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Reflections on Anatomy of the State

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Wheylous Posted: Fri, Nov 9 2012 9:10 AM


I'm reading Anatomy of the State right now and I'm actually finding it to be quite an advanced book despite its brevity and clear writing. The ideas presented even just in passing are very deep and require, for a full understanding, a broad background in history, philosophy, and economics. For example, while he discusses the distinction between the State and the people within the state as it relates to war, the effect would have been lost on me had I not read Hummel's "National Goods versus Public Goods: Defense, Disarmament, and Free Riders", which explained how the difference between the two is an important distinction to understand when discussing national defense. Specifically, most of the time when we speak of national defense we talk of defense of the State, not defense of the people. The state is trying to protect itself from foreign conquest.
Furthermore, to gain a complete respect for his analysis of nullification (especially after 12 years of being taught by the very subject of his book), I had to understand the history of increases in state power as well as the suppression of nullification, which included Tom Woods's insights on on the matter partly explained in his "Interview with a zombie."
His discussion of the Supreme Court as a very dangerous institution also required an understanding of the powers laid out in the Constitution and a general understanding of the intentions of the founders. It also required an understanding of the increases in state power.
His analysis of international law in the areas of "laws of war" and "neutrals' rights" is also extremely incisive. The very existence of these laws is actually one gigantic blind spot of the state - it subtly recognizes the fact that wars are led to protect the state itself (!!!!) and not the people. Indeed think back through history and remember prisoners of war camps. This is one of the most glaring examples. The opposing state doesn't really want to destroy the enemy citizens (a few counterexamples notwithstanding). Instead, it wants to destroy the apparatus of the enemy state so that it can come in and rule (before you begin claiming that at this point the people of the violated nation will need protection, think of the existence of the previous state and ITS parastic nature - we are so quick to see conquering states as evil and our own as beneficent! Surely, the enemy state is the one that wants *tribute* from us (a word made dirty for us in our history classes) while our own state merely begs for *taxes* (which are *never* associated with tribute - but really, that's what they are!).
The existence of the laws of war which generally aim to restrict states to killing each other and not waging total war against the entire population give a vital hint to the nature of war - the preservation of the state, not of the people. Throughout history, as Rothbard notes, wars were (correctly) seen as squabbles between nobles. I vaguely remember from history classes that in fact many times the rural people never really cared much who their ruler would be (correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the impression I got).
Rothbard also notes that "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 [...] 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". If true, this is an extremely scary notion, and upon reflection, it makes intuitive sense. We hate the people of the foreign aggressor only insofar as their state is warring against ours (which incites us to fight on its behalf).
Rothbard also revolutionized the concept of roads and postal service for me in just a few sentences - He terms them "the channels of communication and transportation." Putting it this way is estremely eerie. Noto only does the state control violence, courts, and education, but it controls the physically-connective tissue of society - our system of moving and our system of communicating. It've never looked at roads the same way before. Next time someone asks me "but who will build the roads," I'll reply "certainly not the monopoly on violence!" Not only are we giving the state a monopoly of violence but we're also letting them control the very way we move about!
Here is my 2 page condensation of the book:
Rothbard begins by stating that government has come to be conflated with society. This has led to some ridiculous use of the first person plural “we,” which when taken at face value could be used to justify the greatest injustices of government. He then goes on to clearly delineate the definition of the state as a monopoly on coercion which is the only institution in society which derives its revenue through the threat of violence. This is in opposition to the economic means of wealth accumulation, which is carried out through man transforming natural resources into his property and exchanging them with others through trade.
Rothbard notes that production must precede predation, and that the State must be established after a productive society exists. To continue its existence, it must obtain the support (which could include mere resignation) of the majority of its citizens. A small circle of men and women with burning ambition or extraordinary avarice will coalesce around the King to become part of his ruling circle, but this will not win over the majority of the masses. Even subsidies and grants of privilege will not be enough. What the government must do is persuade the majority that the state is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. This is the job of the “intellectuals”, since the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently, as per a twisted version of the division of labor. The intellectuals achieve this by two general strains of argument: 1) The state rulers are great, wise men (possibly with divine right) or 2) State rule is inevitable, absolutely necessary, and far better, than the indescribable evils that would ensue upon its downfall. Especially successful in recent centuries has been the claim that the state protects the people from other states. When it succeeds in convincing them that the attack is upon them and not just the ruling caste, the people then flock to defend it, and a war between rulers becomes a war between peoples [See Hummel “National Goods versus Public Goods” on the distinction between the defense of the state and the defense of the people]. 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.
A powerful weapon the state wields is that of tradition, which adds weight to the power and inevitability of the state. For this to be effective, individual dissent (which is the seedling of social unrest) must be quelled. This includes the state actively ridiculing conspiracy theories which seek alternative explanations of history and the tyrannies of the government, which unsettle the system and make the public doubt the state’s propaganda. Another method is induction of guilt by accusing an increase in private well-being of being greed or selfishness, exploitation or usury. And 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.
The divine right of the State has been supplemented by the invocation of a new god, Science. State rule is proclaimed to be ultrascientific, as constituting planning by experts (as opposed to chaotic economic forces). A robber cannot easily convince his victim that through his stealing he is boosting retail sales, yet a Keynesian equation showing a “multiplier effect” carries much weight with it. 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. The state must unceasingly try to impress the public with its “legitimacy” to distinguish its activities from those of mere brigands.
Rothbard presents the incisive realization that all devices which men have tried to use as a check against state power have been perverted and turned into an instrument of state power. Kings were supposed to rule within divine law. They 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. A tragic example of this has been the Constitution, with its increasingly looser interpretation by the Supreme Court acting as a mark of legitimacy on growing government power [See also the “Spooner argument”]. It is also apparent that the Supreme Court, as an agency of the government, cannot be adequate to act as a check on the growth of the very same government. Rothbard explains the Calhoun argument for nullification by states, yet points out that Calhoun doesn’t follow his own logic until the end, for what if the states are themselves tyrannical? The concept should be pushed to the individual level, he argues.
The state fears threats to its power and existence. These come from war and from revolution. War itself reinforces the conflation of state and people and allows the state to expand its powers like never before without ever quite returning them to the pre-war level.
Rothbard explains that one of the functions of war is expansion of the state into neighboring states. Older international law developed to limit the war to destruction of the state itself without destruction of its citizens and commerce, as evidenced by “laws of war” and “neutrals’ rights.” Indeed, in line with the previous claim that war was until recently seen as a fight between the nobles of a country, it turns out that when at war, even through the eighteenth century, the citizens of a country didn’t end communication with citizens of the other country and even found no reason to stop their travels to the enemy country to visit. In the twentieth century, the state has vastly transcended the rules of “civilized warfare.”
History, then has been a race between social power (or the productive power of labor and mutual exchange) and state power (parasitic expropriation). All methods of restraining state power have failed in the long run. New solutions must be explored, and one indispensable ingredient must be the sundering of the alliance of intellectual and State, through the creation of centers of intellectual inquiry and education independent of State power (just as great intellectual movements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were achieved by working outside of, and sometimes against, the entrenched universities).
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gotlucky replied on Fri, Nov 9 2012 10:01 AM

Thanks for this, Wheylous.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 9 2012 11:05 AM

@Wheylous: I wrote some of my own extensions on Rothbard's characterization of the USPS here.

On roads.

Clayton -
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... in America, we are so free that we cannot drive to our neighbors home without permission from the government.


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