Laurance Labadie’s “Liberty and the State”

Liberty and the State

The anarchistic solution of the money problem is so simple as to cause amazement. It is to permit anyone and everyone to go into the banking system. Why not? No one objects to anyone going into the hat business or building business or any other non-invasive enterprise. Naturally those who furnish the soundest and cheapest money will crowd others out of existence [1]. To facilitate recognizability there would probably be cooperation or mergers between the banks. The public at large would be the “rulers” of this type of institution because they would patronize it or not, at will, and it must maintain its efficiency and reputability because of the pressure of competition. 

The difference between this type of institution and the State or State protected institutions is that the latter, due mostly to the ignorance of people but also by the threat of violence, are endowed with arbitrary power. If the State would be on a voluntary taxation basis as any other business it would have to give something else than abuse and the misappropriation of funds else no one would support it. But this would mean that it would cease to be a state in the anarchistic sense. Of course this is only the economic objection to the State; there are many other ways that it restricts and hampers the non-invasive life of a nation. The State is the cancer in the social life of a people.

That is why those in political life are looked upon as criminals by anarchists, not because they so much actually intend to do wrong, even the political life does corrupt a man, but because the effects of their actions are to provoke what is more obviously criminal. The president of the United States is bringing ruin to its inhabitants, not because he is intending to do so but because he is ignorant. It is dangerous to entrust the destiny of people to ignorant men [2]. That is why only by the abolition of arbitrary power can there be any security or harmony among people. Only by the inauguration of voluntarily supported institutions can the possibility of invasiveness be minimalized [3]. This would be a real democracy. The State must be destroyed not by killing those in power, but by destroying the political myth in the minds of people [4]. Then the State would be laughed away as an absurdity. Meanwhile we must not only discover the nature of liberty, its possibilities and promise, but must also combat the thousand and one spurious nostrums which now tempt the human race. 

It is true however that liberty alone will do the trick. Human society, must, in freedom, become one large experimental field wherein, according to the law of the survival of the fittest, only those institutions and customs which actually serve human needs can survive. Only by the free and unhampered operation of this great law will folly be eliminated because the absence of paternalism places fools in a position to reap the full rewards of their folly and in doing so become wise, i.e. capable, self-reliant, and responsible.

Of course, in the larger view, the law of the survival of the fittest, which, by the way and contrary to the beliefs of many humanitarians, is an amoral law and taxes no cognizance of “good” or “bad” men, is always in operation, We the great mass of people suffer today because, in our ignorance we do not understand how to live. But in the long run, if there is to be any “survival” on this earth, it is within the realm of certainty that it is to come only by the extension of individual liberties through the ultimate abolition of the State, the elimination of all government of man by man.

  1. “Existence” misspelled as “existance.” 
  2. “Entrust” misspelled as “intrust.”
  3. “Inauguration” misspelled as “inaugeration.”
  4. Word identified as “destroyed” is illegible.

Commentary – Eric Fleischmann

First published in a 1934 edition of John G. Scott and Jo Ann Wheeler’s version of Mother Earth and later archived in the Joseph A. Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library, this newly welcomed part of the Laurance Labadie Archival Project is a short and sweet assessment of why government sucks regardless of who is in power. I’ve said in a previous piece that “this is not about me,” but I can’t help but reference a point I made in my own interview by Joel Williamson for The Enragés. That is: people being essentially ‘good’ is not a solid basis for anarchism because that same logic can justify the idea that we only need to elect the ‘good-est’ people (often in a conflation of both morality and skill) and the government will be good; this can be seen in everything from Plato’s call for the wisest among people to become philosopher kings all the way to republicans arguing that Donald Trump was a good pick for president because he is both a good Christian (nonsense) and a good businessman (also nonsense). This feels like a related point to that being made by Labadie that politicians are seen as bad by anarchists “not because they so much actually intend to do wrong, even the political life does corrupt a man, but because the effects of their actions are to provoke what is more obviously criminal,” as in “bringing ruin to its inhabitants.” He is arguing that the goodness of an individual politician or bureaucrat is irrelevant to the inevitable failures and criminality of the state.

This means that the state cannot truly be used for the benefit of all classes for the important reason that it is not like a business “on a voluntary taxation basis” so that “it would have to give something else than abuse and the misappropriation of funds else no one would support it.” Instead, through violence, it gives politicians “arbitrary power” and entrusts “the destiny of people to ignorant men.” It does not matter how well intentioned a politician—think Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader, or AOC—might be or even how ostensibly effective and/or popular some of their policies might be because the government is not subject to supply and demand like market entities. Therefore, beyond the minimal level of democratic decision making particularly in the United States, agents of the state will be perpetually, as Labadie says, “ignorant” and “arbitrary” when attempting to make sweeping decisions regarding society. This is why the U.S. Government has 2,000 M-1 Abrams tanks gathering dust in the California desert even as tanks continue to be produced as they have non-stop since WW2 or why it spends $1.7 billion a year maintaining hundreds of thousands of empty buildings. These are fairly benign examples but go toward showing that, as a recent Princeton study concludes, “[t]he preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

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