In anticipation of the possibility that Congress will fail to “reach a compromise” on a spending bill, CNNMoney reports that “a shutdown is looking ever more likely.” Even in the event of a “shutdown,” reminds the article, the federal government’s essential services, those “operations necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property,” would carry on.
It’s telling, though, that government employees “who protect … elements of the money and banking system” are among those “essential” workers. In light of a potential “shutdown,” the last of which came in 1995, we might take some time out to consider what the essence of the state really is, that is, what it is inherently designed to do in society.
Besides its protective functions, defined by its monopoly on the use of force, the need for a state is often asserted on the basis of its role as a “safety net.” But although few would disagree that individuals need some hedge against sickness, unemployment and the like, anarchism challenges the supposition that such provisions require institutionalized aggression in the form of the state. Moreover, anarchism takes as one of its core theses that the “safety net” realm of state activity, its social welfare programs for those in need, is ancillary to its primary application, plunder.
The more specific claims of the free market left proceed from the general conclusion that economic justice for the worker will not — indeed cannot — emanate from the coercion of the state, an institution that is intrinsically an agency of the powerful. Like the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, even those who would sincerely “use it from a desire to do good” are led into iniquity, unable to bring the essential character of authority under benevolent control.
And since aggression is never a force for good, market anarchists would not apportion societal wealth through the state, but through the natural currents of mutually advantageous trade. Contrary to the misconstructions of both sides of mainstream debate, when the state does act within the economic system — when it does redistribute wealth — it does so in service to the rich.
Instead of attempting to use the state to restore the natural position of labor, then, market anarchism calls for an end to coercive redistribution in the first instance. Could we rid productive society of the parasitism of the ruling class, of its ability to extract wealth through the state, it would no longer be necessary for government bureaus to “relieve” poverty. Wherever it is left free from the trammels of authority, labor is more than capable of providing for itself, for prospering without the presumed “help” of the state.
Giving lie to the “fairy tale” that the state’s current class society developed naturally, independent of coercive exploitation, Franz Oppenheimer taught that the state “originated in no other way than through conquest and subjugation.” Only where access to land — and in the present day capital goods, credit, etc. — was “preempted politically” could the elite drive workers into its service.
For the humane who have a genuine interest in social justice, the “shutdown” of the state ought to be the ultimate goal. The state’s social welfare complex has become necessary for society only as a result of the state’s intersection with society, as a barebones life-support system for the engines of production.
The state is erected on the horrible deception that voluntary society is fundamentally incapable of taking care of itself; when that lie is laid bare and the state is revealed in its true nature, trade and cooperation alone will regulate the affairs of men.