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The Case for the State

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Originally posted:

Preface: This message is geared towards those who support voluntarism and is a response to "Are There Any Good Arguments for the State? Tom Woods Video" (So it took me a while to get this out!) This is the first part of a two-part series.


(RPFs) Arguing against the state can be counter productive towards the advancement of liberty as there are alternate superior positions that can be upheld. The case for the state rests on three points: semantics, voluntarism and messaging.

For our purposes, the merriam-webster dictionary defines a state as "a : a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory; especially : one that is sovereign".

Many who argue against the state generally characterizes this as "a monopoly of power over a defined territory", which functionally matches the dictionary but just puts the terms more bluntly.

Those against the state also argue that in a free society one can own property free from cohesion from a central authority, which is an agreed axiom. But does this point preclude a "state" from existing? What if someone acquired a large piece of property by means of voluntary exchange and then decided to subdivide it out for sale, but with strings attached to each sale. A simple attached string could be that you will keep your property orderly. Other possible and logical attached strings could be that you would limit the use of the property to certain criteria, or help cover expenses for a common security parameter. These are all voluntary arrangements not unlike what many home owners associations use today. The level of strings attached could also be much more significant, even defining its own enforcement agents and dispute resolution system. In sum, the terms could establish a central authority over the property. Of course, if the terms of a deal are unfavorable then there likely won't be anyone interested in buying one of the subdivided pieces of property but that is a matter of personal choice. If this was a voluntarist society then there would be no other authority to claim power over it, and it being a voluntarist society the individuals could agree to whatever terms they wish, regardless of how good or bad they are.

With that, we have the construct for a state based on a free society. This argument undoubtedly can leave some of those who oppose all forms of a state as claiming this isn't a state, which leads back to the issue of semantics. Can the described volunteer construct be considered a state or not? By all accounts, it does match the definition of creating a monopoly of power over the defined territory. Anti-state supporters can still argue however that it's not a state, and effectively have to uphold the position that states can not be voluntary, even though nothing in the definition of a state says it can't be. Ultimately, the matter does comes down to whatever personal semantics one subscribes to, but this leads to the third point: messaging.

In pursuit of a free society, liberty seekers must engage others who disagree with them and present an argument to change their world view, one quickly finds out this is no easy task. In talking with an individual who supports victimless crime laws and who wants to have a controlled society they are in effect arguing in favor of a state or something functionally equivalent to it. For example, many people don't want to have prostitutes and drug dealers (or whatever) on every street corner. Part of a voluntarily society allows congregation of individuals with similar social standards, and if they want to congregate as such and call that a state, then why wouldn't you let them? Is there really functional value in trying to convince someone to not call something a state when it has all the attributes of what they seek and they in fact want to call it a state? Why make things hard on yourself?

Worse, if people only see statements such as "the state is illegitimate" in some headline without processing a logical argument then they can be driven further away from your viewpoint as it may be deemed radical, unsafe and undesirable. The point to this is that if you want to engage in good messaging you should use language that your target audience can understand and not expect them to understand your definitions off-hand, particularly when you are not engaged in a direct two way interaction with them.

A final nail in the coffin against the argument for an anti-state thesis, and the idea that states can't be voluntary, is to examine the attributes of most of the current nations that are agreed to be "states". In almost all cases, being a "citizen" of a state is a voluntary act as individual's aren't prevented from leaving.

The issue however is that if someone feels they are being subject to the tyranny of a state and are told, "If you don't like it, just leave." where are they to leave to? This is certainly a valid counter point, but it does not change the definition of what a state is or isn't.

While there is a good case for the state, there is an equally important need for a free state, which resolves the "just leave" issue.

[Note: Part 2 will address the "just leave" argument].