The State is an Epidemic

Of all the standard counter-arguments to the anarchist idea that I run into, perhaps the most frustrating is “well, yes, I concede that there are a lot of problems with political government, but how do I know that whatever you propose as a replacement won’t be even worse?”

My equally standard five-word retort — “how COULD it be worse?” — obviously bears some elaboration, but I think that the laundry list of reasons why it probably couldn’t be worse deserves a prefatory analogy:

Suppose that you have suffered, since childhood, from a chronic cough, and that as an adult you begin to notice that this cough is accompanied by the spitting up of blood.

Suppose further that all your life, all around you, you have seen your friends suffering the same kind of cough, the same bloody sputum, and eventual death.

Finally, suppose that when you consult a physician, he declines to treat the cough. “After all,” he asks, “if we get rid of the cough, who knows what will replace it? Your feet might fall off. Your head might explode. Yes, I know the cough is painful, serves no useful purpose and portends your eventual death, but the alternative might be even worse! What if curing it turns you into a brain-eating zombie? Sorry, but unless I know exactly what would follow a cure, I’m just going to keep these antibiotics locked up.”

I doubt you’d find such an answer satisfactory … but that’s exactly the answer supporters of the state offer in response to any suggestion that it may be time for their overgrown killer street gangs — “governments” — to stand down.

Political government has always been a useless, painful cancer on humanity. Its most evolved mutation, the Westphalian nation-state, has metastasized over the last 360-odd years, covering the globe with tumors of “national sovereignty” which perpetually eat away at the humanity they infest, using that humanity partially as fuel for their own growth and partially as fodder for their wars with other, similar tumors.

It’s difficult to grasp the scale of damage political government has done, but the work of Professor Emeritus RJ Rummel of the University of Hawaii — no anarchist himself — is a good place to start. In the 20th century alone, according to Rummel, “democide” (murder by government) resulted in at least 262 million human deaths.

When I call Rummel’s work a place to start, that’s exactly what I mean. His definition of “democide” encompasses only “killing on purpose.” Accidental and incidental deaths (for example, the deaths of tens of thousands of patients awaiting regulatory approval of life-saving medications, police killings not pursuant to a policy aimed specifically at those deaths, etc.) aren’t included.

The population of the United States at the end of the 20th century stood at about 280 million. Even using low numbers, we can be reasonably sure that in the 20th century, a number of human beings nearly equivalent to that entire population were murdered by governments worldwide.

My personal guess for actual deaths inflicted by Westphalian nation-statism in the 20th century, when we add in those accidental and incidental deaths, is at least twice Rummel’s number, and probably more. For the sake of argument, let’s call it 600 million. That’s 1/10th of the world’s population as of 2000.

That, fellow humans, is an epidemic on a global scale unlike anything seen since the Black Death of the Middle Ages.

When smallpox, polio, tuberculosis or flu kill millions, our response is to isolate or quarantine their carriers, develop treatments and vaccines, and do our damnedest to eradicate those diseases. We don’t waste our time worrying about what new diseases may pop up or what might follow a cure; we deal with that which afflicts us first and foremost.

But when anarchists point out the deadly nature of the state, which routinely and predictably kills people in numbers on the same scale as any of those aforementioned scourges, its defenders clasp the disease to their breasts and wail that they just don’t know what we’d do without it.

Well, I know what most of us would do without it: We’d live. And personally I think living is better than dying. How about you?

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory