state: “He who abuses you so has only two eyes, has but two hands, one body, and has naught but what the least man . . . except for the advantage you give him to destroy.” That advantage is what we call the sanction of the victim or the consent which the oppressed must give to their oppressors.

Libertarianism is a direct attack upon the mystique of the state. It recognizes that the state is only an abstraction and reduces it to the actions of individuals. It applies the same standard of morality to the state as it would to a next-door neighbor. If it is not proper for a neighbor to tax or pass laws regulating your private life, then it cannot be proper for the state to do so. Only by elevating itself above the standards of personal morality can the state make these claims on your life. . . .

Conservatives and liberals demand different varieties of law and order without regard to the fact that the ultimate in order may be found in a concentration camp. On the surface, it might seem that conservatives and liberals are engaged in deadly combat, but they are actually in fundamental agreement on one crucial methodological point: namely, that the state is a proper means of achieving social change–that the use of force legitimized by the state is a proper way of controlling other people’s peaceful activities. This is their fundamental disagreement with libertarianism.

William Godwin formulated the libertarian rejection of force in epistemological terms:

Force is an expedient, the use of which must be deplored. It is contrary to the intellect, which cannot be improved but by conviction and persuasion. Violence corrupts the man who employs it and the man upon whom it is employed.

. . . The battle against statism today is not a battle against any particular politician. The issue is deeper. It is a battle against a way of thinking, a way of viewing the state. The main victory of the state has been within the minds of the people who obey. In commenting on the British rule over India, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

A commercial company enslaves a nation comprising two hundred millions. Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what those words mean. What does it mean that thirty thousand men . . . have subdued two hundred million? Do the figures make clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves?

People today enslave themselves when all that freedom requires is the word “No.”






The State

Jan Narveson

Chapter 16 of The Libertarian Idea


The State, Government, Public, Associations, Us

Libertarians are notoriously unhappy with The State. It will be well to begin by explaining why, and for this we must define a few terms, viz. the ones mentioned in the heading. Consider, first, “us”. ‘Us’ refers to you and me, and the people you and I know. It is from personal association that we get most of the evidence we have for our ideas about people, and in particular the idea of the voluntary association. In such a configuration, you are a member only if you want to be a member, and only if it wants to have you. You may want to be a member of an existing association but find yourself rejected by it. You then have the option of trying to start your own, or finding another one to the same end, and so on.

The remaining terms get us into complexities. The public is, simply, everybody; but of course ‘everybody’ varies from context to context. What matters for presents purposes is that there are a lot of people included in “the public”, and there is only one of you or of me. What unifies this set of people? Only that we have various contacts with each other. Of course, nobody has contact with everybody. What happens is that every member has contact with an appreciable number of other members, there being no discrete, isolated subsets who have no contact with any others, though there will be subsets which have a lot less to do with others than with fellow members of that subset. (Aficionados of these matters will note the employment of a device like the famous Fregean definition of the natural numbers.) Is the “public” an association? Its members associate with each other, to be sure; but there is no unifying structure, because the public has no purpose, even though all of its members have purposes a-plenty. The public simply is. And also, it is not (especially) voluntary. You just happen to be there, rather than having joined, and while you might be able to move elsewhere, you might not (mainly because where you went would have a government which doesn’t want you).

What about the State? Roughly, the State is a public with a government; and a government is a smallish subset of the public which has somehow acquired the power to rule, that is to say, to make people do the things it wants them to. Membership in the public is not voluntary, and being under the control of its government is not voluntary. Everyone must “join”, whether he likes it or not, and the ‘must’ really means business, for the State may enforce its commands by use of outright force. John Hospers remarks on a bumper sticker to the effect that “The Government is Armed and Dangerous”, saying that the message of those stickers is “tragically true”.1 Certainly true, anyway; whether ‘tragically’ remains to be seen.) It claims, indeed, a monopoly on the use of force, in the specific sense that private uses of force must be authorized by it, whereas its own employments of force, though they too need, in the favorable cases, to be authorized, are authorized by itself. In the case of nondemocratic states, this leaves the unwitting victim (= ‘citizen’) completely at the mercy of the government.

In democratic States, however, the claim will be made that the State’s acts are all authorized by the free and sovereign people. This is worth a few remarks. Let us first consider the idea, as expounded by Hobbes, as it applies more generally to the State. Hobbes supposes a sort of plebiscite to establish the State by everyone’s simultaneously handing over their power to the person who wins the election. Of course some wouldn’t like the result.

Hobbes’ argument proceeds as follows. Don’t these other people, it may be said, nevertheless consent to the outcome of the election, whatever it may be? Thus Hobbes: “A commonwealth is said to be instituted, when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every one, with every one, that to whatsoever man or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part, the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; everyone, as well he that voted for it, as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the actions and judgments, of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own, to the end, to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men.”2 (Hobbes’ emphases.)

Hobbes’ argument is obviously reconstructive. Hobbes did not go around checking to see whether everyone did in fact do what he claims they did. The social contract idea requires that every rational person would do this, and we know he would do it because he must. So what Hobbes is arguing has to be that every individual necessarily has sufficient reason to authorize a smallish body of people to act for him in the manner indicated. That good reason is, as he says, to “live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men”. The good reason is what grounds the whole business. We have in the foregoing been concerned to spell out further what the fundamental normative principles of general human association are, and that is an interpretation of the reason, if any, for having government. Unlike Hobbes, we take it that this reason limits government even if it also empowers it (if it does at all). We take this because his argument that the State must be unlimited in its powers is fallacious and, indeed, incoherent. If peace consists in us all being able to do as we wish, then a government which won’t let us do so is violating peace, and is therefore illegitimate if the sole justification for government is to preserve the peace.

For the record, and because it is important: What happened in Hobbes’ argument is that he confused two very different things: (1) that abstract “sovereignty” which consists in something or other’s being superior to any one of us or any lesser group of us, and (2) the concrete institution, consisting of human beings, which is supposed to realize, exemplify, or instantiate thse abstract properties. But in fact, what has that “abstract sovereignty”, as I call it, is the fundamental laws of morality themselves, and nothing else. They are supreme because they are defined as being so: the whole point of talking about such laws consists in the sense that we need such things to solve certain human problems, viz., those which arise due to our mutual interrelations. But there is no shred of an excuse for confusing the “sovereignty” of those laws themselves with whatever powers any of us might invest in any concrete institution — in any actual person or group of persons. There needs to be an argument for investing any degree of authority in any such body, and the argument should not consist in a confusion. In particular, it should invest just so much authority as is requisite for the purpose at hand, and no more.

There would now be two questions. First, do people all, in the required sense, rationally want to live in peace? And second, is it necessary to have a State to get them to do this? We have discussed the first one already in Part II. Peace in the sense of being able to depend on others’ refraining from violence which would prevent one from pursuing one’s own ends can reasonably be said to be something which everyone has sufficient reason to want. These reasons stem simply from the having of those ends. Only in very special and, as we may say, exotic cases can someone think that war in the same sense is better than peace in that sense. (Perhaps those conditions obtained in some technologically primitive societies for some people at some times.) But the clincher in any case is that those who do not want peace, or want it only for others in relation to themselves rather than vice versa, are on their own and may in principle be dealt with by any degree of violence we like.

The second question is where the “action” is in this Part; and it is immensely trickier. I have already pointed out that on Hobbesian reasoning, we ought to cooperate rather than to submit to an all-powerful sovereign, wherever feasible. Moral methods dominate political ones. But we must admit that people aren’t perfect and enforcement may be called for. Furthermore, that such enforcement is legitimate may be said to be true essentially by definition (of the notion of rights).

But if enforcement is legitimate, then why should the fact that the State may enforce its laws disturb us? Any number of reasons.

  1. The things that the State thinks threaten you are things you may not feel threatened by at all — you may instead feel threatened by the State’s attempts to “protect” you from them.
  2. Or they will protect you quite a lot more (or, on the other hand, less) thoroughly than you would be willing to pay for if you had the choice.
  3. Or you will find yourself shelling out money for the protection of other people, but getting precious little yourself.In fact, the people they are protecting with your money may strike you as among the ones you need protecting from rather than needingor deserving any protection themselves.
  4. Or you may dislike the particular methods they use. The prospect of The Knock on the Door by uniformed men who claim to have the authority to cart you off may be sufficiently unwelcome that you’d prefer to try some other way of doing things.

Are these complaints in principle? In one way, they are not. Recognizably similar kinds of complaint s, after all, may no doubt be made by all sorts of people about ordinary voluntary agencies to which they belong or which they support. Complaints, justified or no, we have always with us. But there is a difference which is affected by our principle, at least prima facie. This central complaint from the libertarian point of view, is that you have no choice but to deal with this particular agency, the Government; and this not in the sense that your particular Government is the only one that happened to be around, but rather that it was the only one allowed to be around. Competition non grata!

This is the central libertarian complaint, but even it needs some qualifying. Drawing again from the rich, fertile fields of the American bumper sticker, some may recall one that said, “America: Love it or Leave it!” The implication at that time was that if you aren’t willing to pay a whole lot of money and perhaps a son or two to enable American soldiers to go about napalming Vietnamese peasants, then you can just move to some other snivelling country, and good riddance. Now, this is the sort of thing (details apart!) that a private club can legitimately say: “If you don’t like what we do here, go somewhere else and do your own thing!” But is it something a nation-State can properly say? Of course it would sometimes be false that you “could” leave it. Try getting out of the Soviet Union if you are a citizen of that country! And it’s also true that if you do leave country X, you have to go to country Y, which may well not let you in. Then what?

But this is still a matter of degree, though a very great one. If there were no nation-states, then it would still be true that if you are not wanted in some area where everything is already owned by others, you must find someone else who will take you on; and it is perhaps also true that those others may use guns to keep you out. But this is such a great difference in degree that it may seem a quibble to classify it as such. For there are only a couple of hundred States in the world, whereas there are several billion people; and it is most unlikely that every last one of them wouldn’t want you for a neighbor (unless you are Clifford Olson, who murdered 43 boys after molesting them — in which case it is not clear that this is a relevant counterexample.)

A Note on Democracy

In what sense did “the people” authorize any particular law in a democratic state? The short answer is that in practically all cases, they didn’t. But the answer is admittedly too short. The main feature of democracies to be invoked here is that the people who did make the laws are elected; and reasonably invoked, since that is virtually the defining feature of democracy.

A brief note on the theory of democracy is in order here. Democracy is ‘rule by the people’, but what does this mean? It can be demonstrated that this has to mean that those who rule are elected. Why must it mean this? Here is a short demonstration. In saying that democracy is “rule by the people”, what we must mean, put more precisely, is that democracy involves an equal distribution of political power among the citizens. Were it unequal, and insofar as it is unequal, we would have rule by some lesser group: those with more power would have a greater say in determining what the laws are to be. (We assume, of course, that by ‘democracy’ we mean a theory of government, which is to say, a theory to be applied to the case where there is in fact some political power. We could make the distribution equal in another way by simply giving everyone zero such power. This would be the theory of anarchy, not government.)

Now let the set of people to be governed be too numerous to assemble in one place or permit of substantial discussion (true in essentially all the interesting cases). Beyond that point, some kind of indirect or representational procedure is inevitable. So democracy amounts to a theory of voting procedures.

As to majority rule: consider any issue on which there is any disagreement. Let the issue be resolvable by a pass-or-defeat vote — itself not easy, but we take the most favorable case; plainly any other will make matters worse. If we set the number required for passage higher than 50% + 1, then we give more power per person to the Nays. If we set it lower, the same measure could both pass and fail, which is inconsistent. The same applies to elections of representatives. Requirement of a greater majority than 50% will give unequal power of selection to those who would otherwise be in the minority.

An elected legislator will often, and is certainly in general free to, vote contrary to the known wishes of his electorate. More usually, he has little idea what those wishes are. And in any case, he is elected only by those who voted for him. But this is by no means all. Democracy has some inherent problems highly relevant to present concerns.

The Down Side of Democracy

The justification of democracy has usually been rather narrowly drawn. First, it is argued that we have to have a State of some kind; and then it is argued that if we are going to have a State of any kind, it had better be a democratic one – democracy is the least among necessary evils. The argument is certainly very persuasive, given the premise. If we are going to have such an institution, then whoever You may be, You are certainly going to want to have it on your side if possible. So you are going to want the power to select it, insofar as it is possible to have such power. Since You is everyone, however, the conclusion will have to be that this power is to be distributed equallyi among all those concerned: thus, democracy.

But the premise is problematic, for one thing. Perhaps we don’t need a State. But much more importantly, what is established by any argument for the State is limited by that argument’s premisses. The argument for the State from liberal premisses, if it works at all, works by showing us that having a State is better for everybody than not having one. If this is indeed the argument, then the same argument should show that if a given measure would not be better for everyone if subject to majority rule, then with respect to that item, we shouldn’t have majority rule.

The theory of democracy is rife with exceptions to majority rule. Nobody thinks that civil rights should be subject to it, for example: whether you or I should, for no further reason at all, be flayed in the public square at noon tomorrow is not something to be determined by majority rule. Whether Jones’ tax bill should be doubled next year just because a majority dislikes Jones is not an open question on any proper theory of democracy.

It should be a matter of great interest, then, that with respect to almost every matter, there are similar arguments against majority rule, and more especially rule by representatives who have attained their office as the result of electoral procedures. James Buchanan develops some of them: “Majority voting rules for reaching collective or group decisions will produce at least some budgetary components that are inefficient in net. … Some projects that will secure majority approval will yield less in total benefits than they cost. The minority will suffer net losses from these projects, and these losses will exceed the benefits secured for members of the majority.”3 Buchanan proposes a minimal efficiency constraint on collective budgetary decisions: “the estimated value of benefits from any proposal to the members of an effective majority coalition must exceed the tax costs borne by those members. Even this minimal constraint on budgetary inefficiency is not operative, however, when logrolling can take place among divergent minorities to produce effective majority coalitions on a subgroup of budgetary items. This procedure is familiarly known as “pork barrel” legislation in the American setting.”4

When we move to consideration of the effects of legislation by elected representatives, the situation is still worse: “The politician’s bias .. is an additional institutional aspect of the asymmetry between the spending and taxing sides of the fiscal account. Because taxes cannot readily be lowered in a differential manner, there is a public-goods barrier which inhibits independent politician initiative toward tax reduction. By contrast … Given his degree of freedom to influence outomes, the nonideological politician’s behavior will tend to generate an exaggerated version fo the nonpolitician model analyzed earlier. … aggregate spending will tend to be inefficiently large even if the ultimate demands of voters-taxpayers-beneficiaries could be accurately reflected in final outcomes…”5

These results and others to similar effect are familiar fare for students of public choice theory. Their general drift is that democratic methods overwhelmingly tend to be inefficient. These inefficiencies are multiplied when the collective in question gets larger. They are, in fact, inefficiencies to scale. In huge-number cases such as a modern State, they will certainly be enormous. Indeed, they are enormous!

Well, what’s so great about efficiency? — it might be asked. The answer is that the concept of inefficiency employed here is that someone is needlessly worse off: that individual can be made better off without making anyone else worse off. Just assume — what will, after all, certainly be true after even a modest number of iterations — that the losing individual is you. Perhaps that will add weight to the suggestion that these results should not be ignored.

Political Authority

The State claims to be an omnicompetent authority. Anything you do is something that the State must allow you to do: it has authority over all and sundry matters, and the citizen shall knuckle under, thank you very much. This is the theory of government under which humankind has lived for the past several thousand years. But a few moment’s thought suffice to show us that it is a fraud, an outrage, a disgrace, and a travesty which no thinking person could put up with for a moment. The democratic theory of government represents an effort to modify the inherent of authoritarianism of government to an extent which would give it some reasonable semblance of acceptability. But on the face of it, it doesn’t help much, since it substitutes for the one or the few people asserting authority a mob of you fellow humans.

But authorities must be authorized, and in the end the only person who can “authorize” anyone to do anything to you is you. All the rest is a sham, varying in degrees of barefacedness.

This does not mean that nobody ever has any authority to do anything. It means, instead, that the only authority a rational person acknowledges is authority that that person has good reason to accept. And one prominent reason for accepting it would be that you gave it to someone. Example: you join organization O, which gives person P the authority to write cheques in its name. A condition of remaining in the organization is that you accept a number of things, including things which imply, given various facts which you also know about, that P is currently the treasurer and the treasurer has signing authority on O’s bank account. Or if you were a member of an organization that ran the roads, and its enforcement agents stopped you for violating one of its rules, then you would have reason for accepting the authority of that individual to do so. And so on.

Authority and Co-ordination

In Part II we considered at length the decision-theoretic problem known as “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. There are other dilemmas, however, and one of them that is of first importance in the present context is the Co-ordination Dilemma. Here is a simple example. Assume that Ms. Column and Mr. Row would be happy to spend some time with each other, and are indifferent between doing so at the beach or the park — both places are just fine. Being at either place without the other, on the other hand, would be most unsatisfactory. So we have:

Ms. Column
Beach Park
Mr. Row Beach

great! awful!
awful! great!



The “dilemma” label is merited only by the fact that each one, striving to get a desirable outcome which both want, may not know which way to go. In the absence of communication, and given the facts about their preferences, there is only a 50% chance that they’ll end up in one of the desired situations. This is due to there being too much of a good thing: if they both preferred the beach, say, then there’d be no problem.

How do we solve a problem like this? Ultimately, by two devices: (a) an arbitrary mechanism for selecting one alternative rather than another, and (b) an agreement among the parties to be guided by that particular device. E.g., Ms. Column flips a coin and Mr. Row agrees to go wherever Ms. Column says. Or, to move to our political context, someone decides that all cars will keep to the right, and everyone agrees to drive on whichever side that person says. In the case of cars, there are not just two people, but millions. In the absence of coordination, the roads would be unusable by such vehicles as cars. Even pedestrians and bicycles may need coordination.

The central point about coordination, then, is that the outcome in which everyone acts in one way or everyone acts in another way is preferred by all to any outcome in which people act independently. The problem is only how to secure this outcome, and not on its merits, once secured. Real-life situations will usually have some aspects of each, of course, and that may further complicate matters.

The moral for politics may be that we need an authority to provide coordination. Instead of everyone looking to see what everyone else is doing, everyone simply does what the authority says to do, thus saving nuisance and effectively achieving an uncontroversially desirable result. Needless to say, we will often have situations in which this happy simplicity is not present. Then we may have to tot up the advantages of coordination against the disadvantages of the particular outcome chosen by the authority.

Are the facts about coordination any justification of the State? There are two points to consider. First, since everyone presumably desires the uniformity which it is the point of the authority in question to impose, it should not in principle be necessary to visit severe penalties on offenders. And if the outcome of the exercise of authority is not desired by all, then this justification can’t be used. On the other hand, of course, there may be people who just like to cause trouble; and in any case, the amount of trouble that may be caused by deviating from the established rule may be very great — the rule of the road being an excellent case in point. But even criminals do not habitually drive on the wrong side of the road! Whether a State is needed to exercise the authority that may be required is what may be questioned from this point of view. Second, it may or may not be that efficiency is achieved by having a single centralized agency providing coordinative authority for all purposes. Most likely, however, it will not be. In any case, it is certainly not theoretically necessary. What matters is that effective coordination be achieved, and not who achieves it; in particular, it doesn’t matter whether the authority achieving it in case X is the same as the authority achieving it in case Y.

Some theorists make a good deal of the coordinative function of the State. (John Finnis comes to mind.6) But it is not clear how far such considerations will take us in the direction of the State. Not, I suspect, so very far.

The Right to Protection

It is important to be clear that the right to protection that follows from our fundamentally negative right to liberty is also, therefore, fundamentally negative. Thus if by the ‘right to protection’ is meant the positive right that other people protect you, then it is not automatically on the libertarian agenda. What is on it is the right that others not, in various ways, molest you. If people threaten to molest you, then there is a practical question what to do about it. This may be answered by enlisting the aid of others, who may help you for various possible reasons: out of their own free wills, because they like you or perhaps because they have a touch of Wyatt Earpism and like a good fight so long as they are siding with the good guys, or in exchange for something, such as a monetary fee or because they belong to your Protection Co-operative and it’s their turn. But people who protect you without (and contrary to) your permission are invading your rights, as are the original molesters. And people who not only do that, but who then charge you for it and force you at gunpoint to pay are combining the two violations. Yet that would seem to be precisely the situation of the State. It should now be clear that there is indeed a complaint.

Protection, and Nozick’s Argument for the State

Is there something special about protection, which makes it peculiarly eligible for relegating to a central agency? It has generally been thought so, including by many libertarians, who favor what is called the “nightwatchman State”, whose only function is to protect the citizens from force and fraud. But is there truly good reason for this? Robert Nozick’s argument for the legitimacy of the “minimal state” is an attempt to underwrite this view, and is worth looking at in some detail. My examination is designed to establish two points: First, that the argument, whether or not it is successful for its intended end, clearly wouldn’t establish the legitimacy of the State in its contemporary sense even insofar as it concerns the protective function alone. And second, that the argument is of a type which would, if it works at all, surely be able to establish the legitimacy of an equally state-like apparatus for other functions, contrary to Nozick’s explicit intentions.

The argument assumes we begin with a Lockean-type anarchy: people accept our libertarian rights, but don’t perfectly live up to them, and some of them flout them pretty badly, giving rise to the need for protection. People form protective associations, which due to the action of various plausible market forces eventuate in its being the case that in any given area, a single agency has a monopoly of protective force. The plausible market forces in question are, notice, essential to the argument. Suppose that Agency A can offer better protection at a lower price than Agency B: people will gravitate toward it. But this will enable it to offer still better protection, for more people will be its clients; like co-purchasers of automobile liability insurance from the same agency who run into each other, enabling the company to settle with itself out of court, saving immensely on collection costs, some of the savings of which it can pass on to the consumer, thus making A’s package still more attractive. And then in the nature of the case, the bigger protection firm will have more “clout” if it came to a hands-down fight with firm B, and this too will make it more attractive to the consumer. A natural monopoly will, then, emerge. And the result will be — what? Well, there will be a few holdouts, perhaps. But these people will be forced to deal with A, because almost everybody has bought into A.

There are further important complications concerning the administration of the Lockean laws, in particular concerning the reliability of procedures for convicting people of violations. These terminate, again, in cases where it’s the word of A against B; but if so, it becomes a question of who can make its side of the argument stick, and the answer is, of course, A, since it is by now a de facto monopoly. This will put it in the position of being able, in effect, to forbid competition. And A will have to end up underwriting the protection of those few who will still want to hold out on their own, because it must compensate them for depriving them of viable options. “Though each person has a right to act correctly to prohibit others from violating rights …. only the dominant protective association will be able, without sanction, to enforce correctness as it sees it. Its power makes it the arbiter of correctness … not … that might makes right. But might does make enforced prohibitions, even if no one thinks the mighty have a special entitlement to have realized in the world their own view of which prohibitions are correctly enforced….”

“What is the explanation of how a minimal state arises? The dominant protctive association with the monopoly element is morally required to compensate for the disadvantages it imposes upon those it prohibits from self-help activities against its clients.” Voilà: the Minimal State!7

What makes it a State? The facts that (1) it has a monopoly of force (part of the definition of a State), and (2) it caters to everyone within its area, whether they like it or not, distributing the costs of doing so among its other clients in cases of inability to pay.

Nozick doesn’t add what seems to me a fairly important further item: it claims to justify its monopoly by reference to principles alleged to be authorized by its citizenry; i.e., it claims legitimacy along some such lines as those enunciated by Hobbes. The States you and I know about always do this. Nozick’s State doesn’t and doesn’t claim to, in part because the assumption is that there are some principles that are simply true, independently of anybody’s decisions about anything. Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether the State makes any such claim. But it would matter whether the claim were justified if it made it. Is it?

(1) Now my first point: It certainly isn’t a State in the sense we know about. Everyone in the State in question retains the right to withdraw from it at any time. Any subset of citizens could get together and declare independence. They could operate internally with their own set of laws, which they enforce upon each other with their own procedures — and the surrounding “State” couldn’t do a thing about it. Try this in any contemporary State and see where it gets you!

To be sure, there are States and States. If Quebec were to have a referendum in which the populace voted with a resounding majority to withdraw from Canada and form a state unto itself, leaders of the rest of Canada have made it clear that they would make no effort to stop them by force, and that verbal efforts would likely lead merely to negotiations about the precise terms of withdrawal. If New England attempted this with the United State of America, one supposes from the historical record that things would be rather different. So it goes. But Canada in turn would not tolerate withdrawal by, say, the Hutterite Community in Alberta or the Romanian minority in some obscure part of Ontario. The point is that the Nozickian minimal State retains a remarkable degree of anarchy. A State which admits it does not have the right to compel all of its citizens to conform to its laws in every particular is not what most of us would be inclined to recognize as a State; we are recognizably at the margin, where the question whether A is a state or not becomes essentially terminological.

(2) There is a certain amount of hocus-pocus in Nozick’s argument, to be sure. We will not discuss it here, especially since others have done so.8 But if it works at all, the argument appears to have the following general form. (a) Legitimate Association A comes very near to having the sort of monopoly of legitimate powers which States claim to have; (b) various considerations about the particular commodity A deals in bring it about that the gap between A and a genuine State can be effectively closed by a procedure of compensation for the few individuals separating its clientele from the whole population.

If this is a fair characterization of the procedure, then it is difficult to see why it should be confined to the particular commodity of protection.9 Isn’t this essentially the argument of the phone companies, the electricity boards, and the gas people? Suppose we start with competing companies in area X, an area that is ideally suited for a single system of the type in question. Companies A and B start stringing up rival lines or whatever; A offers a marginally better deal, more people buy into A, the cost of installing services by B consequently rises (its customers are farther apart, A-users being frequently interspersed among them), A ends up buying out B, and the few who don’t like it very much are strung along on their B contracts at B’s prices and levels of service until those contracts expire, leaving the customers with a choice of A-gas or nothing — and the customer ends up just going along. Below we shall explore the prospects of universal health insurance along broadly (but not narrowly) similar lines. What is not clear is that there is all that much in the way of structural difference between the Nozickian State and the gas company.

People in Ontario, Canada, have little inclination to think that Ontario Hydro (the provincial electric power monopoly) is denying them a bunch of fundamental rights. This, to be sure, is in part because it isn’t: anybody who wants to generate his own electricity in Ontario is welcome to go right ahead, and Hydro will be happy to buy up the excess or to supply deficiencies or provide back-up or whatever, and some actually do. Some people complain because Hydro has gone into nuclear power generation in a big (and, by the relevant standards, extremely successful) way. As things are, their complaint is essentially political, sinc Hydro is indeed a Provincially chartered public corporation. But what if the subject were a giant American private-enterprise electric corporation such as Con. Edison in New York? Would the power of any small set of objectors to affect its policy be materially different? Obviously not. In New York, rivals would have the right to try to establish an alternative company to compete for Con Ed’s franchise, but competition for business of this kind with a company of that size is no easier — indeed, a great deal more difficult, one would think — than organizing enough voters to force Ontario Hydro to cease utilizing nuclear generation. Neither of which will happen until one of Hydro’s generators goes berserk, in which case there would be hell to pay for any company utilizing them, public or private. Which is also not very dissimilar from the case with the public’s protective agencies. Corruption in the police force, if uncovered, will cause a most remarkable row in any reasonably functioning democracy.

This does not leave us with no differences, but it narrows certain gaps to a quite significant degree, as will be seen further.


Part of our idea of law is that it should be authoritative over everyone in the geographical area occupied by the society whose law it is. We should ask a few questions about this. (1) Which “geographical area”? There is no coherent principle for drawing the boundaries of nation-States in the modern sense of the term; and if we take seriously the idea that every individual has the ultimate rights and that collectives are legitimate only if they are associations rather than forced collectivities, then this purely definitional attribute of law is seen to have no interest whatever for establishing whether or not a given person should be subject to a given law. (2) And then, is geographical continuity actually necessary? If we look again at associations, what we will find is that highly discontinuous associations nevertheless have rules and regulations, and succeed sufficiently in enforcing them, the primary enforcement procedure being simple ejection from the association.

This raises the question whether a society could be fully anarchic with respect to law. Could different sets of individuals intermixed in the same geographical area be subject to very different sets of “laws”? Up to a point, there is no doubt that they can, since to a degree they actually do. Different religious communities, for instance, can interlace and yet impose very different requirements on their members

Are these actually “laws”, though? They certainly have some of the characteristics of law as we understand it. Those rules have generality and authority over the groups whose laws they are. Consequently, their members can use them to settle disputes by the process of weighing claims in the light of the rules in question, with appointed judges to engage in the weighing process.

What these partial sets of laws have in common is that they lack supreme authority over all, whether the individual has volunteered for coverage by them or not. That is the feature that we associate with law in the fullest sense of the term. And it is what makes the rule of law problematic if individual rights to liberty are to serve as its foundation. Given laws having that feature, we would be able to settle disputes between any two or more people in the society. Without them, where do we go?

The anarchist has at least a partial reply to this. He can point out that as things now are, different areas have different systems of law, so that when an individual from area Q goes to visit in area R and runs into a problem, there is a jurisdictional problem needing solution. And it is in fact solved by having representatives from the different systems meet and reach an agreement regarding the case in question. What would prevent the same solution being reached in a given area with rival legal systems obtaining within its bounds?10

Obviously there could be a practicality problem, especially if there were several such systems and not just two. Presumably there might also be a problem if some individuals belonged to no system whatever. However, there would seem to be a solution for this last problem. If individual A, subscribing to no legal system, got into trouble with an individual subscribing to System L, the administrators of L would simply apply their law to A, and that would be that. A is on her own.

But what about cases in which the respective legal systems of the differing parties could not reach an agreement? It is no good insisting that this can’t happen. Nor is it any good saying that they would then “have to” reach agreement. For who would make them do so? Why would they “have to”? It is when we consider this possibility that the theorist is likely to resort to an idea of “natural” law. If everyone were equipped with an intuition of what is right and wrong, then a basis for agreement would always exist. Wouldn’t it?

But it is fairly pointless to suppose this to be the case. And even those who think it is, like Locke, accept the possibility that there will be insoluble differences of interpretation about how that Law applies to particular cases. We are then back to the original problem which drove Locke to embrace Civil Government as the cure for all ills. But as we have seen, any Government inherently faces the problem of legitimacy from the point of view of non-consenting individuals, and we would seem to be off and running again.

A possible solution to this kind of problem may go as follows. When individuals from rival systems run into a problem of the kind we have envisaged, and efforts to reach agreement by representatives of the respective systems fail, the parties would have two options. Either (1) they would consent to a procedure of binding arbitration, or (2) it would be “settled” by force. If it is objected that force doesn’t settle anything, the reply is that that is perfectly true. All it does is to leave just one party in the field. If that isn’t satisfactory, then the case for preferring binding arbitration is evidently made. And if it isn’t satisfactory, then that is testimony to the truth of our guiding assumption here, that the State needs justification and that it will not be easy to supply it.

Enforcement and the Problem of Punishment

If we need to enforce laws, how do we do so? One of the most vexed areas of moral philosophy has been the theory of punishment, and we can hardly undertake a full-fledged study of the subject here. Nevertheless, there is an interesting, distinctively libertarian suggestion that is worth serious thought.

To begin, we should distinguish between ‘enforcement’ in the narrow sense of that term, in which it is virtually equated with ‘punishment’ and ‘reinforcement.’ Enforcement is part of a larger system which we may call ‘reinforcement’, and reinforcement, I have urged, has a central, or perhaps even the central role in moral philosophy. For an act to be obligatory or wrong is for it to be the case that its performance or nonperformance should be universally reinforced, positively or negatively. Positive reinforcement is reward — the carrot; negative is punishment — the stick. But the “stick” begins at home, and consists overwhelmingly of verbal reinforcement, accompanied by appropriate gestures and such.

The role of this level of reinforcement, basic to theory in my view, cannot be overemphasized in the larger context of criminal law. Studies have confirmed what common sense and Aristotle have both told us for a couple of millenia: if a child is properly brought up, he will have the disposition to cooperate and to obey reasonable rules.11 And if he is not, it is virtually certain that he won’t.

This is so to the degree that one might wonder why we do not hold parents responsible for the crimes of their children, especially those committed in their ‘teens. Some of libertarian persuasion will complain that this is a denial of human responsibility and basic freedom. But it is nothing of the sort. It would, on the contrary, be to hold responsible those who plainly are responsible for actions which violate our rightful liberty. The irresponsibility of children is a reflection of bad, and especially of inconsistent, upbringing by their parents. This is a correctible syndrome on the part of the parents. Needless to say, it would also be extremely and genuinely desirable for the children: faced with the choice between the kind of life generally available to the cooperative and law-abiding citizen and that led by the criminal, few will find the latter more attractive. But the basis for public concern about erring parents is not the well-being of their children, as such; it is the well-being of those who will be victims of the future criminal activities of the adults whom those children will ere long become.

Meanwhile, however, we must of course deal with those who do violate reasonably imposed requirements. Even at this level, it is clear that education is a nontrivial factor. One must wonder whether criminals genuinely believe that their crimes constitute rationally objectionable behavior, and if they do, why they continue to engage in it. The desirability, perhaps even the necessity, of effective verbal reinforcement at the adult level seems difficult in principle to deny. But we can’t expect much in the way of results if this part of the job of dealing with criminal behavior is left to the likes of clerics. Criticizing rationally objectionable behavior in the light of nonrational theological doctrines is unpromising when those who engage in the behavior are rational adults rather than impressionable children.

Punishment: the Options

Still, this leaves us with the need for further responses to criminal behavior. There are three theories in the field at present, two of which are theories of punishment properly so called, and the third of which, while it can reasonably be classified as a “theory of punishment”, is strictly a theory calling for a fundamentally different mode of responding to criminal acts. These are respectively those calling for retribution, deterrence/protection, and restitution or compensation. I offer a few remarks about the first two, and a little more about the third.

An important point to be born in mind throughout this discussion. Although for the sake of efficient exposition I use the term ‘crime’ to denote the set of actions we are concerned with here, it must be clearly understood that I am not using it in the sense of actions that are forbidden by the de facto criminal law of whatever community the acts in question take place in. Instead, we assume throughout that the acts forbidden are reasonably forbidden. The view that crime in the de facto sense ought to be punished is simply unacceptable. Bad laws should be eliminated, not enforced, and it is only slightly overly dramatic to suggest that those against whom they are enforced are the victims, those who enforce them the criminals.

Keeping this in mind, let’s turn to the remarks in question, taking the three theories in order: retribution, deterrence/protection, and restitution.


So understood, our theories are in fact a mixed bag. The “retributionist” aims to visit the criminal with an amount of negative utility roughly equal to that which the criminal inflicted on his victim. This is what punishment, on his view, should attempt to bring about. But pressed for an account of the rationale of this behavior, the retributionist characteristically has little to offer. Either he produces an intuitionist response of some sort, saying that lex talionis is a basic principle of human nature or some such thing; or he produces reasons which amount to shifting over to the deterrence/protection theory.

The difference between retribution and deterrence as theories of punishment can hardly be a difference about the basic purpose of having the system at all. That the purpose of having a punishment system in general is to protect the public is, in fact, too obvious to be a fit subject of discussion, and defenders of retribution do not, as they cannot, deny it. The thought that visiting pain upon people who have visited pain upon others is a kind of interesting entertainment, a charming spectacle, or a source of existentialist drama, and in one of those ways “valuable in and of itself”, is abhorrent to any retributionist. The question for retributionism has to be what the point of visiting this pain upon criminals might be, insofar as this pain is inflicted independently of what he agrees to be the point of having the criminal law system at all. And this, as I have suggested above, is really not easy to answer. It may indeed, and presumably often does, make the victims of criminal activity feel better. But it would be difficult for a retributionist to admit that this was the justification of retribution.

The Deterrence/Protection Theory

There is a great deal of confusion about the deterrence/protection view. The deterrence/protection theory has it that punishment is part of a broader social system whose purpose is to minimize crime; or rather, and much more precisely, to minimize the social costs of criminal behavior. Were there no such costs, there would be nothing to deter and nothing to exact retribution for. But, as the restitutionist will point out, if the costs were completely compensated, there would again be no obvious need for either deterrence or retribution.

This minimization of social costs has two aspects to it — not, as seems to be all but universally misunderstood, just one. No sane theory could hold that any procedure whatsoever would be completely justified if it could be shown to be reasonable to expect that it would reduce the overall probability of criminal behavior. What matters is costs, and while criminal behavior is a prominent source of such costs, it is obviously not the only one. Another obvious and major source of costs arises from the enforcement of the law, and the infliction of punishment itself. When punishments strike us as “excessive”, the sense is that we lose more than we gain by reacting to the particular crimes thus punished in the particular way that that punishment constitutes. All dealings with criminal behavior are to at least some degree costly, and it is obvious that the cost may be too high. When it is, a theory of punishment proposing to justify punishment by virtue of its expected reduction in criminal behavior must, in consistency, call for a reduction in the noncriminal activities that entail those excessive costs.

Now, the punishment system is one particular way of attempting to control criminal behavior. It is a very specialized way in fact, and cannot be appropriately employed in many cases of what we may term broadly criminal conduct, such as that in which the criminal activities are due to insanity. A punishment system, in fact, is an exercise in the rational control of behavior. Recognizing the facts of prisoner’s dilemma, we propose to prevent the criminal conduct by altering the values in the game-theoretic situation facing him: we attempt to attach disutilities to the outcomes in what would otherwise be the single-defect boxes by punishing the agent sufficiently to make the crime in question unattractive to him.

The proposal to do this generates further perplexities, to be sure. Nozick observes that “‘the penalty for a crime should be the minimal one necessary to deter commission of it’ provides no guidance until we’re told how much commission of it is to be deterred. If all commission is to be deterred, so that the crime is eliminated, the pnalty will be set unacceptably high. If only one instance of the crime is to be deterred, so that there is merely less of the crime than there would be with no penalty at all, the penalty will be unacceptably low .. Where in between is the goal and penalty to be set?”12 Plainly at a minimum, it must just more than offset the gain from the proposed crime. Determination of the maximum would be set by several considerations, a main one being the concern that we not induce people to ignore the difference between lesser and greater crimes, and another the increase in risk for all when high penalties are used, due to the probability of convicting the innocent. Whether this completely answers the criticism, however, can’t be determined here.

What matters is that this procedure absolutely presupposes capability of rational behavior on the part of the criminal. Nor is that all. It also absolutely presupposes that the penalties in question be must, in order for the system to function as intended, publicly attached to the acts in question. The would-be criminal, A, cannot be deterred by the threat of punishment P for crime C unless A knows ahead of time that C will get him P. A further point. C is only one crime among many others. Being concerned with crime because we are concerned with the disutility it brings, we must therefore be concerned to deter criminal activity in proportion to its expected disvalue to us. We must therefore attach greater penalties to greater crimes, since otherwise the criminal’s motivation to refrain from lesser crimes will only be equal to, or perhaps greater than, his motivation to refrain from greater ones. But by definition, we are more interested in the nonperformance of greater ones than lesser ones, other things being equal.

It has not been sufficiently noticed that the result of this approach to crime and punishment is that we must attempt to bring it about that (a) nonrational persons are not to be punished, but require a different kind of response (“treatment”) — to assimilate punishment to treatment has to be self-defeating; (b) the punishment must be proportionate to the crime; and (c) all and only guilty persons should be punished (or if not outrightly punished, at least apprehended, arraigned, and warned, as with a lighter punishment or suspended sentence for the first offense).

Why (c)? If we ask, what is the point of punishing any particular criminal, A, within the framework of deterrence/protection, the answer has to be twofold: (1) it renders A’s repetition of the crime impossible during the period of punishment (if, as typically, it is by incarceration); (2) it hopefully decreases the probability of A’s repetition when his punishment is concluded, by graphically bringing home to him what he’s in for if he does repeat; and (3) it adds evidence, for the benefit of prospective criminals, to the hypothesis that crime does not pay, i.e. that if they commit C, then there is a sufficient probability of P, which by hypothesis is sufficient so that if that probability were 1.0 it would deter the rational prospective criminal from committing the crime.

The amount of misunderstanding generated on this last point in the philosophical profession is truly depressing. Indeed, the standard, text-book objection to the deterrence/protection system, found in virtually every discussion of this theory in the literature, is that it would justify punishment of the innocent, namely in those cases where punishing person B would bring it about that less crime is committed by persons A who take the punishment of B as evidence that they too will be punished. The problem here is simple: the objction depends absolutely on misperception. And if B is innocent, then there are two obvious problems: first, the point of the system is to avoid costs on law-abiding persons. (We can say, simply, to avoid costs on persons, but it is part of the logic of the deterrence-protection system that once a person has inflicted such a cost on someone else, that makes him eligible for having costs inflicted on him. The net effect is, therefore, that the point of the system is to avoid costs on law-abiding persons.) But if people are going to be punished whether or not they are guilty, why should they bother to abide by the law? To the rational person, law-abidingness if not a good in itself. It is a means, to the general end of living a better life. That B, in this case, has been done a signal injustice is entailed by the framing presupposition of a deterrance system.

And second: given that B is innocent, it follows that someone else, call him A, has in fact done the crime and that A, far from being deterred, has now been given a new incentive to continue criminal activity, since the public’s action in willingly punishing innocent B despite the fact of his innocence shows A that the system doesn’t work — that he, A, can commit crimes with impunity. And thus, of course, the public has not been protected — which was the whole point of the punishment system according to this theory. Punishing the innocent, and not punishing the guilty, are by definition the two ways in which a deterrence-protection-based punishment system fails.


Another view, so different as to amount to a different idea altogether about how to respond to crime, proposes that we simply junk the idea of punishment, as such. Crime, after all, consists in inflicting disutilies on someone or other. From the point of view of that person (the “victim”), this suggests a quite especially appropriate mode of response: make the criminal compensate the victim. How much? The property theory supplies the relevant basis for an answer. The criminal, C, has taken something that belongs to the victim, V, and this had a certain value, to V. Thus there is a measure of cost: the difference between the value of V’s life to V had things gone on as usual and its value, reduced by the criminal act, given the occurrence of the criminal act, x. So the criminal owes the victim enough restitution, R, to restore V’s life to the level it would have otherwise enjoyed.13

In simple cases, the effect is easy enough to determine. Suppose that C has deprived V of some material good, M. Obviously C owes V the return of M. This component of the restitution, then, we may call Rm. In the process of identifying C, V incurs various costs of apprehension and detection — paying detectives and lawyers, for instance. C, of course, has caused these costs as well by his criminal act, and so these too must be added to his “bill”: this component is Ra. And so too must V’s inability to enjoy M during the period before it is restored to him. It too has an estimable cost, compensation for lose use-time of the material good M: Ru. The total bill, then, is Ra + Rm + Ru, = R.

The idealized level of full compensation, as it is called, in the uonlikely event that it could always be met, would seem to have the fascinating feature that if it could be perfectly administered, it would render criminal activity a non-problem. In the first place, since it is all but impossible that R would be exceeded by the criminal’s gain in performing the act x in the first place, the full-compensation system would probably also function as a full-deterrence system. It is unlikely that there would be any criminal activity. And in the second place, the occurrence of crime would become literally a matter of indifference to the victim, since by hypothesis, full compensation would leave the victim precisely as well off as if the crime had never occurred!

Some defenders of retribution mistakenly assimilate it to compensation. But this is an unlikely assimilation as a general hypothesis, for the psychic satisfaction to me of seeing the man who crashed my new

Lotus sitting behind bars for a year is unlikely to be equal to the satisfactions of driving and admiring it during the period of disruption. So long as the victim is left otherwise uncompensated, indeed, it would seem that she has a justifiable complaint against any punishment system. For the benefits of punishment from her point of view are generally likely to be next-to-nil. She is still without whatever it was that the criminal took from her, and what she is offered in exchange is not only virtually irrelevant but also, when you think of it, of such a kind as to reflect adversely on her taste: do we really want to be the kind of people who derive as much satisfaction from the sight of others being punished as we would have from the use and enjoyment of whatever he has taken from us? But that is what a punishment system encourages.

Obviously the problem is that there will be many criminal acts which it is impossible to compensate for. The class instance is murder, where compensation to the victim herself is out of the question, and compoensation to the others concerned likely to be problematic in the extreme. (What parent will be equally happy with several million dollars as they would have been with their murdered son or daughter?) or those which entail loss of bodily or mental powers (same question, with the examples of total loss of memory, or of both legs, or ….). And there is the further point that in the more important cases, compensation will be impossible because the criminal simply won’t command the necessary resources. Life enslavement to the victim or her family, in the form of, say, 80% of his future income for life, might be considered. And here, interestingly enough, we have an example that will likely strike the upholder of the more usual punishment system as a case of gross injustice. (A smashes your Lamborghini, or he burns up your Rembrandt; the interest on the equivalent monmetary value of which would exceed A’s maximum earnings in any given year.) Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that the deterrent value of required compensation, were the requirement highly likely to be fulfilled, would probably be quite enormous.

The fact that compensation would often not be forthcoming either due to inability to catch the offender or inability to pay if he is caught would motivate us to take out “crime insurance”, which in turn would motivate the insurance company to catch such criminals as it profitably could. Criminals would have plenty to fear from these highly motivated companies, who of course would acquire from their clients the right to such compensation as they could exact, at least up to the level of full restitution. It would be interesting to know whether the net effect would be more satisfactory than the current system, but when you consider the all but total failure of the punishment system actually employed in, say, the USA and Canada, it is difficult to believe that it wouldn’t be a major improvement.14

Everyone agrees that we have very far to go in the way of improving our system of responding to crime. It is a sobering thought that the response of getting rid of the one the most spectularly cost-ineffective systems in the history of mankind short of war is also perhaps even less likely to be seriously considered than is abolition of war.

Ch. 16 (288-328) notes

1. John Hospers, Libertarianism (Los Angeles: Nash, 1971), p. 17
2. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (London, 1651), ch. 18
3. James Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 154
4. Buchanan, p. 155
5. Buchanan, p. 158
6. John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1980)
7. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (NY: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 118-119. The argument in fact occupies the opening five chapters and is exceedingly intricate.
8. Cf. the careful detective work on this argument in Robert Holmes’ “Nozick on Anarchism”, in Jeffrey Paul, Reading Nozick (Totawa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981), pp. 57-67.
9. Henry Shue advanced a criticism in “The Bogus Distinction- “Negative” and “Positive” Rights” (in Norman E. Bowie, Making Ethical Decisions (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1985), pp. 223-231 which is relevant here. I reject, of course, the thesis that the distinction is bogus. But it is essential to bear in mind that people do not have a fundamental right to protection any more than to any other service people could supply. There has to be an argument why the State should do no more if it does anything at all.
10. David Suits speculates interestingly on this in “On Locke’s Argument for Government”, Journal of Libertarian Studies,, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1977, pp. 195-203.
11. James Q. Wilson, [title?] Atlantic Magazine, July 1985. [Check this?]
12. Nozick, p. 61 13. Nozick, Ch. 4, esp. pp. 78-84. 14. An important thinker along these lines is Randy Barnett. See his “Restitution – A New Paradigm of Criminal Justice”, Ethics, Vol. 87, No. 4, July 1977, pp 279-301.


The Politics of Obedience:
The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
by Étienne de la Boétie, 1548

I see no good in having several lords;
Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.

THESE WORDS Homer puts in the mouth of Ulysses,1 as he addresses the people. If he had said nothing further than “I see no good in having several lords,” it would have been well spoken. For the sake of logic he should have maintained that the rule of several could not be good since the power of one man alone, as soon as he acquires the title of master, becomes abusive and unreasonable. Instead he declared what seems preposterous: “Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.” We must not be critical of Ulysses, who at the moment was perhaps obliged to speak these words in order to quell a mutiny in the army, for this reason, in my opinion, choosing language to meet the emergency rather than the truth. Yet, in the light of reason, it is a great misfortune to be at the beck and call of one master, for it is impossible to be sure that he is going to be kind, since it is always in his power to be cruel whenever he pleases. As for having several masters, according to the number one has, it amounts to being that many times unfortunate. Although I do not wish at this time to discuss this much debated question, namely whether other types of government are preferable to monarchy,2 still I should like to know, before casting doubt on the place that monarchy should occupy among commonwealths, whether or not it belongs to such a group, since it is hard to believe that there is anything of common wealth in a country where everything belongs to one master. This question, however, can remain for another time and would really require a separate treatment involving by its very nature all sorts of political discussion.

FOR THE PRESENT I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they, but simply, it would seem, delighted and charmed by the name of one man alone whose power they need not fear, for he is evidently the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them. A weakness characteristic of human kind is that we often have to obey force; we have to make concessions; we ourselves cannot always be the stronger. Therefore, when a nation is constrained by the fortune of war to serve a single clique, as happened when the city of Athens served the thirty Tyrants3 one should not be amazed that the nation obeys, but simply be grieved by the situation; or rather, instead of being amazed or saddened, consider patiently the evil and look forward hopefully toward a happier future.

Our nature is such that the common duties of human relationship occupy a great part of the course of our life. It is reasonable to love virtue, to esteem good deeds, to be grateful for good from whatever source we may receive it, and, often, to give up some of our comfort in order to increase the honor and advantage of some man whom we love and who deserves it. Therefore, if the inhabitants of a country have found some great personage who has shown rare foresight in protecting them in an emergency, rare boldness in defending them, rare solicitude in governing them, and if, from that point on, they contract the habit of obeying him and depending on him to such an extent that they grant him certain prerogatives, I fear that such a procedure is not prudent, inasmuch as they remove him from a position in which he was doing good and advance him to a dignity in which he may do evil. Certainly while he continues to manifest good will one need fear no harm from a man who seems to be generally well disposed.

But O good Lord! What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over? These wretches have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that they can call their own. They suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; not only without energy to direct men by force, but with hardly enough virility to bed with a common woman! Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? Shall we say that those who serve him are cowardly and faint-hearted? If two, if three, if four, do not defend themselves from the one, we might call that circumstance surprising but nevertheless conceivable. In such a case one might be justified in suspecting a lack of courage. But if a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice? When not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred provinces, a thousand cities, a million men, refuse to assail a single man from whom the kindest treatment received is the infliction of serfdom and slavery, what shall we call that? Is it cowardice? Of course there is in every vice inevitably some limit beyond which one cannot go. Two, possibly ten, may fear one; but when a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth, any more than valor can be termed the effort of one individual to scale a fortress, to attack an army, or to conquer a kingdom. What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough, which nature herself disavows and our tongues refuse to name?

Place on one side fifty thousand armed men, and on the other the same number; let them join in battle, one side fighting to retain its liberty, the other to take it away; to which would you, at a guess, promise victory? Which men do you think would march more gallantly to combat—those who anticipate as a reward for their suffering the maintenance of their freedom, or those who cannot expect any other prize for the blows exchanged than the enslavement of others? One side will have before its eyes the blessings of the past and the hope of similar joy in the future; their thoughts will dwell less on the comparatively brief pain of battle than on what they may have to endure forever, they, their children, and all their posterity. The other side has nothing to inspire it with courage except the weak urge of greed, which fades before danger and which can never be so keen, it seems to me, that it will not be dismayed by the least drop of blood from wounds. Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades,4 Leonidas,5 Themistocles,6 still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?

It amazes us to hear accounts of the valor that liberty arouses in the hearts of those who defend it; but who could believe reports of what goes on every day among the inhabitants of some countries, who could really believe that one man alone may mistreat a hundred thousand and deprive them of their liberty? Who would credit such a report if he merely heard it, without being present to witness the event? And if this condition occurred only in distant lands and were reported to us, which one among us would not assume the tale to be imagined or invented, and not really true? Obviously there is no need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything, but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it. If it cost the people anything to recover its freedom, I should not urge action to this end, although there is nothing a human should hold more dear than the restoration of his own natural right, to change himself from a beast of burden back to a man, so to speak. I do not demand of him so much boldness; let him prefer the doubtful security of living wretchedly to the uncertain hope of living as he pleases. What then? If in order to have liberty nothing more is needed than to long for it, if only a simple act of the will is necessary, is there any nation in the world that considers a single wish too high a price to pay in order to recover rights which it ought to be ready to redeem at the cost of its blood, rights such that their loss must bring all men of honor to the point of feeling life to be unendurable and death itself a deliverance?

Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.

To achieve the good that they desire, the bold do not fear danger; the intelligent do not refuse to undergo suffering. It is the stupid and cowardly who are neither able to endure hardship nor to vindicate their rights; they stop at merely longing for them, and lose through timidity the valor roused by the effort to claim their rights, although the desire to enjoy them still remains as part of their nature. A longing common to both the wise and the foolish, to brave men and to cowards, is this longing for all those things which, when acquired, would make them happy and contented. Yet one element appears to be lacking. I do not know how it happens that nature fails to place within the hearts of men a burning desire for liberty, a blessing so great and so desirable that when it is lost all evils follow thereafter, and even the blessings that remain lose taste and savor because of their corruption by servitude. Liberty is the only joy upon which men do not seem to insist; for surely if they really wanted it they would receive it. Apparently they refuse this wonderful privilege because it is so easily acquired.

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows—to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.

(Part II)

DOCTORS ARE NO DOUBT CORRECT in warning us not to touch incurable wounds; and I am presumably taking chances in preaching as I do to a people which has long lost all sensitivity and, no longer conscious of its infirmity, is plainly suffering from mortal illness. Let us therefore understand by logic, if we can, how it happens that this obstinate willingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of liberty now seems no longer natural.

In the first place, all would agree that, if we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody. Concerning the obedience given instinctively to one’s father and mother, we are in agreement, each one admitting himself to be a model. As to whether reason is born with us or not, that is a question loudly discussed by academicians and treated by all schools of philosophers. For the present I think I do not err in stating that there is in our souls some native seed of reason, which, if nourished by good counsel and training, flowers into virtue, but which, on the other hand, if unable to resist the vices surrounding it, is stifled and blighted. Yet surely if there is anything in this world clear and obvious, to which one cannot close one’s eyes, it is the fact that nature, handmaiden of God, governess of men, has cast us all in the same mold in order that we may behold in one another companions, or rather brothers. If in distributing her gifts nature has favored some more than others with respect to body or spirit, she has nevertheless not planned to place us within this world as if it were a field of battle, and has not endowed the stronger or the cleverer in order that they may act like armed brigands in a forest and attack the weaker. One should rather conclude that in distributing larger shares to some and smaller shares to others, nature has intended to give occasion for brotherly love to become manifest, some of us having the strength to give help to others who are in need of it. Hence, since this kind mother has given us the whole world as a dwelling place, has lodged us in the same house, has fashioned us according to the same model so that in beholding one another we might almost recognize ourselves; since she has bestowed upon us all the great gift of voice and speech for fraternal relationship, thus achieving by the common and mutual statement of our thoughts a communion of our wills; and since she has tried in every way to narrow and tighten the bond of our union and kinship; since she has revealed in every possible manner her intention, not so much to associate us as to make us one organic whole, there can be no further doubt that we are all naturally free, inasmuch as we are all comrades. Accordingly it should not enter the mind of anyone that nature has placed some of us in slavery, since she has actually created us all in one likeness.

Therefore it is fruitless to argue whether or not liberty is natural, since none can be held in slavery without being wronged, and in a world governed by a nature, which is reasonable, there is nothing so contrary as an injustice. Since freedom is our natural state, we are not only in possession of it but have the urge to defend it. Now, if perchance some cast a doubt on this conclusion and are so corrupted that they are not able to recognize their rights and inborn tendencies, I shall have to do them the honor that is properly theirs and place, so to speak, brute beasts in the pulpit to throw light on their nature and condition, The very beasts, God help me! if men are not too deaf, cry out to them, “Long live Liberty!” Many among them die as soon as captured: just as the fish loses life as soon as he leaves the water, so do these creatures close their eyes upon the light and have no desire to survive the loss of their natural freedom. If the animals were to constitute their kingdom by rank, their nobility would be chosen from this type. Others, from the largest to the smallest, when captured put up such a strong resistance by means of claws, horns, beak, and paws, that they show clearly enough how they cling to what they are losing; afterwards in captivity they manifest by so many evident signs their awareness of their misfortune, that it is easy to see they are languishing rather than living, and continue their existence—more in lamentation of their lost freedom than in enjoyment of their servitude. What else can explain the behavior of the elephant who, after defending himself to the last ounce of his strength and knowing himself on the point of being taken, dashes his jaws against the trees and breaks his tusks, thus manifesting his longing to remain free as he has been and proving his wit and ability to buy off the huntsmen in the hope that through the sacrifice of his tusks he will be permitted to offer his ivory as a ransom for his liberty? We feed the horse from birth in order to train him to do our bidding. Yet he is tamed with such difficulty that when we begin to break him in he bites the bit, he rears at the touch of the spur, as if to reveal his instinct and show by his actions that, if he obeys, he does so not of his own free will but under constraint. What more can we say?

Even the oxen under the weight of the yoke complain,
And the birds in their cage lament,

as I expressed it some time ago, toying with our French poesy. For I shall not hesitate in writing to you, O Longa, to introduce some of my verses, which I never read to you because of your obvious encouragement which is quite likely to make me conceited. And now, since all beings, because they feel, suffer misery in subjection and long for liberty; since the very beasts, although made for the service of man, cannot become accustomed to control without protest, what evil chance has so denatured man that he, the only creature really born to be free, lacks the memory of his original condition and the desire to return to it?

There are three kinds of tyrants; some receive their proud position through elections by the people, others by force of arms, others by inheritance. Those who have acquired power by means of war act in such wise that it is evident they rule over a conquered country. Those who are born to kingship are scarcely any better, because they are nourished on the breast of tyranny, suck in with their milk the instincts of the tyrant, and consider the people under them as their inherited serfs; and according to their individual disposition, miserly or prodigal, they treat their kingdom as their property. He who has received the state from the people, however, ought to be, it seems to me, more bearable and would be so, I think, were it not for the fact that as soon as he sees himself higher than the others, flattered by that quality which we call grandeur, he plans never to relinquish his position. Such a man usually determines to pass on to his children the authority that the people have conferred upon him; and once his heirs have taken this attitude, strange it is how far they surpass other tyrants in all sorts of vices, and especially in cruelty, because they find no other means to impose this new tyranny than by tightening control and removing their subjects so far from any notion of liberty that even if the memory of it is fresh it will soon be eradicated. Yet, to speak accurately, I do perceive that there is some difference among these three types of tyranny, but as for stating a preference, I cannot grant there is any. For although the means of coming into power differ, still the method of ruling is practically the same; those who are elected act as if they were breaking in bullocks; those who are conquerors make the people their prey; those who are heirs plan to treat them as if they were their natural slaves.

In connection with this, let us imagine some newborn individuals, neither acquainted with slavery nor desirous of liberty, ignorant indeed of the very words. If they were permitted to choose between being slaves and free men, to which would they give their vote? There can be no doubt that they would much prefer to be guided by reason itself than to be ordered about by the whims of a single man. The only possible exception might be the Israelites who, without any compulsion or need, appointed a tyrant.7 I can never read their history without becoming angered and even inhuman enough to find satisfaction in the many evils that befell them on this account. But certainly all men, as long as they remain men, before letting themselves become enslaved must either be driven by force or led into it by deception; conquered by foreign armies, as were Sparta and Athens by the forces of Alexander8 or by political factions, as when at an earlier period the control of Athens had passed into the hands of Pisistrates.9 When they lose their liberty through deceit they are not so often betrayed by others as misled by themselves. This was the case with the people of Syracuse, chief city of Sicily when, in the throes of war and heedlessly planning only for the present danger, they promoted Denis,10 their first tyrant, by entrusting to him the command of the army, without realizing that they had given him such power that on his victorious return this worthy man would behave as if he had vanquished not his enemies but his compatriots, transforming himself from captain to king, and then from king to tyrant.11

It is incredible how as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say, on beholding such a situation, that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement. It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born. There is, however, no heir so spendthrift or indifferent that he does not sometimes scan the account books of his father in order to see if he is enjoying all the privileges of his legacy or whether, perchance, his rights and those of his predecessor have not been encroached upon. Nevertheless it is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection. It is said that Mithridates12 trained himself to drink poison. Like him we learn to swallow, and not to find bitter, the venom of servitude. It cannot be denied that nature is influential in shaping us to her will and making us reveal our rich or meager endowment; yet it must be admitted that she has less power over us than custom, for the reason that native endowment, no matter how good, is dissipated unless encouraged, whereas environment always shapes us in its own way, whatever that may be, in spite of nature’s gifts. The good seed that nature plants in us is so slight and so slippery that it cannot withstand the least harm from wrong nourishment; it flourishes less easily, becomes spoiled, withers, and comes to nothing. Fruit trees retain their own particular quality if permitted to grow undisturbed, but lose it promptly and bear strange fruit not their own when ingrafted. Every herb has its peculiar characteristics, its virtues and properties; yet frost, weather, soil, or the gardener’s hand increase or diminish its strength; the plant seen one spot cannot be recognized in another.

Whoever could have observed the early Venetians, a handful of people living so freely that the most wicked among them would not wish to be king over them, so born and trained that they would not vie with one another except as to which one could give the best counsel and nurture their liberty most carefully, so instructed and developed from their cradles that they would not exchange for all the other delights of the world an iota of their freedom; who, I say, familiar with the original nature of such a people, could visit today the territories of the man known as the Great Doge,13 and there contemplate with composure a people unwilling to live except to serve him, and maintaining his power at the cost of their lives? Who would believe that these two groups of people had an identical origin? Would one not rather conclude that upon leaving a city of men he had chanced upon a menagerie of beasts? Lycurgus,14 the lawgiver of Sparta, is reported to have reared two dogs of the same litter by fattening one in the kitchen and training the other in the fields to the sound of the bugle and the horn, thereby to demonstrate to the Lacedaemonians that men, too, develop according to their early habits. He set the two dogs in the open market place, and between them he placed a bowl of soup and a hare. One ran to the bowl of soup, the other to the hare; yet they were, as he maintained, born brothers of the same parents. In such manner did this leader, by his laws and customs, shape and instruct the Spartans so well that any one of them would sooner have died than acknowledge any sovereign other than law and reason.

It gives me pleasure to recall a conversation of the olden time between one of the favorites of Xerxes, the great king of Persia, and two Lacedaemonians. When Xerxes equipped his great army to conquer Greece, he sent his ambassadors into the Greek cities to ask for water and earth. That was the procedure the Persians adopted in summoning the cities to surrender. Neither to Athens nor to Sparta, however, did he dispatch such messengers, because those who had been sent there by Darius his father had been thrown, by the Athenians and Spartans, some into ditches and others into wells, with the invitation to help themselves freely there to water and soil to take back to their prince. Those Greeks could not permit even the slightest suggestion of encroachment upon their liberty. The Spartans suspected, nevertheless, that they had incurred the wrath of the gods by their action, and especially the wrath of Talthybios, the god of the heralds; in order to appease him they decided to send Xerxes two of their citizens in atonement for the cruel death inflicted upon the ambassadors of his father. Two Spartans, one named Sperte and the other Bulis, volunteered to offer themselves as a sacrifice. So they departed, and on the way they came to the palace of the Persian named Hydarnes, lieutenant of the king in all the Asiatic cities situated on the sea coasts. He received them with great honor, feasted them, and then, speaking of one thing and another, he asked them why they refused so obdurately his king’s friendship. “Consider well, O Spartans,” said he, “and realize by my example that the king knows how to honor those who are worthy, and believe that if you were his men he would do the same for you; if you belonged to him and he had known you, there is not one among you who might not be the lord of some Greek city.”

“By such words, Hydarnes, you give us no good counsel,” replied the Lacedaemonians, “because you have experienced merely the advantage of which you speak; you do not know the privilege we enjoy. You have the honor of the king’s favor; but you know nothing about liberty, what relish it has and how sweet it is. For if you had any knowledge of it, you yourself would advise us to defend it, not with lance and shield, but with our very teeth and nails.”

Only Spartans could give such an answer, and surely both of them spoke as they had been trained. It was impossible for the Persian to regret liberty, not having known it, nor for the Lacedaemonians to find subjection acceptable after having enjoyed freedom.

Cato the Utican, while still a child under the rod, could come and go in the house of Sylla the despot. Because of the place and family of his origin and because he and Sylla were close relatives, the door was never closed to him. He always had his teacher with him when he went there, as was the custom for children of noble birth. He noticed that in the house of Sylla, in the dictator’s presence or at his command, some men were imprisoned and others sentenced; one was banished, another was strangled; one demanded the goods of another citizen, another his head; in short, all went there, not as to the house of a city magistrate but as to the people’s tyrant, and this was therefore not a court of justice, but rather a resort of tyranny. Whereupon the young lad said to his teacher, “Why don’t you give me a dagger? I will hide it under my robe. I often go into Sylla’s room before he is risen, and my arm is strong enough to rid the city of him.” There is a speech truly characteristic of Cato; it was a true beginning of this hero so worthy of his end. And should one not mention his name or his country, but state merely the fact as it is, the episode itself would speak eloquently, and anyone would divine that he was a Roman born in Rome at the time when she was free.

And why all this? Certainly not because I believe that the land or the region has anything to do with it, for in any place and in any climate subjection is bitter and to be free is pleasant; but merely because I am of the opinion that one should pity those who, at birth, arrive with the yoke upon their necks. We should exonerate and forgive them, since they have not seen even the shadow of liberty, and, being quite unaware of it, cannot perceive the evil endured through their own slavery. If there were actually a country like that of the Cimmerians mentioned by Homer,15 where the sun shines otherwise than on our own, shedding its radiance steadily for six successive months and then leaving humanity to drowse in obscurity until it returns at the end of another half-year, should we be surprised to learn that those born during this long night do grow so accustomed to their native darkness that unless they were told about the sun they would have no desire to see the light? One never pines for what he has never known; longing comes only after enjoyment and constitutes, amidst the experience of sorrow, the memory of past joy. It is truly the nature of man to be free and to wish to be so, yet his character is such that he instinctively follows the tendencies that his training gives him.

Let us therefore admit that all those things to which he is trained and accustomed seem natural to man and that only that is truly native to him which he receives with his primitive, untrained individuality. Thus custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude. Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.

There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection and who always, like Ulysses on land and sea constantly seeking the smoke of his chimney, cannot prevent themselves from peering about for their natural privileges and from remembering their ancestors and their former ways. These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.

The Grand Turk16 was well aware that books and teaching more than anything else give men the sense to comprehend their own nature and to detest tyranny. I understand that in his territory there are few educated people, for he does not want many. On account of this restriction, men of strong zeal and devotion, who in spite of the passing of time have preserved their love of freedom, still remain ineffective because, however numerous they may be, they are not known to one another; under the tyrant they have lost freedom of action, of speech, and almost of thought; they are alone in their aspiration. Indeed Momus, god of mockery, was not merely joking when he found this to criticize in the man fashioned by Vulcan, namely, that the maker had not set a little window in his creature’s heart to render his thoughts visible. It is reported that Brutus, Cassius, and Casca, on undertaking to free Rome, and for that matter the whole world, refused to include in their band Cicero, that great enthusiast for the public welfare if ever there was one, because they considered his heart too timid for such a lofty deed; they trusted his willingness but they were none too sure of his courage. Yet whoever studies the deeds of earlier days and the annals of antiquity will find practically no instance of heroes who failed to deliver their country from evil hands when they set about their task with a firm, whole-hearted, and sincere intention. Liberty, as if to reveal her nature, seems to have given them new strength. Harmodios and Aristogiton, Thrasybulus, Brutus the Elder, Valerianus, and Dion achieved successfully what they planned virtuously: for hardly ever does good fortune fail a strong will. Brutus the Younger and Cassius were successful in eliminating servitude, and although they perished in their attempt to restore liberty, they did not die miserably (what blasphemy it would be to say there was anything miserable about these men, either in their death or in their living!).17 Their loss worked great harm, everlasting misfortune, and complete destruction of the Republic, which appears to have been buried with them. Other and later undertakings against the Roman emperors were merely plottings of ambitious people, who deserve no pity for the misfortunes that overtook them, for it is evident that they sought not to destroy, but merely to usurp the crown, scheming to drive away the tyrant, but to retain tyranny. For myself, I could not wish such men to propser and I am glad they have shown by their example that the sacred name of Liberty must never be used to cover a false enterprise.

But to come back to the thread of our discourse, which I have practically lost: the essential reason why men take orders willingly is that they are born serfs and are reared as such. From this cause there follows another result, namely that people easily become cowardly and submissive under tyrants. For this observation I am deeply grateful to Hippocrates, the renowned father of medicine, who noted and reported it in a treatise of his entitled Concerning Diseases. This famous man was certainly endowed with a great heart and proved it clearly by his reply to the Great King, who wanted to attach him to his person by means of special privileges and large gifts. Hippocrates answered frankly that it would be a weight on his conscience to make use of his science for the cure of barbarians who wished to slay his fellow Greeks, or to serve faithfully by his skill anyone who undertook to enslave Greece. The letter he sent the king can still be read among his other works and will forever testify to his great heart and noble character.

By this time it should be evident that liberty once lost, valor also perishes. A subject people shows neither gladness nor eagerness in combat: its men march sullenly to danger almost as if in bonds, and stultified; they do not feel throbbing within them that eagerness for liberty which engenders scorn of peril and imparts readiness to acquire honor and glory by a brave death amidst one’s comrades. Among free men there is competition as to who will do most, each for the common good, each by himself, all expecting to share in the misfortunes of defeat, or in the benefits of victory; but an enslaved people loses in addition to this warlike courage, all signs of enthusiasm, for their hearts are degraded, submissive, and incapable of any great deed. Tyrants are well aware of this, and, in order to degrade their subjects further, encourage them to assume this attitude and make it instinctive.

Xenophon, grave historian of first rank among the Greeks, wrote a book in which he makes Simonides speak with Hieron, Tyrant of Syracuse, concerning the anxieties of the tyrant. This book is full of fine and serious remonstrances, which in my opinion are as persuasive as words can be. Would to God that all despots who have ever lived might have kept it before their eyes and used it as a mirror! I cannot believe they would have failed to recognize their warts and to have conceived some shame for their blotches. In this treatise is explained the torment in which tyrants find themselves when obliged to fear everyone because they do evil unto every man. Among other things we find the statement that bad kings employ foreigners in their wars and pay them, not daring to entrust weapons in the hands of their own people, whom they have wronged. (There have been good kings who have used mercenaries from foreign nations, even among the French, although more so formerly than today, but with the quite different purpose of preserving their own people, considering as nothing the loss of money in the effort to spare French lives. That is, I believe, what Scipio the great African meant when he said he would rather save one citizen than defeat a hundred enemies.) For it is plainly evident that the dictator does not consider his power firmly established until he has reached the point where there is no man under him who is of any worth. Therefore there may be justly applied to him the reproach to the master of the elephants made by Thrason and reported by Terence:

Are you indeed so proud
Because you command wild beasts?

This method tyrants use of stultifying their subjects cannot be more clearly observed than in what Cyrus did with the Lydians after he had taken Sardis, their chief city, and had at his mercy the captured Croesus, their fabulously rich king. When news was brought to him that the people of Sardis had rebelled, it would have been easy for him to reduce them by force; but being unwilling either to sack such a fine city or to maintain an army there to police it, he thought of an unusual expedient for reducing it. He established in it brothels, taverns, and public games, and issued the proclamation that the inhabitants were to enjoy them. He found this type of garrison so effective that he never again had to draw the sword against the Lydians. These wretched people enjoyed themselves inventing all kinds of games, so that the Latins have derived the word from them, and what we call pastimes they call ludi, as if they meant to say Lydi. Not all tyrants have manifested so clearly their intention to effeminize their victims; but in fact, what the aforementioned despot publicly proclaimed and put into effect, most of the others have pursued secretly as an end. It is indeed the nature of the populace, whose density is always greater in the cities, to be suspicious toward one who has their welfare at heart, and gullible toward one who fools them. Do not imagine that there is any bird more easily caught by decoy, nor any fish sooner fixed on the hook by wormy bait, than are all these poor fools neatly tricked into servitude by the slightest feather passed, so to speak, before their mouths. Truly it is a marvelous thing that they let themselves be caught so quickly at the slightest tickling of their fancy. Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. A man might one day be presented with a sesterce and gorge himself at the public feast, lauding Tiberius and Nero for handsome liberality, who on the morrow, would be forced to abandon his property to their avarice, his children to their lust, his very blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, without offering any more resistance than a stone or a tree stump. The mob has always behaved in this way—eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted, and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured. Nowadays I do not meet anyone who, on hearing mention of Nero, does not shudder at the very name of that hideous monster, that disgusting and vile pestilence. Yet when he died—when this incendiary, this executioner, this savage beast, died as vilely as he had lived—the noble Roman people, mindful of his games and his festivals, were saddened to the point of wearing mourning for him. Thus wrote Cornelius Tacitus, a competent and serious author, and one of the most reliable. This will not be considered peculiar in view of what this same people had previously done at the death of Julius Caesar, who had swept away their laws and their liberty, in whose character, it seems to me, there was nothing worth while, for his very liberality, which is so highly praised, was more baneful than the cruelest tyrant who ever existed, because it was actually this poisonous amiability of his that sweetened servitude for the Roman people. After his death, that people, still preserving on their palates the flavor of his banquets and in their minds the memory of his prodigality, vied with one another to pay him homage. They piled up the seats of the Forum for the great fire that reduced his body to ashes, and later raised a column to him as to “The Father of His People.” (Such was the inscription on the capital.) They did him more honor, dead as he was, than they had any right to confer upon any man in the world, except perhaps on those who had killed him.

They didn’t even neglect, these Roman emperors, to assume generally the title of Tribune of the People, partly because this office was held sacred and inviolable and also because it had been founded for the defense and protection of the people and enjoyed the favor of the state. By this means they made sure that the populace would trust them completely, as if they merely used the title and did not abuse it. Today there are some who do not behave very differently; they never undertake an unjust policy, even one of some importance, without prefacing it with some pretty speech concerning public welfare and common good. You well know, O Longa, this formula which they use quite cleverly in certain places; although for the most part, to be sure, there cannot be cleverness where there is so much impudence. The kings of the Assyrians and even after them those of the Medes showed themselves in public as seldom as possible in order to set up a doubt in the minds of the rabble as to whether they were not in some way more than man, and thereby to encourage people to use their imagination for those things which they cannot judge by sight. Thus a great many nations who for a long time dwelt under the control of the Assyrians became accustomed, with all this mystery, to their own subjection, and submitted the more readily for not knowing what sort of master they had, or scarcely even if they had one, all of them fearing by report someone they had never seen. The earliest kings of Egypt rarely showed themselves without carrying a cat, or sometimes a branch, or appearing with fire on their heads, masking themselves with these objects and parading like workers of magic. By doing this they inspired their subjects with reverence and admiration, whereas with people neither too stupid nor too slavish they would merely have aroused, it seems to me, amusement and laughter. It is pitiful to review the list of devices that early despots used to establish their tyranny; to discover how many little tricks they employed, always finding the populace conveniently gullible, readily caught in the net as soon as it was spread. Indeed they always fooled their victims so easily that while mocking them they enslaved them the more.

What comment can I make concerning another fine counterfeit that ancient peoples accepted as true money? They believed firmly that the great toe of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, performed miracles and cured diseases of the spleen; they even enhanced the tale further with the legend that this toe, after the corpse had been burned, was found among the ashes, untouched by the fire. In this wise a foolish people itself invents lies and then believes them. Many men have recounted such things, but in such a way that it is easy to see that the parts were pieced together from idle gossip of the city and silly reports from the rabble. When Vespasian, returning from Assyria, passes through Alexandria on his way to Rome to take possession of the empire, he performs wonders: he makes the crippled straight, restores sight to the blind, and does many other fine things, concerning which the credulous and undiscriminating were, in my opinion, more blind than those cured. Tyrants themselves have wondered that men could endure the persecution of a single man; they have insisted on using religion for their own protection and, where possible, have borrowed a stray bit of divinity to bolster up their evil ways. If we are to believe the Sybil of Virgil, Salmoneus, in torment for having paraded as Jupiter in order to deceive the populace, now atones in nethermost Hell:

He suffered endless torment for having dared to
The thunderbolts of heaven and the flames of
Upon a chariot drawn by four chargers he went,
Riding aloft, in his fist a great shining torch.
Among the Greeks and into the market-place
In the heart of the city of Elis he had ridden
And displaying thus his vainglory he assumed
An honor which undeniably belongs to the gods
This fool who imitated storm and the inimitable
By clash of brass and with his dizzying charge
On horn-hoofed steeds, the all-powerful Father
Hurled not a torch, nor the feeble light
From a waxen taper with its smoky fumes,
But by the furious blast of thunder and lightning
He brought him low, his heels above his head.

If such a one, who in his time acted merely through the folly of insolence, is so well received in Hell, I think that those who have used religion as a cloak to hide their vileness will be even more deservedly lodged in the same place.

Our own leaders have employed in France certain similar devices, such as toads, fleurs-de-lys, sacred vessels, and standards with flames of gold. However that may be, I do not wish, for my part, to be incredulous, since neither we nor our ancestors have had any occasion up to now for skepticism. Our kings have always been so generous in times of peace and so valiant in time of war, that from birth they seem not to have been created by nature like many others, but even before birth to have been designated by Almighty God for the government and preservation of this kingdom. Even if this were not so, yet should I not enter the tilting ground to call in question the truth of our traditions, or to examine them so strictly as to take away their fine conceits. Here is such a field for our French poetry, now not merely honored but, it seems to me, reborn through our Rosnard, our Baif, our Bellay. These poets are defending our language so well that I dare to believe that very soon neither the Greeks nor the Latins will in this respect have any advantage over us except possibly that of seniority. And I should assuredly do wrong to our poesy—I like to use that word despite the fact that several have rhymed mechanically, for I still discern a number of men today capable of ennobling poetry and restoring it to its first lustre—but, as I say, I should do the Muse great injury if I deprived her now of those fine tales about. King Clovis, amongst which it seems to me I can already see how agreeably and how happily the inspiration of our Ronsard in his Frunciade will play. I appreciate his loftiness, I am aware of his keen spirit, and I know the charm of the man: he will appropriate the oriflamme to his use much as did the Romans their sacred bucklers and the shields cast from heaven to earth, according to Virgil. He will use our phial of holy oil much as the Athenians used the basket of Ericthonius; he will win applause for our deeds of valor as they did for their olive wreath which they insist can still be found in Minerva’s tower. Certainly I should be presumptuous if I tried to cast slurs on our records and thus invade the realm of our poets.

But to return to our subject, the thread of which I have unwittingly lost in this discussion: it has always happened that tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have made every effort to train their people not only in obedience and servility toward themselves, but also in adoration. Therefore all that I have said up to the present concerning the means by which a more willing submission has been obtained applies to dictators in their relationship with the inferior and common classes.

(Part III)

I COME NOW to a point which is, in my opinion, the mainspring and the secret of domination, the support and foundation of tyranny. Whoever thinks that halberds, sentries, the placing of the watch, serve to protect and shield tyrants is, in my judgment, completely mistaken. These are used, it seems to me, more for ceremony and a show of force than for any reliance placed in them. The archers forbid the entrance to the palace to the poorly dressed who have no weapons, not to the well armed who can carry out some plot. Certainly it is easy to say of the Roman emperors that fewer escaped from danger by aid of their guards than were killed by their own archers.18 It is not the troops on horseback, it is not the companies afoot, it is not arms that defend the tyrant. This does not seem credible on first thought, but it is nevertheless true that there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage to him. Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleausres, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders. These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs. The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant. The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence.

The consequence of all this is fatal indeed. And whoever is pleased to unwind the skein will observe that not the six thousand but a hundred thousand, and even millions, cling to the tyrant by this cord to which they are tied. According to Homer, Jupiter boasts of being able to draw to himself all the gods when he pulls a chain. Such a scheme caused the increase in the senate under Julius, the formation of new ranks, the creation of offices; not really, if properly considered, to reform justice, but to provide new supporters of despotism. In short, when the point is reached, through big favors or little ones, that large profits or small are obtained under a tyrant, there are found almost as many people to whom tyranny seems advantageous as those to whom liberty would seem desirable. Doctors declare that if, when some part of the body has gangrene a disturbance arises in another spot, it immediately flows to the troubled part. Even so, whenever a ruler makes himself a dictator, all the wicked dregs of the nation—I do not mean the pack of petty thieves and earless ruffians19 who, in a republic, are unimportant in evil or good—but all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant. This is the practice among notorious robbers and famous pirates: some scour the country, others pursue voyagers; some lie in ambush, others keep a lookout; some commit murder, others robbery; and although there are among them differences in rank, some being only underlings while others are chieftains of gangs, yet is there not a single one among them who does not feel himself to be a sharer, if not of the main booty, at least in the pursuit of it. It is dependably related that Sicilian pirates gathered in such great numbers that it became necessary to send against them Pompey the Great, and that they drew into their alliance fine towns and great cities in whose harbors they took refuge on returning from their expeditions, paying handsomely for the haven given their stolen goods.

Thus the despot subdues his subjects, some of them by means of others, and thus is he protected by those from whom, if they were decent men, he would have to guard himself; just as, in order to split wood, one has to use a wedge of the wood itself. Such are his archers, his guards, his halberdiers; not that they themselves do not suffer occasionally at his hands, but this riff-raff, abandoned alike by God and man, can be led to endure evil if permitted to commit it, not against him who exploits them, but against those who like themselves submit, but are helpless. Nevertheless, observing those men who painfully serve the tyrant in order to win some profit from his tyranny and from the subjection of the populace, I am often overcome with amazement at their wickedness and sometimes by pity for their folly. For, in all honesty, can it be in any way except in folly that you approach a tyrant, withdrawing further from your liberty and, so to speak, embracing with both hands your servitude? Let such men lay aside briefly their ambition, or let them forget for a moment their avarice, and look at themselves as they really are. Then they will realize clearly that the townspeople, the peasants whom they trample under foot and treat worse than convicts or slaves, they will realize, I say, that these people, mistreated as they may be, are nevertheless, in comparison with themselves, better off and fairly free. The tiller of the soil and the artisan, no matter how enslaved, discharge their obligation when they do what they are told to do; but the dictator sees men about him wooing and begging his favor, and doing much more than he tells them to do. Such men must not only obey orders; they must anticipate his wishes; to satisfy him they must foresee his desires; they must wear themselves out, torment themselves, kill themselves with work in his interest, and accept his pleasure as their own, neglecting their preference for his, distorting their character and corrupting their nature; they must pay heed to his words, to his intonation, to his gestures, and to his glance. Let them have no eye, nor foot, nor hand that is not alert to respond to his wishes or to seek out his thoughts.

Can that be called a happy life? Can it be called living? Is there anything more intolerable than that situation, I won’t say for a man of mettle nor even for a man of high birth, but simply for a man of common sense or, to go even further, for anyone having the face of a man? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s power to act, one’s body, one’s very life?

Still men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves, or as if anyone could possess under a tyrant a single thing in his own name. Yet they act as if their wealth really belonged to them, and forget that it is they themselves who give the ruler the power to deprive everybody of everything, leaving nothing that anyone can identify as belonging to somebody. They notice that nothing makes men so subservient to a tyrant’s cruelty as property; that the possession of wealth is the worst of crimes against him, punishable even by death; that he loves nothing quite so much as money and ruins only the rich, who come before him as before a butcher, offering themselves so stuffed and bulging that they make his mouth water. These favorites should not recall so much the memory of those who have won great wealth from tyrants as of those who, after they had for some time amassed it, have lost to him their property as well as their lives; they should consider not how many others have gained a fortune, but rather how few of them have kept it. Whether we examine ancient history or simply the times in which we live, we shall see clearly how great is the number of those who, having by shameful means won the ear of princes—who either profit from their villainies or take advantage of their naiveté—were in the end reduced to nothing by these very princes; and although at first such servitors were met by a ready willingness to promote their interests, they later found an equally obvious inconstancy which brought them to ruin. Certainly among so large a number of people who have at one time or another had some relationship with bad rulers, there have been few or practically none at all who have not felt applied to themselves the tyrant’s animosity, which they had formerly stirred up against others. Most often, after becoming rich by despoiling others, under the favor of his protection, they find themselves at last enriching him with their own spoils.

Even men of character—if it sometimes happens that a tyrant likes such a man well enough to hold him in his good graces, because in him shine forth the virtue and integrity that inspire a certain reverence even in the most depraved–even men of character, I say, could not long avoid succumbing to the common malady and would early experience the effects of tyranny at their own expense. A Seneca, a Burrus, a Thrasea, this triumverate of splendid men, will provide a sufficient reminder of such misfortune. Two of them were close to the tyrant by the fatal responsibility of holding in their hands the management of his affairs, and both were esteemed and beloved by him. One of them, moreover, had a peculiar claim upon his friendship, having instructed his master as a child. Yet these three by their cruel death give sufficient evidence of how little faith one can place in the friendship of an evil ruler. Indeed what friendship may be expected from one whose heart is bitter enough to hate even his own people, who do naught else but obey him? It is because he does not know how to love that he ultimately impoverishes his own spirit and destroys his own empire.

Now if one would argue that these men fell into disgrace because they wanted to act honorably, let him look around boldly at others close to that same tyrant, and he will see that those who came into his favor and maintained themselves by dishonorable means did not fare much better. Who has ever heard tell of a love more centered, of an affection more persistent, who has ever read of a man more desperately attached to a woman than Nero was to Poppaea? Yet she was later poisoned by his own hand. Agrippina his mother had killed her husband, Claudius, in order to exalt her son; to gratify him she had never hesitated at doing or bearing anything; and yet this very son, her offspring, her emperor, elevated by her hand, after failing her often, finally took her life. It is indeed true that no one denies she would have well deserved this punishment, if only it had come to her by some other hand than that of the son she had brought into the world. Who was ever more easily managed, more naive, or, to speak quite frankly, a greater simpleton, than Claudius the Emperor? Who was ever more wrapped up in his wife than he in Messalina, whom he delivered finally into the hands of the executioner? Stupidity in a tyrant always renders him incapable of benevolent action; but in some mysterious way by dint of acting cruelly even towards those who are his closest associates, he seems to manifest what little intelligence he may have.

Quite generally known is the striking phrase of that other tyrant who, gazing at the throat of his wife, a woman he dearly loved and without whom it seemed he could not live, caressed her with this charming comment: “This lovely throat would be cut at once if I but gave the order.” That is why the majority of the dictators of former days were commonly slain by their closest favorites who, observing the nature of tyranny, could not be so confident of the whim of the tyrant as they were distrustful of his power. Thus was Domitian killed by Stephen, Commodus by one of his mistresses, Antoninus by Macrinus, and practically all the others in similar violent fashion.

The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love. Friendship is a sacred word, a holy thing; it is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect; it flourishes not so much by kindnesses as by sincerity. What makes one friend sure of another is the knowledge of his integrity: as guarantees he has his friend’s fine nature, his honor, and his constancy. There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice. And in places where the wicked gather there is conspiracy only, not companionship: these have no affection for one another; fear alone holds them together; they are not friends, they are merely accomplices.

Although it might not be impossible, yet it would be difficult to find true friendship in a tyrant; elevated above others and having no companions, he finds himself already beyond the pale of friendship, which receives its real sustenance from an equality that, to proceed without a limp, must have its two limbs equal. That is why there is honor among thieves (or so it is reported) in the sharing of the booty; they are peers and comrades; if they are not fond of one another they at least respect one another and do not seek to lessen their strength by squabbling. But the favorites of a tyrant can never feel entirely secure, and the less so because he has learned from them that he is all powerful and unlimited by any law or obligation. Thus it becomes his wont to consider his own will as reason enough, and to be master of all with never a compeer. Therefore it seems a pity that with so many examples at hand, with the danger always present, no one is anxious to act the wise man at the expense of the others, and that among so many persons fawning upon their ruler there is not a single one who has the wisdom and the boldness to say to him what, according to the fable,20 the fox said to the lion who feigned illness: “I should be glad to enter your lair to pay my respects; but I see many tracks of beasts that have gone toward you, yet not a single trace of any who have come back.”

These wretches see the glint of the despot’s treasures and are bedazzled by the radiance of his splendor. Drawn by this brilliance they come near, without realizing they are approaching a flame that cannot fail to scorch them. Similarly attracted, the indiscreet satyr of the old fables, on seeing the bright fire brought down by Prometheus, found it so beautiful that he went and kissed it, and was burned21; so, as the Tuscan22 poet reminds us, the moth, intent upon desire, seeks the flame because it shines, and also experiences its other quality, the burning. Moreover, even admitting that favorites may at times escape from the hands of him they serve, they are never safe from the ruler who comes after him. If he is good, they must render an account of their past and recognize at last that justice exists; if he is bad and resembles their late master, he will certainly have his own favorites, who are not usually satisfied to occupy in their turn merely the posts of their precedessors, but will more often insist on their wealth and their lives. Can anyone be found, then, who under such perilous circumstances and with so little security will still be ambitious to fill such an ill-fated position and serve, despite such perils, so dangerous a master? Good God, what suffering, what martyrdom all this involves! To be occupied night and day in planning to please one person, and yet to fear him more than anyone else in the world; to be always on the watch, ears open, wondering whence the blow will come; to search out conspiracy, to be on guard against snares, to scan the faces of companions for signs of treachery, to smile at everybody and be mortally afraid of all, to be sure of nobody, either as an open enemy or as a reliable friend; showing always a gay countenance despite an apprehensive heart, unable to be joyous yet not daring to be sad!

However, there is satisfaction in examining what they get out of all this torment, what advantage they derive from all the trouble of their wretched existence. Actually the people never blame the tyrant for the evils they suffer, but they do place responsibility on those who influence him; peoples, nations, all compete with one another, even the peasants, even the tillers of the soil, in mentioning the names of the favorites, in analyzing their vices, and heaping upon them a thousand insults, a thousand obscenities, a thousand maledictions. All their prayers, all their vows are directed against these persons; they hold them accountable for all their misfortunes, their pestilences, their famines; and if at times they show them outward respect, at those very moments they are fuming in their hearts and hold them in greater horror than wild beasts. This is the glory and honor heaped upon influential favorites for their services by people who, if they could tear apart their living bodies, would still clamor for more, only half satiated by the agony they might behold. For even when the favorites are dead those who live after are never too lazy to blacken the names of these man-eaters23 with the ink of a thousand pens, tear their reputations into bits in a thousand books, and drag, so to speak, their bones past posterity, forever punishing them after their death for their wicked lives.

Let us therefore learn while there is yet time, let us learn to do good. Let us raise our eyes to Heaven for the sake of our honor, for the very love of virtue, or, to speak wisely, for the love and praise of God Almighty, who is the infallible witness of our deeds and the just judge of our faults. As for me, I truly believe I am right, since there is nothing so contrary to a generous and loving God as tyranny—I believe He has reserved, in a separate spot in Hell, some very special punishment for tyrants and their accomplices.


  1. Iliad, Book II, Lines 204–205.—H.K.
  2. Government by a single ruler. From the Greek monos (single) and arkhein (to command).—H.K.
  3. An autocratic council of thirty magistrates that governed Athens for eight months in 404 B.C. They exhibited such monstrous despotism that the city rose in anger and drove them forth.—H.E.
  4. Athenian general, died 489 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Scythians; Lemnos; Imbros; Marathon, where Darius the Pemian was defeated.—H.K.
  5. King of Sparta, died at Thermopolae in 480 B.C., defending the pass with three hundred loyal Spartans against Xerxes.—H.K.
  6. Athenian statesman and general, died 460 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Aegean Isles; victory over Persians under Xerxes at Salamis.—H.K.
  7. The reference is to Saul anointed by Samuel.—H.K.
  8. Alexander the Macedonian became the acknowledged master of all Hellenes at the Assembly of Corinth, 335 B.C.—H.K.
  9. Athenian tyrant, died 627 B.C. He used ruse and bluster to control the city and was obliged to flee several times.—H.K.
  10. Denis or Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, died in 367 B.C. Of lowly birth, this dictator imposed himself by plottings, putsches, and purges. The danger from which he saved his city was the invasion by the Carthaginians.—H.K.
  11. Dionysius seized power in Syraeuse in 405 B.C.—M.N.R.
  12. Mithridates (c. 135–63 B.C.) was next to Hannibal the most dreaded and potent enemy of Roman power. The reference in the text is to his youth when he spent some years in retirement hardening himself and immunizing himself against poison. In his old age, defeated by Pompey, betrayed by his own son, he tried poison and Finally had to resort to the dagger of a friendly Gaul. (Pliny, Natural History, XXIV, 2.)—H.K.
  13. The ruler of Venice.—M.N.R.
  14. A half-legendary figure concerning whose life Plutarch admits there is much obscurity. He bequeathed to his land a rigid code regulating land, assembly, education, with the individual subordinate to the state.—H.K.
  15. Odyssey. Book II, Lines 14–19. The Cimmerians were a barbarian people active north of the Black Sea in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., and gave their name to Crimea.—M.N.R.
  16. The Ottoman Sultan of Constantinople was often called the Grand Turk.—M.N.R.
  17. Brutus and Cassias helped to assassinate Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. They committed suicide after being defeated by Marcus Antonius at the Battles of Philippi in 42 B.C.—M.N.R.
  18. Almost a third of the Roman Emperors were killed by their own soldiers.—M.N.R.
  19. The cutting off of ears as a punishment for thievery is very ancient. In the middle ages it was still practiced under St. Louis. Men so mutilated were dishonored and could not enter the clergy or the magistracy.—H.K.
  20. By Aesop.—M.N.R.
  21. Aeschylus’ Prometheus the Firebearer (fragment).—M.N.R.
  22. Petrarch, Cazoniere, Sonnet XVII. La Boetie has accurately rendered the lines concerning the moth.—H.K.
  23. The word was used by Homer in the Iliad, Book I, Line 341.—M.N.R.

    v v v


Objectivism and the State
An Open Letter to Ayn Rand
by Roy Childs (1969)

Dear Miss Rand:

The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism. As far as I can determine, no one has ever pointed out to you in detail the errors in your political philosophy. That is my intention here. I attempted this task once before, in my essay “The Contradiction in Objectivism,” in the March 1968 issue of the Rampart Journal, but I now think that my argument was ineffective and weak, not emphasizing the essentials of the matter. I will remedy that here.

Why am I making such an attempt to convert you to a point of view which you have, repeatedly, publicly condemned as a floating abstraction? Because you are wrong. I suggest that your political philosophy cannot be maintained without contradiction, that, in fact, you are advocating the maintenance of an institution—the state—which is a moral evil. To a person of self-esteem, these area reasons enough.

There is a battle shaping up in the world—a battle between the forces of archy—of statism, of political rule and authority—and its only alternative—anarchy, the absence of political rule. This battle is the necessary and logical consequence of the battle between individualism and collectivism, between liberty and the state, between freedom and slavery. As in ethics there are only two sides to any question—the good and the evil—so too are there only two logical sides to the political question of the state: either you are for it, or you are against it. Any attempt at a middle ground is doomed to failure, and the adherents of any middle course are doomed likewise to failure and frustration—or the blackness of psychological destruction, should they blank out and refuse to identify the causes of such failure, or the nature of reality as it is.

There are, by your framework, three alternatives in political organization: statism, which is a governmental system wherein the government initiates force to attain its ends; limited government, which holds a monopoly on retaliation but does not initiate the use or threat of physical force; and anarchy, a society wherein there is no government, government being defined by you as “an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area.” You support a limited government, one which does not initiate the use or threat of physical force against others.

It is my contention that limited government is a floating abstraction which has never been concretized by anyone; that a limited government must either initiate force or cease being a government; that the very concept of limited government is an unsuccessful attempt to integrate two mutually contradictory elements: statism and voluntarism. Hence, if this can be shown, epistemological clarity and moral consistency demands the rejection of the institution of government totally, resulting in free market anarchism, or a purely voluntary society.

Why is a limited government a floating abstraction? Because it must either initiate force or stop being a government. Let me present a brief proof of this.

Although I do not agree with your definition of government and think that it is epistemologically mistaken (i.e., you are not identifying its fundamental, and hence essential, characteristics), I shall accept it for the purpose of this critique. One of the major characteristics of your conception of government is that it holds a monopoly on the use of retalitatory force in a given geographical area. Now, there are only two possible kinds of monopolies: a coercive monopoly, which initiates force to keep its monopoly, or a non-coercive monopoly, which is always open to competition. In an Objectivist society, the government is not open to competition, and hence is a coercive monopoly.

The quickest way of showing why it must either initiate force or cease being a government is the following: Suppose that I were distraught with the service of a government in an Objectivist society. Suppose that I judged, being as rational as I possibly could, that I could secure the protection of my contracts and the retrieval of stolen goods at a cheaper price and with more efficiency. Suppose I either decide to set up an institution to attain these ends, or patronize one which a friend or a business colleague has established. Now, if he succeeds in setting up the agency, which provides all the services of the Objectivist government, and restricts his more effcient activities to the use of retaliation against aggressors, there are only two alternatives as far as the “government” is concerned: (a) It can use force or the threat of it against the new institution, in order to keep its monopoly status in the given territory, thus initiating the use of threat of physical force against one who has not himself initiated force. Obviously, then, if it should choose this alternative, it would have initiated force. Q.E.D. Or: (b) It can refrain from initiating force, and allow the new institution to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this, then the Objectivist “government” would become a truly marketplace institution, and not a “government” at all. There would be competing agencies of protection, defense and retaliation—in short, free market anarchism.

If the former should occur, the result would be statism. It is important to remember in this context that statism exists whenever there is a government which initiates force. The degree of statism, once the government has done so, is all that is in question. Once the principle of the initiation of force has been accepted, we have granted the premise of statists of all breeds, and the rest, as you have said so eloquently, is just a matter of time.

