Statist’s Dilemma

I tend to get drawn into debates with statists both in cyber and “meat” space, and the discussions always either start (and/) or end with arguments for/against the State. Strangely, the basic knowledge about the nature of the State is often shared or, at least, can easily be agreed on: the State is defined as an organization with the [legitimate] monopoly of violence. (Legitimate is within brackets for the reason that it can mean, as is the case in this definition, “generally accepted” whereas, from a rights perspective, legitimate means more than simply accepted.)

The problem for statists is that the very definition of the State effectively puts them in an unsustainable position trying to defend violence. They can choose one of two routes: either it is necessary or it is desirable. Sure, some might argue that it is both, but that argument is really one about the State’s necessity – the fact that it is desirable follows, where so is claimed to be the case, from the necessity.

The necessity argument will ultimately force the statist to argue from the Hobbesian view: that the State’s violence is necessary to squash other violence and thus everybody’s war against all. A higher power is necessary to force us to not give into our basic nature. In other words, the mightier the better since a more powerful State can rid us of more problems.

This immediately raises questions about the nature of the violent people who (seek to) control that power and, in democracies, those violent people voting to be oppressed. And, of course, how something can be our nature while we at the same time desire to be something very different. If this is actually the case, that we are something quite opposite of what we want to be, then we should be slaves what we are or we would be able to tame and control those instincts. And if we cannot, then how can we choose leaders to do this for us, who are equally subject to this our nature, and how can we trust them to do the desirable thing rather than what they’re programmed to do.

This is an unsustainable philosophical position because it is based on a fundamental contradiction.

What’s left is the argument about the State’s desirability: this is a consequentialist argument for the reason that the State “must” exist because the outcome is good. But if the State, which is only people (albeit with guns and quite a bit of mysticism), is able to do something that non-States are not, then the desirable end must follow from the State’s definition: in other words, it can only be brought about by the use of violence (and even better with a monopoly of violence).

If this were not the case, then voluntary organizations should be able to produce that same outcome, and isn’t voluntary better than violent? Most people would agree with voluntary being preferable, so they cannot at the same time say that violence is not preferable but is desirable (even a statist can tell that’s a blatant contradiction).

What, then, is desirable about violence? What it can do. When is violence necessary, in the sense that it can accomplish what non-violence cannot? When it is used to force people to do what they would not otherwise choose to do, and what they would probably refuse to do were it not for somebody pushing a gun in their rib cage and stating “or else…”.

This leaves very little to the imagination. We get immediately to public good issues (collective action “problems”) where something is deemed of value to “all”, whereas most individuals would choose something else yet could free-ride on that “value”, such as military defense, a road system, etc. Of course, there were both security and roads before there was anything like a national defense or a Federal Highway Administration. (That’s why libertarians tend to fall back to examples of such pretty much right away.)

But the problem for the statist is that it is a slippery slope: what, exactly, is sufficiently a public good to warrant force – and on what level? The national defense question is an obvious case in point because it is always referred to as national defense. Is this because the statist realizes that if the defense is of anything but the nation-state’s controlled geographical area, the argument falls? Say the 50 states of the Union would have their own defense, then this would imply that counties and cities too could do this; it also implies that cooperation between 50 state-level defenses can substitute a national defense. So why not voluntary associations on a local level, which can then create voluntary alliances to whatever degree deemed necessary?

What exactly is desirable enough to be forced on people? Well, that really depends on your personal view of what is valuable. National defense is used as a go-to example because it is so common and nobody (almost) ever thought about how to be protected without it. But this doesn’t mean it is necessarily desirable to the degree that it should be produced using violence – this issue still requires an argument. How do you argue for what is valuable? You state your opinion and appeal to the opinion of “lots of people” (or, if you prefer, “the masses”). It is still only an opinion, however.

The desirability argument thus comes down to an argument about what the statist wants. And, apparently, what the statist doesn’t believe other people want enough to have it produced on the market. So: it must be forced on everyone.

This is hardly a good argument, but in fact the lack of one. And somewhere deep down most thoughtful statists realize this, even though getting to this insight may require prodding by someone disagreeing on the desired value (either not valuing it or claiming it can be produced in another way).

In other words, there is no good, philosophically valid argument for the State. The only available basis for statism is personal preference, that is, the never very persuasive “I want.” Or perhaps laziness of thought, and thus acceptance of the status quo.

Become a Supporter

Dedicate this Donation

Honoree Details

Notification Details

Select Payment Method
Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total: $20.00 One Time

{amount} donation plus {fee_amount} to help cover fees.

- Advertisement -
Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan