STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
To Hasten the Demise of the State

Salon’s Andrew Leonard worries that new business models and apps are often the brainchild of ideological libertarians pushing hard for “free-market fanatacism [sic].” Leonard sees young companies like Lyft and Airbnb as cheating, as “exploit[ing] regulatory loopholes . . . to game public goods.” In fact, Leonard even says that “safety regulations are a kind of public good,” that taxes and regulations exist to protect all of us as consumers from big, bad corporations. It is entirely lost on Leonard that his article defends those established corporations from much smaller start-ups that are giving consumers what they ask for. For anyone concerned about equality and a level playing field, fresh competition that comes from outside of the establishment paradigm—that attempts to route around regulations written by the lawyers of the regulated industries themselves—ought to be a welcome surprise. But the musty progressivism of people like Leonard is about social control and sterilization, the predominance of large institutions that work together for “the public good.” This progressivism, the American cousin of European fascism, distrusts any iteration of bottom-up, spontaneous order, anything that independently emerges without the blessing of corporate state elites. In this model, governments are the protectors of “community” even as they neuter any and all ideas of community that blossom outside of their control. As the notable Mussolini quotation goes, “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state.”

It seems downright bizarre that so many otherwise reasonable people persist in allowing governments the benefit of the doubt, continue to ignore every fact and past experience that show these institutions for what they actually are—the leeching, disease-spreading organization of aggression in society. From this very moment back to its illegitimate birth from rape and conquest, the State has never offered us anything more than the deal “your money or your life.” Springing forth from martial victory, it gathered together in its bloodstained hands everything of value, first the land and now, in the contemporary age, even the very ideas in our heads. In so doing, it sentenced its subjects to slavery just as a matter of course, offering protection from other tribes even as that protection amounted to permanent servitude and subjection in the subjects’ own homeland.

Enslavement need not take the shape only of owning men themselves. As Clarence Darrow wrote, “In its later and more refined stages [slavery] is carried on by the ownership of the things from which man must live.” Far from Leonard’s “public goods,” the State’s taxes and regulations are part and parcel of what prevents free people from breaking out of an economic framework of control. Thus are the State’s “law and order” no more than its name for cruel despotism and systematic theft; when its apologists claim that, in its absence, the poor and less fortunate would be forgotten and left to suffer and die, they reveal their ignorance of the State’s history and economic role. The widespread want and destitution of the poor are in fact the direct result of the State, of its active interventions against legitimate, voluntary trade and private property properly based upon homesteading. Quite contrary to what we’re told by Salon progressives, true community and solidarity are the first order enemies of the State, the social phenomena that most threaten its power. At no time have distributions of wealth or income proceeded from any economic system similar in even the remotest sense to what libertarians mean by free markets. Support for new government programs, laws, and taxes, rather than relief or subvention for the poor, simply means comfort for the ruling class, defined both economically and politically.

Public choice theory teaches us that we cannot magically abstract institutions out of all the normal, self-interested motivations of the people who make them up, nor can these institutions miraculously know the answers to complex social problems even assuming we could expect then to act as angels. The notion that the kind of institution we have come to call the State was ever motivated by a desire to help people and do good things in society is the worst kind of delusion, a naive fantasy designed to hold the captive and oppressed classes in their place. It is thus ideas that possess the strength, that fix and maintain such a poisonous, criminal system. Without active acceptance of and belief in its legitimacy, the ruling class could be overthrown with relative ease, not even by force or revolution, but simply by nonviolent disobedience on a sufficiently massive scale.

In its gasping, dying convulsions, the State’s fundamental character would be thrown into relief. Even the most superstitious worshipers of its monuments and its fairytale histories would shrink in horror at its monstrous visage. They would see that, as Albert Jay Nock once observed, the totalitarian state is not actually a new development or a thing apart from the state more generally. “The totalitarian State is only the State; the kind of thing it does is only what the State has always done with unfailing regularity, if it had the power to do it, wherever and whenever its own aggrandizement made that kind of thing expedient.” Regrettably, most of our bleeding hearts have failed to understand this, the state education apparatus having succeeded in obliterating historical reality and retarding critical thinking. Facts ill-fitting with the narratives of ruling class ennoblement are hurriedly deposited into the Memory Hole, to be neither seen nor heard again. We need not wonder why there aren’t more libertarians, anarchists, and radicals of all stripes; indeed, we might think it surprising that such people exist at all given the resources which the State has dedicated to active misinformation and to maintaining the appearance of real political debate.

No American, for example, can really be blamed for believing that the only legitimate choice in politics is the one that pits Republicans against Democrats. After all, in some sense, that is the only legitimate choice—and this is precisely the reason that politics itself is a superficial shell game and swindle, a way to draw your attention away from questioning anything substantive. None of this is to argue or even suggest that the differences between Republicans and Democrats (or any other political parties abroad) are not sincerely felt, or that the hostilities we observe are faked in order to perpetuate some dark conspiracy.[1] Surface tensions may well be (and more likely are) entirely unfeigned and contended in earnest all while the basic system that has endured for thousands of years persists underneath. The component parts of this political-economic system needn’t be cognizant of their role in it or even the fact of its injustice and iniquity.

Thus may the beneficiaries of privilege and corporate welfare, for example, quite honestly believe that their millions are the product of “the free market,” that the degradation of the poor is in all places the result of sloth. The police, prosecutors, and courts may just as sincerely imagine that they are engaged in the most righteous service of justice. In our hope for a free society without the State, we must resist the temptation to impute motives and guess about malicious mental states, instead adducing historical and empirical facts. And since, in the words of abolitionist Henry C. Wright, “[h]uman government has made the earth a slaughter house of the human race for 6,000 years,” there is never a paucity of such facts. Whoever should look for them will find them in spades; whoever would open her ears will meet their deafening roar, with carnage, hardship, and injustice crying out from the annals of history. “The Anarchist,” wrote A.H. Simpson, “knows very well that the present State is an historical development, that it is simply the tool of the property-owning class; he knows that primitive accumulation began through robbery bold and daring, and that the freebooters then organized the State in its present form for their own self-preservation.” The State is a terrorist organization, a contemptible instrument of organized crime draped in Tyrian purple and exalted as a guardian and almsgiver. When we expose it for what it is, we weaken it, chipping away at the ideological substructure that is its true strength. The most important work before us, then, is revising popular understandings of what the State is and what it has actually done, a project that means putting ourselves out in the daylight as anarchists, and showing anarchism to be not just the fascination of angry, smart aleck teens clad in black, but rational and sober critics of proven injustice. To progressives: we don’t believe you when you insist that individuals cannot be left to trade and provide for one another without the supervision of expert elites in Washington, DC regulatory bodies. We don’t believe you when you tell us that government is good, that it exists to protect community and equality. If your concern about these is genuine, join us in hastening the abolition of the State.


[1] Given what is called “the narcissism of small differences,” we have every reason to believe that controversies between Republicans and Democrats are quite heartfelt indeed. Traced back to Sigmund Freud, who acknowledges a debt to the English anthropologist Ernest Crawley, the notion suggests, in Freud’s formulation, “that it is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them.” Applied to the United States’ two major political parties, the idea is instructive in showing how battles for mere inches of contested political ground can grow so hostile.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist