What is government? What is the State?
Joseph Sobran on the "essence of the state":
The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force. But force is subhuman; in words I quote incessantly, Simone Weil defined it as “that which turns a person into a thing — either corpse or slave.” It may sometimes be a necessary evil, in self-defense or defense of the innocent, but nobody can have by right what the state claims: an exclusive privilege of using it.
It’s entirely possible that states — organized force — will always rule this world, and that we will have at best a choice among evils. And some states are worse than others in important ways: anyone in his right mind would prefer living in the United States to life under a Stalin. But to say a thing is inevitable, or less onerous than something else, is not to say it is good.
For most people, anarchy is a disturbing word, suggesting chaos, violence, antinomianism — things they hope the state can control or prevent. The term state, despite its bloody history, doesn’t disturb them. Yet it’s the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can’t assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what legitimacy means. Anarchists obviously need a more seductive label.
“But what would you replace the state with?” The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be “replaced.”
Franz Oppenheimer's definition of the State, from his classic The State:
I mean by [the "State"] that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought into being by extra economic power. And in contrast to this, I mean by Society, the totality of concepts of all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man …. [from the Introduction]
There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. … I propose … to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others “the economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.” … The state is an organization of the political means. [Ch. 1]
Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty:
But, above all, the crucial monopoly is the State’s control of the use of violence: of the police and armed services, and of the courts—the locus of ultimate decision-making power in disputes over crimes and contracts. Control of the police and the army is particularly important in enforcing and assuring all of the State’s other powers, including the all-important power to extract its revenue by coercion.
For there is one crucially important power inherent in the nature of the State apparatus. All other persons and groups in society (except for acknowledged and sporadic criminals such as thieves and bank robbers) obtain their income voluntarily: either by selling goods and services to the consuming public, or by voluntary gift (e.g., membership in a club or association, bequest, or inheritance). Only the State obtains its revenue by coercion, by threatening dire penalties should the income not be forthcoming. That coercion is known as “taxation,” although in less regularized epochs it was often known as “tribute.” Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.
If, then, taxation is compulsory, and is therefore indistinguishable from theft, it follows that the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization far more formidable and successful than any “private” Mafia in history. Furthermore, it should be considered criminal not only according to the theory of crime and property rights as set forth in this book, but even according to the common apprehension of mankind, which always considers theft to be a crime. As we have seen above, the nineteenth-century German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer put the matter succinctly when he pointed out that there are two and only two ways of attaining wealth in society: (a) by production and voluntary exchange with others—the method of the free market; and (b)by violent expropriation of the wealth produced by others. The latter is the method of violence and theft. The former benefits all parties involved; the latter parasitically benefits the looting group or class at the expense of the looted. Oppenheimer trenchantly termed the former method of obtaining wealth, “the economic means,” and the latter “the political means.” Oppenheimer then went on brilliantly to define the State as “the organization of the political means.”
The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means.
All government is "socialistic," at least to a degree.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe on socialism:
There can be no socialism without a state, and as long as there is a state there is socialism. The state, then, is the very institution that puts socialism into action; and as socialism rests on aggressive violence directed against innocent victims, aggressive violence is the nature of any state.
Stephan Kinsella on socialism:
Hoppe, in his treatise A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (chapters 3–6), provides a systematic analysis of various forms of socialism: Socialism Russian-Style, Socialism Social-Democratic Style, the Socialism of Conservatism, and the Socialism of Social Engineering. In fact, recognizing the common elements of various forms of socialism and their distinction from libertarianism (capitalism), Hoppe incisively defines socialism as “an institutionalized interference with or aggression against private property and private property claims.” Ibid., p. 2 (emphasis added). In other words, although the term socialism is usually narrowly restricted to public ownership of the means of production, from a political or ethical standpoint there is nothing special about “capital”; what is important about it is that it is a type of private property. Thus the essence of socialism is simply institutionalized aggression against private property. In this broader sense, any state action that infringes on property rights is socialistic.
This definition seems to get at the essence of what socialism is; it is basically public, or institutionalized, crime. Applied literally, any state at all, even a minimal one, is “socialistic” to a certain degree, since states necessarily commit aggression. Therefore, according to this definition, anyone other than an anarcho-libertarian is to a degree a socialist–even a minarchist. Certainly all those outside the anarchist/minarchist camps are advocates of socialist policies and institutions, to a degree.
If George Washington didn't say it, he should have, because few wiser words have been spoken.
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.
Lew Rockwell warns:
Let me state this as plainly as possible. The enemy is the state. There are other enemies too, but none so fearsome, destructive, dangerous, or culturally and economically debilitating. No matter what other proximate enemy you can name – big business, unions, victim lobbies, foreign lobbies, medical cartels, religious groups, classes, city dwellers, farmers, left-wing professors, right-wing blue-collar workers, or even bankers and arms merchants – none are as horrible as the hydra known as the leviathan state. If you understand this point – and only this point – you can understand the core of libertarian strategy.
Joseph Sobran on Christians, the State, and Heresy.
St. Augustine took a dark view of earthly government, which, with slavery and war, he deemed a consequence of original sin. St. Thomas Aquinas held that even unfallen man would need government (as even good drivers need traffic laws), but he agreed with Augustine that a positive law that clashed with divine or natural law was unjust and void — a principle that might invalidate most statutes on the books.
Nearly all Christians distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate regimes; if rebellion is always a sin, how can we have a duty to obey the successful rebel when he assumes power? Must we obey the tsar one day, and the Lenin who topples him the next? Does Paul mean to say: "Thou shalt obey anyone who holds coercive power over thee"?
Or consider the United States. Here, "We the People" are in theory the sovereign authority, and our ruling officers are mere servants. The powers "delegated" to those servants are defined and limited by the Constitution. Must we obey them, even when they usurp powers never entrusted to them? When they claim such powers, it would seem that *they* are in rebellion against *us,* and we have no duty to obey. "Masters, obey your servants"?
When there are so many kinds of states ... the only defining trait they share is the claim of a legal monopoly of coercion. Paul doesn't assert that brute power constitutes a right to command and compel. He must mean something else. But what?
He says the civil authorities serve God, and Christians can obey the law and be good citizens by simply keeping the Commandments. Were these words meant to ward off suspicions that Christians were subversive and to encourage them to respect human law, at least insofar as it conformed to God's law?
If so, Paul's words may carry an ironic meaning that would escape the Roman authorities. By positing a just government — very unlike the rule of Nero — he may have been subtly implying that Christians are *not* morally bound to cooperate with tyranny.
There is no such thing as good government.
Never was. Never will be.