The Report of its Death is an Exaggeration

Alex R. Knight III, my fellow C4SS news analysts, passes along an encouraging datum from Rasmussen in his latest column:

The founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, states that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Today, however, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed.

“It’s abundantly clear,” writes Knight, “that faith in government itself is dying.” And as far as he goes, he’s right. If the state relied on consent and faith to rule we’d be basking in the white light radiating from the visible end of the anarchist tunnel right about now.

Unfortunately, government is an omnivorous beast: When it can’t curry (or convincingly fake) consent and faith, it’s content to dine instead on cynicism and fear. It’s also prone to re-making itself in whatever form best guarantees its continued existence and maximum power.

To put a finer point on it, even if this state is going down (and, like Alex, I think it is), we’re still a long way from, and in a dangerous place on the journey toward, the state as such going down.

Over the centuries of the modern nation-state’s existence, the political class has had a head start and the upper hand when it comes to shaping the conventional wisdom. Manufacturing an illusory “consent of the governed” may be the brightest jewel in that crown, but it’s far from the only one.

Another obvious thing that the political class has going for it is the fear that its operatives lovingly and carefully cultivate — fear of the state itself (“if I rise up, will I be struck down?”) and fear of what life without the state might entail (“the politicians tell me that I need them … what if they’re right?”). Those fears immobilize at least as many otherwise free people as “consent” does.

When the state’s power is waxing, the cynic is seemingly the natural ally of the anarchist. His choice to live self-sufficiently and to follow his own conclusions as to what constitutes a virtuous life makes him useless to the state. Those two things also make him a worthy example for anti-statists to point to in their attempts to whittle away at “consent of the governed.”

As the state’s power wanes, the cynic’s function changes. Just as he’s disinclined to throw in with the state, he’s also disinclined to throw in against it. And why should he? He’s living the stateless life already, and he did so with no one’s assistance! The cynic remains an admirable figure … but from a revolutionary standpoint, he represents inertia rather than weight in the balance of (against!) power.

Unless conversion to cynicism is unanimous, realizing the stateless society in the crater left by an imploding state is not, or at least not wholly, an automatic result of the implosion. It requires volition and motivation, not mere disinclination to undo the implosion. It requires the creation of new, non-coercive institutions to replace the old coercive ones, and it requires active resistance to attempts to reincarnate the state.

The first step in creating those new institutions is convincing people that they’re better than what they replace — or, to steal some words from the Center’s mission statement, “building public awareness of, and support for, market anarchism.” As we chronicle and celebrate the death throes of the state, it’s important that we also actively promote its alternative, the stateless society.

It seems to me that the demographic most immediately amenable to adoption of the stateless society as goal is the “freedom movement,” broadly defined. I’m also aware that most market anarchists and most readers of this column are, to one degree or another, involved in other activities of and acquainted with non-anarchist members of that movement.

So in this hopeful Year of the Anarchist, I’m asking you, our readers, to help C4SS in its mission by passing on relevant links — to C4SS, to the Molinari Institute’s library of persuasive arguments, or to your own favorite market anarchist polemics — to your friends and acquaintances on a weekly basis. It’s time for a “big push” to bring the general freedom movement behind the goal of a stateless society.

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