In The Great Fiction, author Hans-Hermann Hoppe starts where any discussion of government should begin, with the defining attributes of a state.
Why this approach? Governments that populate the earth are all states, though there is no good reason they should be.
What are these attributes, exactly? The most salient feature of a state is its self-appointed monopoly powers. If it declares it can’t be sued, it can’t be sued. If it or its agents decide to tax its subjects, it will fleece them. If it decides to go to war, it will unleash its war machine. If it decides to outlaw market-derived money, which has been gold and silver, and replace it with easily-inflatable fiat currency, everyone must begin accepting the state’s money in trade. Any violation of these laws is subject to punishment, enforced by the state’s badge-carrying thugs.
Those who constitute the state apparatus are a minority in any society, and thus need to convince the rest of the population that their rule is necessary, just, and inevitable. For this they engage intellectuals, who otherwise would be at the mercy of the market and would largely remain unemployed. As Hoppe points out, not just some intellectuals but all of them.
Even intellectuals working in mathematics or the natural sciences, for instance, can obviously think for themselves and so become potentially dangerous. It is thus important that [the state secures] their loyalty.
Thus, during the 2020 presidential campaign we witnessed a major American popular science magazine, among others, endorsing the candidate for whom the state is foundational to his programs.
In education as elsewhere, the state becomes a monopolist. Importantly, education up to a certain level must be compulsory, to teach people to think as subjects of the state.
Have the intellectuals done their job? Ask people if they think the institution of the state is necessary, and Hoppe believes 99% of them will say it is. States have been around so long they seem part of nature, like trees and bees, or floods and earthquakes. One of the great achievements of the statist intellectuals is never allowing the question of the necessity of the state “to come up for serious discussion. The state is considered as an unquestionable part of the social fabric.”
But if it is questioned, Hobbes and his “state of nature” argument apparently wins the day. According to Thomas Hobbes, without a state life is permanent conflict. As Hoppe writes,
Everyone claims a right to everything, and this will result in interminable war. There is no way out of this predicament by means of agreements; for who would enforce these agreements?
The only solution is the establishment of a third independent party, by agreement, to serve as “ultimate judge and enforcer,” what has been called a state. But as Hoppe argues, there’s no way this arrangement can come about peacefully, because a prior state must exist to enforce it.
States are conquering parties that have imposed their will on its subjects.
If A and B now agree on something, their agreements are made binding by an external party [the state]. However, the state itself is not so bound by any outside enforcer. . . The state is bound by nothing except its own self-accepted and enforced rules, i.e., the constraints that it imposes on itself. Vis-à-vis itself, so to speak, the state is still in a natural state of anarchy characterized by self-rule and enforcement, because there is no higher state, which could bind it.
State has the guns, market has the goods
As states grow their agents make deals with major market entities. In today’s world it is quite easy for a state to purchase anything it wants. With a monopoly money producer in its ranks, it can always borrow what it needs if there is insufficient tax loot available. And as its debt grows no one cares, except a few Austrian economists.
Why would a nominally private firm deal with the state? For legislative or other privileges, in addition to the revenue. A firm that refuses to deal with the state runs the risk of penalties. Under state rule, laws are made to be broken, and they’re broken every minute of the day. As Jeff Thomas writes,
The level of governmental dominance now exists to such a degree that literally everyone is a criminal, whether they know it or not. It’s been estimated that the average American commits about three felonies per day, in addition to many lesser crimes. If, for any reason, the authorities wished to victimize you, they’d find their task quite simple. (My emphasis)
A cozy and broadening relationship with formerly free-market entities develops, often under the heading of state capitalism. The entrepreneurial spirit that created companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, and others has been corrupted by state interference.
In our ongoing Covid environment, pharmaceutical firms, social platforms, and government agencies are working hand-in-hand. How can a vaccine be granted an EUA if other safe and effective treatments are available? If, for example, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are safe and effective, as well as cheap and plentiful, the vaccines get put on hold. Therefore, not merely dis vaccine alternatives, but threaten and arrest those promoting their use.
Hoppe sums up his discussion of the state with a proposed riddle:
Assume a group of people, aware of the possibility of conflicts between them. Someone then proposes, as a solution to this human problem, that he (or someone) be made the ultimate arbiter in any such case of conflict, including those conflicts in which he is involved. Is this is a deal that you would accept? I am confident that he will be considered either a joker or mentally unstable. Yet this is precisely what all statists propose.
Reprinted with the author’s permission.