The Fractionated Society of the State

Reporting on demonstrations and outbreaks of violence in Libya this week, CBS News observes the “collision between Libyans’ aspirations for change and the capability of the country’s fragile, post-Muammar Qaddafi leadership to bring it.” Since the 40-plus year rule of Qaddafi ended last year, a miscellany of would-be tyrants have vied for position, with the militias that helped oust Qaddafi remaining something of a wild card.

While the number of definite factions is open to question, the widespread trepidation in Libya is palpable. There is a sense among the people that any moment, a shot fired, the rise of a charismatic leader, etc., a new despotism could come forth.

Conventional wisdom teaches that, in the absence of the state, violent conflict is inevitable, political, religious and class groups destined to clash until a single, central source of law and order is instituted in society. To avoid such endless and untold chaos, people inaugurate the “artificial man” of the state, its objectivity, fairness and justness proceeding from the fact that it is something separate and apart from the people who create it. By agreement, the theory instructs, people relinquish a portion of their natural sovereignty so that they might have peace.

But libertarians and radicals of all stripes suggest another backstory for the state, one that replaces the deified state of fairy tale political science with the actual, historical state. Endorsing this second narrative, market anarchists argue that, in the words of American anarchist Benjamin Tucker, “the State had its origin in aggression, and has continued as an aggressive institution from its birth.” American historian Charles A. Beard wrote similarly, “War thus begets the king.”

The aggression of the state, its attack on peaceful, productive society, is not random or without purpose, but fundamentally economic in nature; it has enabled a parasitic class of marauders to live at the expense of others throughout history. Naturally, then, the state’s presence in society has yielded results — like those in Libya — decidedly opposite those of the fairy tale chronicle that has been inculcated in us.

What is transpiring in Libyan towns today, what materialized last year during the Arab Spring, these are reactions to innate, shared awareness that society is subject to the rule of a conquering group. In its establishment, and then protection and patronage, of monopoly, the state is the principal source of poverty. In its furtherance of poverty, the state catalyzes the preconditions of crime and violence — the chaos is it thought to thwart.

The principle of equal liberty allows people with different beliefs and worldviews to live and work alongside one another, indeed, to cooperate and collaborate. It is only the inception of political authority, the power of some group to rule everyone, that creates the kind of bloodshed we witness today.

A fractionated society, divided along cultural, ethnic and other lines, its people estranged from one another, is not necessary or ineludible. We can mitigate or escape entirely most of the attributes of the splintered, political society by embracing a philosophy mutual respect and non-coercion. Market anarchists are upholders of this philosophy.

People who would leave their neighbors in peace, who would trade on a voluntary basis, who would refrain from forcing their views on others through politics, are all already anarchists. Libyans ought to oppose not any particular political ideology or regime, but the state itself; only in its final abolition can legitimate law and order come to fruition.

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