If the latter case should occur, we would no longer have a government, properly speaking. This is, again, called free market anarchism. Note that what is in question is not whether or not, in fact, any free market agency of protection, defense or retaliation is more efficient than the former “government.” The point is that whether it is more efficient or not can only be decided by individuals acting according to their rational self-interest and on the basis of their rational judgment. And if they do not initiate force in this pursuit, then they are within their rights. If the Objectivist government, for whatever reason, moves to threaten or physically prevent these individuals from pursuing their rational self-interest, it is, whether you like it or not, initiating the use of physical force against another peaceful, nonaggressive human being. To advocate such a thing is, as you have said, “to evict oneself automatically from the realm of rights, of morality, and of the intellect.” Surely, then, you cannot be guilty of such a thing.

Now, if the new agency should in fact initiate the use of force, then the former “government”-turned-marketplace-agency would of course have the right to retaliate against those individuals who performed the act. But, likewise, so would the new institution be able to use retaliation against the former “government” if that should initiate force.

I shall cover some of your major “justifications” for government, pointing out your logical flaws, but first let us get one thing very clear: as far as I can determine, I have absolutely and irrefutably shown that government cannot exist without initiating force, or at least threatening to do so, against dissenters. If this is true, and if sanctioning any institution which initiates force is a moral evil, then you should morally withdraw all sanction from the U.S. government, in fact, from the very concept of government itself. One does not have an obligation to oppose all evils in the world, since life rationally consists of a pursuit of positives, not merely a negation of negatives. But one does, I submit, have a moral obligation to oppose a moral evil such as government, especially when one had previously come out in favor of such an evil.

Note also that the question of how free market anarchism would work is secondary to establishing the evil of government. If a limited government, i.e., a non-statist government, is a contradiction in terms, then it cannot be advocated—period. But since there is no conflict between the moral and the practical, I am obliged to briefly sketch how your objections to free market anarchism are in error.

I do not intend to undertake a full “model” of a free market anarchist society, since I, like yourself, truly cannot discuss things that way. I am not a social planner and again, like yourself, do not spend my time inventing Utopias. I am talking about principles whose practical applications should be clear. In any case, a much fuller discussion of the technical aspects of the operation of a fully voluntary, nonstatist society is forthcoming, in the opening chapter of Murray N. Rothbard’s follow-up volume to his masterly two-volume economic treatise, Man, Economy, and State, to be entitled Power and Market, and in Morris and Linda Tannehill’s book, which will hopefully be published soon, to be entitled The Market for Liberty. The latter take sup the problem where Murray Rothbard leaves off, and discusses the problems in detail. A chapter from this book, incidentally, entitled “Warring Defense Agencies and Organized Crime,” will appear in the Libertarian Connection #5, and a short statement of the authors’ position is presented in their pamphlet “Liberty Via the Market.”

To make consideration of your errors easier, I shall number them and present the outline of possible replies to your major, and hence essential, points, as presented in your essay, “The Nature of Government.”

1. “If a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door,” etc.

This is a bad argument. One could just as easily assert that if “society” (subsuming whom?) provided no organized way of raising food, it would compel every citizen to go out and raise vegetables in his own backyard, or to starve. This is illogical. The alternative is most emphatially not either we have a single, monopolistic governmental food-growing program or we have each man growing his own food, or starving. There is such a thing as the division of labor, the free market—and that can provide all the food man needs. So too with protection against aggression.

2. “The use of physical force—even its retaliatory use—cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens.”

This contradicts your epistemological and ethical position. Man’s mind—which means: the mind of the individual human being—is capable of knowing reality, and man is capable of coming to conclusions on the basis of his rational judgment and acting on the basis of his rational self-interest. You imply, without stating it, that if an individual decides to use retaliation, that that decision is somehow subjective and arbitrary. Rather, supposedly the individual should leave such a decision up to government which is—what? Collective and therefore objective? This is illogical. If man is not capable of making these decisions, then he isn’t capable of making them, and no government made up of men is capable of making them, either. By what epistemological criterion is an individual’s action classified as “arbitrary,” while that of a group of individuals is somehow “objective”?

Rather, I assert that an invididual must judge, and evaluate the facts of reality in accordance with logic and by the standard of his own rational self-interest. Are you here claiming that man’s mind is not capable of knowing reality? That men must not judge, or act on the basis of their rational self-interest and perception of the facts of reality? To claim this is to smash the root of the Objectivist philosophy: the validity of reason, and the ability and right of man to think and judge for himself.

I am not, of course, claiming that a man must always personally use retaliation against those who initiate such against him—he has the right, though not the obligation, to delegate that right to any legitimate agency. I am merely criticizing your faulty logic.

3. “The retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures.”

There is indeed a need for such objective rules. But look at the problem this way: there is also a need for objective rules in order to produce a ton of steel, an automobile, an acre of wheat. Must these activities, too, therefore be made into a coercive monopoly? I think not. By what twist of logic are you suggesting that a free market would not be able to provide such objective rules, while a coercive government would? It seems obvious that man needs objective rules in every activity of his life, not merely in relation to the use of retaliation. But, strange as it may seem, the free market is capable of providing such rules. You are, it seems to me, blithely assuming that free market agencies would not have objective rules, etc., and this without proof. If you believe this to be the case, yet have no rational grounds for believing such, what epistemological practice have you smuggled into your consciousness?

4. “All laws must be objective (and objectively justifiable): Men must know clearly, and in advance of taking an action, what the law forbids them to do (and why), what constitutes a crime and what penalty they will incur if they commit it.”

This is not, properly speaking, an objection to anarchism. The answer to this problem of “objective laws” is quite easy: all that would be forbidden in any voluntary society would be the initiation of physical force, or the gaining of a value by any substitute thereof, such as fraud. If a person chooses to initiate force in order to gain a value, then by his act of aggression, he creates a debt which he must repay to the victim, plus damages. There is nothing particularly difficult about this, and no reason why the free market could not evolve institutions around this concept of justice.

5. We come to the main thrust of your attack on free market anarchism on pages 112-113 of the paperback edition of The Virtue of Selfishness, and I will not quote the relevant paragraph here.

Suffice it to say that you have not proven that anarchy is a naive floating ab- straction, that a society without government would be at the mercy of the first criminal to appear—(which is false, since market protection agencies could perform more efficiently the same service as is supposedly provided by “govern- ment”), and that objective rules could not be observed by such agencies. You would not argue that since there are needs for objective laws in the production of steel, therefore the government should take over that activity. Why do you argue it in the case of protection, defense and retaliation? And if it is the need for objective laws which necessitates government, and that alone, we can conclude that if a marketplace agency can observe objective laws, as can, say, marketplace steel producers, then there is, in fact, really no need for govern- ment at all.

We “younger advocates of freedom,” incidentally, are not “befuddled” by our anarchist theory. The theory which we advocate is not called “competing governments,” of course, since a government is a coercive monopoly. We advocate competing agencies of protection, defense, and retaliation; in short, we claim that the free market can supply all of man’s needs—including the protection and defense of his values. We most emphatically do not accept the basic premise of modern statists, and do not confuse force and production. We merely recognize protection, defense and retaliation for what they are: namely, scarce services which, because they are scarce, can be offered on a market at a price. We see it as immoral to initiate force against another to prevent him from patronizing his own court system, etc. The remainder of your remarks in this area are unworthy of you. You misrepresent the arguments of Murray Rothbard and others, without even identifying them by name so that those who are interested can judge the arguments by going to their source. Since we understand the nature of government, we advocate no such thing as competing governments; rather, we advocate the destruction or abolition of the state, which, since it regularly initiates force, is a criminal organization. And, incidentally, the case for competing courts and police has been concretized—by the individualist anarchist Benjamin R. Tucker, over 80 years ago, by Murray Rothbard, and by a host of other less prominent theorists.

Let us take up your example of why competing courts and police supposedly cannot function.

Suppose Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next- door neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him; a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones’ house and is met at the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not accept the validi- ty of Mr. Smith’s complaint and do not recognize the authority of Gov- ernment A. What happens then? You take it from there.

Unfortunately, though this poses as a convincing argument, it is a straw man, and is about as accurate a picture of the institutions pictured by free market anarchists as would be my setting up Nazi Germany as an historical example of an Objectivist society.

The main question to ask at this point is this: do you think that it would be in the rational self-interest of either agency to allow this to happen, this fighting out conflicts in the streets, which is what you imply? No? Then what view of human nature does it presuppose to assume that such would happen anyway?

One legitimate answer to your allegations is this: since you are, in effect, asking “what happens when the agencies decide to act irrationally?” allow me to ask the far more potent question: “What happens when your government acts irrationally?”—which is at least possible. And which is more likely, in addition, to occur: the violation of rights by a bureaucrat or politician who got his job by fooling people in elections, which are nothing but community-wide opinion-mongering contests (which are, presumably, a rational and objective manner of selecting the best people for a job), or the violation of rights by a hard-nosed businessman, who has had to earn his position? So your objection against competing agencies is even more effective against your own “limited government.”

Obviously, there are a number of ways in which such ferocious confrontations can be avoided by rational businessmen: there could be contracts or “treaties” between the competing agencies providing for the peaceful ironing out of disputes, etc., just to mention one simplistic way. Do you see people as being so blind that this would not occur to them?

Another interesting argument against your position is this: there is now anarchy between citizens of different countries, i.e., between, say, a Canadian citizen on one side of the Canadian-American border and an American citizen on the other. There is, to be more precise, no single government which presides over both of them. If there is a need for government to settle disputes among individuals, as you state, then you should look at the logical implications of your argument: is there not then a need for a super-government to resolve disputes among governments? Of course the implications of this are obvious: theoretically, the ultimate end of this process of piling government on top of government is a government for the entire universe. And the practical end, for the moment, is at the very least world government.

Also, you should be aware of the fact that just as conflicts could conceivably arise between such market agencies, so could they arise between governments—which is called war, and is a thousand times more terrible. Making a defense agency a monopoly in a certain area doesn’t do anything to eliminate such conflicts, of course. It merely makes them more awesome, more destructive, and increases the number of innocent bystanders who are harmed immensely. Is this desirable?

Suffice it to say that all of your arguments against free market anarchism are invalid; and hence, you are under the moral obligation, since it has been shown that government cannot exist without initiating force, to adopt it. Questions of how competing courts could function are technical questions, not specifically moral ones. Hence, I refer you to Murray Rothbard and Morris G. Tannehill, who have both solved the problem.

In the future, if you are interested, I will take up several other issues surrounding your political philosophy, such as a discussion of the epistemological problems of definition and concept formation in issues concerning the state, a discussion of the nature of the U.S. Constitution, both ethically and historically, and a discussion of the nature of the Cold War. I believe that your historical misunderstanding of these last two is responsible for many errors in judgment, and is increasingly expressed in your commentaries on contemporary events.

Finally, I want to take up a major question: why should you adopt free market anarchism after having endorsed the political state for so many years? Fundamentally, for the same reason you gave for withdrawing your sanction from Nathaniel Branden in an issue of The Objectivist: namely, you do not fake reality and never have. If your reputation should suffer with you becoming a total voluntarist, a free market anarchist, what is that compared with the pride of being consistent—of knowing that you have correctly identified the facts of reality, and are acting accordingly? A path of expedience taken by a person of self-esteem is psychologically destructive, and such a person will find himself either losing his pride or committing that act of philosophical treason and psychological suicide which is blanking out, the willful refusal to consider an issue, or to integrate one’s knowledge. Objectivism is a completely consistent philosophical system you say—and I agree that it is potentially such. But it will be an Objectivism without the state.

And there is the major issue of the destructiveness of the state itself. No one can evade the fact that, historically, the state is a blood-thirsty monster, which has been responsible for more violence, bloodshed and hatred than any other institution known to man. Your approach to the matter is not yet radical, not yet fundamental: it is the existence of the state itself which must be challenged by the new radicals. It must be understood that the state is an unnecessary evil, that it regularly initiates force, and in fact attempts to gain what must rationally be called a monopoly of crime in a given territory. Hence, government is little more, and has never been more, than a gang of professional criminals. If, then, government has been the most tangible cause of most of man’s inhumanity to man, let us, as Morris Tannehill has said, “identify it for what it is instead of attempting to clean it up, thus helping the statists to keep it by preventing the idea that government is inherently evil from becoming known…. The ‘sacred cow’ regard for government (which most people have) must be broken! That instrument of sophisticated savagery has no redeeming qualities. The free market does; let’s redeem it by identifying its greatest enemy—the idea of government (and its ramifications).”

This is the only alternative to continuing centuries of statism, with all quibbling only over the degree of the evil we will tolerate. I believe that evils should not be tolerated—period. There are only two alternatives, in reality: political rule, or archy, which means: the condition of social existence wherein some men use aggression to dominate or rule another, and anarchy, which is the absence of the initiation of force, the absence of political rule, the absence of the state. We shall replace the state with the free market, and men shall for the fist time in their history be able to walk and live without fear of destruction being unleashed upon them at any moment—especially the obscenity of such destruction being unleashed by a looter armed with nuclear weapons and nerve gases. We shall replace statism with voluntarism: a society wherein all man’s relationships with others are voluntary and uncoerced. Where men are free to act according to their rational self-interest, even if it means the establishment of competing agencies of defense.

Let me then halt this letter by repeating to you those glorious words with which you had John Galt address his collapsing world: “Such is the future you are capable of winning. It requires a struggle; so does any human value. All life is a purposeful struggle, and your only choice is the choice of a goal. Do you wish to continue the battle of your present, or do you wish to fight for my world?… Such is the choice before you. Let your mind and your love of existence decide.”

Let us walk forward into the sunlight, Miss Rand. You belong with us.

Yours in liberty,

R.A. Childs, Jr.

cc: Nathaniel Branden
Leonard Peikoff
Robert Hessen
Murray N. Rothbard

P.S. I would like to thank Murray Morris and Joe Hoffman for their advice and suggestions. — R.A.C., Jr.


One thought on “The State

  1. I do agree with all the ideas you’ve offered in your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too quick for novices. May you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

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