Guest Post: The Nature And Origin Of The State

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The next in a continuing series (most recently: Law and the State).

Submitted by Free Radical

The Nature and Origin of the State

The idea that the State originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. – Albert Jay Nock

It is imperative that we understand, first of all, that “Everything the state is capable of doing it does through compulsion and the application of force.”  Even apologists for the state cannot deny this fact.

Neither can its apologists deny (at least convincingly) that “every State has been and is a class State, and every theory of the State has been and is a class theory,”i  acknowledgement of which can be found as far back as Plato, who, having addressed the settle-ment of formerly nomadic tribes in The Statesman, depicts – with obvious approval – their conquest and subjugation in The Republic:

Plato gives us a mythological yet very pointed description of the conquest itself, when dealing with the origin of the “earthborn,” the ruling class of the best city. Their victorious march into the city, previously founded by the tradesmen and workers, it described as follows: “After having armed and trained the earthborn, let us now make them advance, under the command of the guardians, till they ar-rive in the city. Then let them look round to find out the best place for their camp – the spot that is most suitable for keeping down the inhabitants, should anyone show unwillingness to obey the law, and for holding back external enemies who may come down like wolves on the fold.” This short but triumphant tale of the subjugation of a sedentary population by a conquering war horde … must be kept in mind when we interpret Plato’s reiterated insistence that good rulers ... are pa-triarchal shepherds of men and that the true political art, the art of ruling, is a kind of herdsmanship, i.e., the art of managing and keeping down human cattle.ii

Even so, Plato’s pupil Aristotle rejected this “art,” placing the origin of the state more palatably, albeit mistakenly, at the end of a purely organic process:

The belief in the kinship origin of the State has been among the most deeply rooted manifestations of the Western faith in development continuity. The popularity of the belief owes much to Aristotle’s celebrated triadic scheme of evolution – from family to community to State – and has been nourished in modern times by frequent appeals to irrelevant and historically unconnected ethnographic materials. As is true in so many other alleged instances of developmental continuity, the fact of logical continui-ty has been converted into the supposition of historical continuity within a specific area or chronology.iii

Moreover, not only was it assumed, following Aristotle, that “from such an original social order … there had developed, through gradual differentiation, the fully developed State with its class hierarchy;”iv  it was also assumed that said order developed because all productive land had been settled:

All the teachers of natural law, etc., have unanimously declared that the dif-ferentiation into income-receiving classes and propertyless classes can only take place when all fertile lands have been occupied. For so long as man has ample opportunity to take up unoccupied land, “no one,” says Turgot, “would think of entering the service of another” …

... The philosophers of natural law, then, assumed that complete occupancy of the ground must have occurred quite early, because of the natural increase of an originally small population.  They were under the impression that at their time, in the eighteenth century, it had taken place many centuries previous, and they na-ively deduced the existing class aggroupment from the assumed conditions of that long-past point in time. v

Never questioning their assumptions, it simply did not occur to these thinkers that they could

… determine with approximate accuracy the amount of land of average fertility in the temperate zone, and also what amount is sufficient to enable a family of peas-ants to exist comfortably, or how much such a family [could] work with its own forces, without engaging outside help or permanent farm servants. … Let us as-sume that, in these modern times, thirty morgen (equal to twenty acres) for the average peasant suffices to support a family.

… [T]here are still on the earth’s surface, seventy-three billion, two hundred million hectares (equal to on hundred eighty billion, eight hundred eighty million and four hundred sixteen thousand acres); dividing into the first amount the num-ber of human beings [at the time, 1914]…viz., one billion, eight hundred million, every family of five persons could possess about thirty morgen (equal to eighteen and a half acres), and still leave about two-thirds of the planet unoccupied.
If, therefore, purely economic causes are ever to bring about a differentiation into classes by the growth of a propertyless laboring class, the time has not yet ar-rived. …

… As a matter of fact, however, for centuries past, in all parts of the world, we have had a class-state, with possessing classes on top and propertyless laboring classes at the bottom, even when population was much less dense than it is today. Now it is true that the class-state can arise only where all fertile acreage has been occupied completely; and since

