What the State Is Not
The State is almost universally considered an institution of social service.
With the rise of democracy, the identification of the State with society has been strengthened, until it is common to hear sentiments expressed which violate virtually every common sense such as, “we are the government”. The useful collective term “we” has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If “we are the government”, then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also “voluntary” on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that “we owe it to ourselves”; if the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail for dissident opinion, then he is “doing it to himself” and, therefore, nothing untoward has occurred. Under this reasoning, any Jews murdered by the Nazi government were not murdered; instead, they must have “committed suicide”, since they were the government (which was democratically chosen), and, therefore, anything the government did to them was voluntary on their part. One would not think it necessary to argue about this point, and yet the overwhelming bulk of the people hold this fallacy to a greater or lesser degree.
We must, therefore, emphasize that “we” are not the government; the government is not “us”. The government does not in any accurate sense “represent” the majority of the people.1We cannot, in this chapter, develop the many problems and fallacies of “democracy”. Suffice it to say here that an individual’s true agent or “representative” is always subject to that individual’s orders, can be dismissed at any time and cannot act contrary to the interests or wishes of his principal. Clearly, the “representative” in a democracy can never fulfill such agency functions, the only ones consonant with a libertarian society. But, even if it did, even if 70 percent of the people decided to murder the remaining 30 percent, this would still be murder and would not be voluntary suicide on the part of the slaughtered minority.2Social democrats often retort that democracy–majority choice of rulers–logically implies that the majority must leave certain freedoms to the minority, for the minority might one day become the majority. Apart from other flaws, this argument obviously does not hold where the minority cannot become the majority, for example, when the minority is of a different racial or ethnic group from the majority.
If, then, the State is not “us”, if it is not “the human family” getting together to decide mutual problems, if it is not a lodge meeting or country club, what is it? Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet.
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