The Nature of the State

by | Mar 3, 2017

The Nature of the State

by | Mar 3, 2017

In this heroic age, given to war and conquest and violence, the precepts of peace and good will seem to have been almost submerged. The pulpit, the press, and the school unite in teaching patriotism and in proclaiming the glory and beneficence of war; and one may search literature almost in vain for one note of that “Peace on earth, and good will toward men” in which the world still professes to believe; and yet these benign precepts are supposed to be the basis of all the civilization of the western world.

The doctrine of non-resistance, if ever referred to, is treated with derision and scorn. At its best the doctrine can only be held by dreamers and theorists, and can have no place in daily life. Every government on earth furnishes proof that there is nothing practical or vital in its teachings. Every government on earth is the personification of violence and force, and yet the doctrine of non-resistance is as old as human thought—even more than this, the instinct is as old as life upon the earth.

The doctrine of non-resistance to evil does not rest upon the words of Christ alone. Buddha, Confucius, Plato, Socrates, show the evil and destruction of war, of conquest, of violence, and of hatred, and have taught the beneficence of peace, of forgiveness, of nonresistance to evil. But modern thought is not content to rest the conduct of life upon the theories of moralists. The rules of life that govern men and states must today be in keeping with science and conform to the highest reason and judgment of man. It is here that non-resistance seems to have failed to make any practical progress in the world. That men should “turn the other cheek,” should “love their enemies,” should “resist not evil,” has ever seemed fine to teach to children, to preach on Sundays, to round a period in a senseless oratorical flight; but it has been taken for granted that these sentiments cannot furnish the real foundation for strong characters or great states.

It is idle to discuss “non-resistance” in its effect upon life and the world without adopting some standard of excellence by which to judge results. Here, as elsewhere in human conduct, aer all is said and done, men must come back to the fundamental principle that the conduct which makes for life is wise and right. Nature in her tireless labor has ever been developing a higher order and a completer life. Sometimes for long periods it seems as if the world were on the backward course, but even this would prove that life really is the highest end to be aained. Whatever tends to happiness tends to life,—joy is life and misery is death.

In his long and toilsome pilgrimage, man has come to his present estate through endless struggle, through brutal violence administered and received. And the question of the correctness of nonresistance as a theory, like any other theory, does not depend upon whether it can be enforced and lived now or tomorrow, but whether it is the highest ideal of life that is given us to conceive. In one sense nothing is practical excepting what is; everything must have been developed out of all the conditions of life that now exist or have existed on the earth. But to state this means lile in the selement of ethical questions, for man’s future condition depends quite as much upon his mental aitude as upon any other fact that shapes his course.

Everywhere it seems to have been taken for granted that force and violence are necessary to man’s welfare upon the earth. Endless volumes have been written, and countless lives been sacrificed in an effort to prove that one form of government is better than another; but few seem seriously to have considered the proposition that all government rests on violence and force; is sustained by soldiers, policemen, and courts; and is contrary to the ideal peace and order that make for the happiness and progress of the human race.

Now and then it is even admitted that in the far-distant ages yet to come men may so far develop toward the angelic that political governments will have no need to be. This admission, like the common concept, presumes that governments are good; that their duties undertaken and performed consist in repressing the evil and the lawless, and protecting and caring for the helpless and the weak.

If the history of the state proved that governing bodies were ever formed for this purpose or filled this function, there might be some basis for the assumption that government is necessary to preserve order and to defend the weak. But the origin and evolution of the political state show quite another thing — they show that the state was born in aggression, and that in all the various stages through which it has passed its essential characteristics have been preserved.

The beginnings of the state can be traced back to the early history of the human race when the strongest savage seized the largest club and with this weapon enforced his rule upon the other members of the tribe. By means of strength and cunning he became the chief and exercised this power, not to protect the weak but to take the good things of the earth for himself and his.

One man by his unaided strength could not long keep the tribe in subjection to his will, so the chief chose lieutenants and aides, and these too were taken for their strength and prowess and were given a goodly portion of the fruits of power for the loyalty and help they lent their chief. No plans for the general good ever formed a portion of the scheme of government evolved by these barbarous chiefs. The great mass were slaves, and their lives and liberty held at the absolute disposal of the strong.

Ages of evolution have only modified the rigors of the first rude states. The divine right to rule, the absolute character of official power, is practically the same today in most of the nations of the world as with the early chiefs who executed their mandates with a club. The ancient knight who, with battle-axe and coat of mail, enforced his rule upon the weak was only the forerunner of the tax-gatherer and tax-devourer of today.

Even in democratic countries, where the people are supposed to choose their rulers, the nature of government is the same. Growing from the old ideas of absolute power, these democracies have assumed that some sort of government was indispensable to the mass, and no sooner had they thrown off one form of bondage than another yoke was placed upon their necks, only to prove in time that this new burden was no less galling than the old.

Neither do the people govern in democracies more than in any other lands. They do not even choose their rulers. These rulers choose themselves and by force and cunning and intrigue arrive at the same results that their primitive ancestor reached with the aid of a club.

And who are these rulers without whose aid the evil and corrupt would destroy and subvert the defenseless and the weak? From the earliest time these self-appointed rulers have been conspicuous for all those vices that they so persistently charge to the common people whose rapacity, cruelty, and lawlessness they so bravely curb. The history of the past and the present alike proves beyond a doubt that if there is or ever was any large class from whom society needed to be saved, it is those same rulers who have been placed in absolute charge of the lives and destinies of their fellow men.

From the early kings who, with blood-red hands, forbade their subjects to kill their fellow men, to the modern legislator who, with the bribe money in his pocket, still makes bribery a crime — these rulers have ever made laws not to govern themselves but to enforce obedience on their serfs.

The purpose of this autocratic power has ever been the same. In the early tribe the chief took the land and the fruits of the earth and parceled them amongst his retainers who helped preserve his strength. Every government since then has used its power to divide the earth amongst the favored few and by force and violence to keep the toiling, patient, suffering millions from any portion of the common bounties of the world.

In many of the nations of the earth the real governing power has stood behind the throne, has suffered their creatures and their puppets to be the nominal rulers of nations and states, but in every case the real rulers are the strong, and the state is used by them to perpetuate their power and serve their avarice and greed.

This is the first chapter of Darrow’s book, Resist Not Evil, republished from the Mises Institute.

About Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is the author of numerous books, including Resist Not Evil. In this manifesto condemning the "nightwatchmen state" of the old classical liberal legend, Darrow excoriates the courts, police, military, and prisons as the core of the worst features of the entire state apparatus.

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