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Is the State Inevitable?

On my lunch walk today, I listened to Dave Rubin interview Michael Malice. Michael is the author of The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics. At one point, Dave directly asked Michael what his politics were. Michael said he is an anarchist without adjectives. He won’t commit to Anarcho-Capitalism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, or Anarcho-Communism, but thinks the state is illegitimate.

This is not exactly a new idea. I’m familiar with it from libertarian circles. Yet, I wonder if that is even the worthwhile question. The state is . The question is, does it have to be.

My thought at this point goes to Dr. Jordon Peterson and his most famous example from Twelve Rules for Life, the lobsters. Dr. Peterson’s point in that example is not we should be like lobsters or that all existing human hierarchies are good and moral. His point is, lobsters, whose path through evolution split from the one humans are on millions of years ago, display hierarchical behavior. Because lobsters, when that behavior occurs, respond to certain neurotransmitters humans do and in similar ways, Peterson concludes hierarchy is older than humanity. While we can shape the hierarchies we live in, we cannot escape them.

Now, the state is not something you see in lobsters. The state, government, is not even something you can observe among other primates to the best of my knowledge. Yes, primate bands have an elite and a hierarchy. Chimps, at least, enforce the borders of a band’s territory. However, this is closer to human clans than the state.

I know of no other species with specialized social roles for the administration of the activities of others in a band, herd, pod, etc.

So, is the state inevitable?

Malice quotes Murray Rothbard on the idea that the two political parties are just rival gangs. Again, this is an idea I’m familiar with from libertarian thinking. I’m used to hearing it as, “the police are the gang we pay to protect us from other gangs.” I’ve often heard that used to explain police brutality and the blue line.

It is that description of the police that leads me to think the state just might be inevitable if human communities reach a certain size.

Science fiction has at times tried to present stateless societies. If you are a sci-fi fan of a certain age a deep libertarian current was common in the available fiction. Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is on many libertarian reading lists with it’s mostly free society. A decade and a half later, James P. Hogan gave us a stateless world in Voyage from Yesteryear. Hogan’s Chiron ran as a pure, self-organizing competence hierarchy which would probably bring a smile to Dr. Peterson’s face. Coming closer to today, in 2010 Sarah Hoyt gave us a libertarian colony of outcasts in Darkship Thieves. None of these authors envisioned the Mogadishu of Blackhawk Down

While I don’t describe to the argument that any libertarian or anarchist society would turn into Mogadishu, human bad actors are a fact. Human bad actors can, and I think this is amazing, cooperate to target external targets. How do we handle those gangs in a libertarian world?

First, to give Malice his due, he argues we already have that. I think he might have a point.

The most answer seems to be, we band together to stop them. Maybe we hire the equivalent of special police officers. Perhaps we make an agreement with everyone whose property borders ours to come to the defense of each other. Perhaps we give a share of our crops to the strongest man around in exchange for he and his buddies patrolling the borders of our common land.

If the last sounds a lot like a medieval knight in the early middle ages, you’re not wrong.

The question becomes, when does that defense agreement become the state, or, when does that defense agreement become unnecessary.

For the second I am going to say never. We do not know what makes certain humans bad actors. If we did learn that and took it out of humans I do not think the resulting species would be humans. It would be our descendants, but it would not be humans.

The three authors above seemed to agree, to varying degrees. Hoyt’s libertarian utopia starts to break down when the energy company realizes it has everyone by the short and curlies and starts making rules instead of just trading. Hogan’s hierarchy has an acknowledged group of people who can make decisions about the use of force for their entire planet. Heinlein’s Luna is never ungoverned. The Lunar Authority rules with a light hand over the penal colony as long as it meets grain quotas. While society as a whole is self-governing there is an organization that exercises the right of force over everyone there. That’s a government no matter how you cut it. If that doesn’t convince you it is a government, consider this. The book is about a revolution. How do you revolt if there is no government.

The real reason I know about “Special Police Officers”

As to the first question we are faced with the free-loader problem. The solution is either expel them from the community, which requires force to insure, or compel their behavior, which again requires force.

In the end, there is someone who exercises the right of force over everyone in each of these societies, although in Hoyt’s it is still in a velvet glove for the most part. It might not be called a government, but it quacks and waddles so I argue the duck rule applies.

So, is the state inevitable? I think it, or something close enough in terms of the lives of the average person, is. It is an expression of those hierarchies Dr. Peterson writes about. If that is the case then the state, as a concept, is not legitimate or illegitimate, it just is.

Perhaps when states get beyond those described by those three authors, and many others, they lose legitimacy for their decisions. Unless you wish to embrace the thinking of Mussolini, there will be things outside the state.

But I think the state, in some form, is with us whenever more than a hundred of us gather together, at least in the long run.

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One Comment

  1. BobtheRegisterredFool BobtheRegisterredFool

    ESR had a nice post recently about taxonomic features of facism.

    The political fads of the twentieth century revolved on some very expansive definitions of state. Like the right to socialized medicine stuff. You look at those, and you naturally wonder if it isn’t possible to live without a state.

    Strip things down, I think you can define the state as being fundamentally the means by which an army extracts resources from a territory it holds. Of course, I am a bit of a militarist.

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