Do You Hate the State?

Murray Rothbard asked the crucial question.

Tom Paine’s radical hatred of the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between laissez-faire and anarchism.

And closer to our own day, such early influences on me as Albert Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken, and Frank Chodorov were magnificently and superbly radical. Hatred of “Our Enemy, the State” (Nock’s title) and all of its works shone through all of their writings like a beacon star. So what if they never quite made it all the way to explicit anarchism? Far better one Albert Nock than a hundred anarcho-capitalists who are all too comfortable with the existing status quo.

Where are the Paines and Cobdens and Nocks of today? Why are almost all of our laissez-faire limited governmentalists plonky conservatives and patriots? If the opposite of “radical” is “conservative,” where are our radical laissez-fairists? If our limited statists were truly radical, there would be virtually no splits between us. What divides the movement now, the true division, is not anarchist vs. minarchist, but radical vs. conservative. Lord, give us radicals, be they anarchists or no. To carry our analysis further, radical anti-statists are extremely valuable even if they could scarcely be considered libertarians in any comprehensive sense. Thus, many people admire the work of columnists Mike Royko and Nick von Hoffman because they consider these men libertarian sympathizers and fellow-travelers. That they are, but this does not begin to comprehend their true importance. For throughout the writings of Royko and von Hoffman, as inconsistent as they undoubtedly are, there runs an all-pervasive hatred of the State, of all politicians, bureaucrats, and their clients which, in its genuine radicalism, is far truer to the underlying spirit of liberty than someone who will coolly go along with the letter of every syllogism and every lemma down to the “model” of competing courts.

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  1. Hate the state or not? Whatever. In real terms, it’s difficult to see a concrete alternative to a societal structure without *some kind* of law or norms enforcement that don’t per definition fall under statism.

    Instead of realizing this, is qubbling over definitions, which many self-described anarchists are phenomenally good at,as if a slightly changed definition of state or (insert societal condition to be lamented over HERE) would change things as by the wave of a magic wand.

  2. The quibbling can be frustrating. It’s easy to nip it in the bud by asking what did you do to make us more free today or what did you do to undermine the state? If people have ideas of things they want to do but aren’t doing them, I suggest setting up a night where a group of people get together and work on their own project. The key is to work on the project, not talk about planning. That, to me, is often worse than the quibbling over definitions.

  3. “In real terms, it’s difficult to see a concrete alternative to a societal structure without *some kind* of law or norms enforcement that don’t per definition fall under statism.”

    That’s the standard objection to anarchism that academic political scientists will raise. They’ll say, yes, anarchists might oppose government by kings, parliaments, and presidents, but they usually want to replace it with government by syndicates, communes, villages, or private courts. These are valid criticisms, and I take them seriously. But I don’ t think they negate the anarchist position that the state is a criminal gang writ large. It may simply be that rule by criminals is inevitable and eternal, and that might makes right. Also, even if rule by workers councils, private defense agencies, village elders, cooperative federations, or common law courts can rightfully be labeled just another form of statism, I’d argue it’s still a superior form of statism to the more conventional kinds. The Icelandic Commonwealth was a better society than Nazi Germany. Catalonia under the CNT-FAI was superior to Stalinst Russia. A federation of micronations along the lines of Liechtenstein, Monaco, or Luxemburg would be superior to present day gargantuan states like India, China, the EU, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, or the USA.

    Also, keep in mind how Proudhon actually conceived of anarchism as a process. As Larry Gambone said:

    “ Anarchy” did not mean a pure or absolute state of freedom,
    for pure anarchism was an ideal or myth.
    [Anarchy] … the ideal of human government…
    centuries will pass before that ideal is attained, but
    our law is to go in that direction, to grow unceasingly
    nearer to that end, and thus I would uphold
    the principle of federation.2
    …it is unlikely that all traces of government or
    authority will disappear…3
    Proudhon wanted people to minimize the role of authority,
    as part of a process, that may or may not lead to
    anarchy. The end was not so important as the process
    By the word [anarchy] I wanted to indicate the
    extreme limit of political progress. Anarchy is… a
    form of government or constitution in which public
    and private consciousness, formed through the development
    of science and law, is alone sufficient to
    maintain order and guarantee all liberties… The
    institutions of the police, preventative and repressive
    methods officialdom, taxation etc., are reduced to a
    minimum… monarchy and intensive centralization
    disappear, to be replaced by federal institutions and
    a pattern of life based upon the commune.4
    [Note: “ Commune” means municipality.]
    In the real world, all actual political constitutions, agreements
    and forms of government are a result of compromise
    and balance. Neither of the two terms, Authority
    and Liberty can be abolished, the goal of anarchy is merely to
    limit authority to the maximum.
    Since the two principles, Authority and Liberty,
    which underlie all forms organized society, are on
    the one hand contrary to each other, in a perpetual
    state of conflict, and on the other can neither eliminate
    each other nor be resolved, some kind of compromise
    between the two is necessary. Whatever
    the system favored, whether it be monarchical, democratic,
    communist or anarchist, its length of life
    will depend to the extent to which it has taken the
    contrary principle into account.5
    …that monarchy and democracy, communism and
    anarchy, all of them unable to realize themselves in
    the purity of their concepts, are obliged to complement
    one another by mutual borrowings. There is
    surely something here to dampen the intolerance of
    fanatics who cannot listen to a contrary opinion…
    They should learn, then, poor wretches, that they
    are themselves necessarily disloyal to their principles,
    that their political creeds are tissues of inconsistencies…
    contradiction lies at the root of all programs.
    In rejecting absolute anarchy and favoring an open-ended
    process, Proudhon criticized all forms of absolutism and
    utopianism. He saw that utopianism is dangerous, and
    was a product of absolutism – the sort of thought which
    fails to distinguish between concrete reality and the abstract
    products of the mind. Anarchist theory should be
    open-ended, or “ loose” . No hard-edged determinism or
    “ necessary stages of history” for Proudhon.


  4. I think what Rothbard was arguing for was the importance of one’s ATTITUDE towards the state, rather than the purity of one’s ideals. Even if the state is inevitable, it would be increasingly difficult for a state to put much over on a population that utterly despises it as opposed to a population that regards the state as a benevolent protector.

    What Rothbard was attacking were armchair libertarians who understand everything in the vulgar homo economicus terms of costs/benefits or efficiency/inefficiency and for whom opposing the state is akin to designing a more efficient computer program. You see a lot of that kind of psychology in the “Beltway libertarians” the Rockwellites are always railing against. You also see it in the hedonistic consumerism of the crowd around Reason magazine (“cut my taxes so I will have more money to buy drugs and sex toys”). People with those kinds of values don’t make revolutions, because they never want to stick their neck out. For instance, one of my leading critics has referred to me as a “Spartan” in my outlook which is intended as an insult but I take it as the highest possible compliment. I very much want people in my camp who do indeed have a Spartan-Nietzschean-Jungerian attitude when it comes to “attacking the system.”

  5. What real alternative is there? Anarchism is an interim phenomenon and I believe that a societal structure of some sort will eventually coalesce, thus forming a proto-state. All the lovely accoutrements of the full-fledged state aren’t far behind, and the cycle repeats itself. So, to answer your question, yes, I hate the state, but really aside from rugged individualism a la Grizzly Adams is there?

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