… all the ground is not occupied economically, this must mean that it has been preempted politically. Since land could not have acquired “natural scarcity,” the scarcity must have been “legal.” This means that the land has been preempted by a ruling class against its subject class, and settlement prevented. Therefore, the State, as a class-state, can have originated in no other way than through conquest and

Thus, while it would be too much to say that property is theft, it is not at all be too much to say that insofar as people have historically found themselves without property, it is not because those “best endowed with strength, wisdom, capacity for saving, industry and caution, slowly acquire[d] a basic amount of real or movable property; while the stu-pid and less efficient, and those given to carelessness and waste, remain[ed] without pos-sessions.”vii   Rather, it is because one group simply forced itself on another

...with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic ex-ploitation of the vanquished by the victors. viii

And thus do we come once again to the all-important distinction between society and the state:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring suste-nance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires.  There are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others … the “economic means” … and the “political means.”

The state is an organization of the political means. No state, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which objects may be taken away or appropriated by warlike robbery. ix

What society giveth, in other words, the state taketh away, first through territorial conquest; then through the establishment of a monopoly on the use of force; and, finally, through the use of said monopoly to confiscate the inhabitants’ property – the “objects” created “for the satisfaction of needs” – via the legalized theft of taxation.

And no matter how successful it has been in indoctrinating its people to believe oth-erwise, the American state is in no way an exception. On the contrary, it is thoroughly an organization of the political means, as were the colonies that preceded it:

The first fortunes on the virgin continent were out-and-out political creations – huge tracts of [conquered] land and lucrative trading privileges arbitrarily bestowed by the British and Dutch crowns upon favorite individuals and com-panies. ... The early royal grants … were the sole property titles of the newly created landed aristocrats.x

While the received truth regarding the subsequent creation of a constitutional republic is decidedly different – nothing less than a miracle, in fact – the real truth is that the United States Constitution, like all constitutions, was “not instituted to limit government but rather to enhance the political power of an elite that [sought] to entrench itself.” After all, the United States Constitution was written by and for a small class of property-owning adult white males, who limited the vote almost exclusively to themselves and, in the process, massively centralized what had been a loose federation of newly independent states.

Thus, instead of the “model for the protection of man in a state of freedom and order” that Jefferson imagined it to be, the American state, both before and after its founding, was a model of conquest and subjugation – not only of the continent’s native inhabitants and the millions of others imported from another continent but of the human detritus endlessly washing up on its shores.xi  As such, the American state is simply another state and, like any state, is therefore “an evil inflicted on men by men” that persists solely through the indoctrinated enslavementxii  of its people.

And to make matters worse, even some who are not indoctrinated but, on the contrary, recognize the state as the evil that it is, compound that evil by maintaining that the preservation of society nonetheless “justifies the action of the organs of the state.”

This is a very serious proposition – so serious, in fact, that the very foundation of human morality hangs in the balance, and with it the very viability of civil society. If, therefore, humanity is to have any hope of ridding itself of its nemesis, it must be shown that because the state is inherently evil, there can therefore be no justification for its existence.

So to this task we turn next, via another brief foray into metaphysics: “Evil and the State.”


i  Franz Oppenheimer, The State, Copley Publishing, 1914, p. 4; online version here.
ii  Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1962, 1966, p. 49.
iii  Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Freedom, ICS Press, 1990 (Oxford University, 1953), pp. 90 and 91.
iv  Ibid., Oppenheimer, p. xix.
v  Ibid., p. 6.
vi  Ibid., pp. 6 and 7.
vii  Ibid., Oppenheimer, p. 5.
viii  Ibid., p. 8.
ix  Ibid., pp. 12 and 13.
x  Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s Sixty Families, Vanguard Press, 1937, p. 50.
xi  “[P]oor laborers will be so plenty as to render slavery useless.” – Revolutionary Connecticutian Oliver Ellsworth replying to revolutionary Virginian George Mason, as quoted by Forrest McDonald in Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, the University Press of Kansas, 1985, p. 51.
xii  “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe