As people age we sometimes hear them say it beats the alternative, which is usually left unsaid. It’s an old joke technology aims to eliminate by treating aging as a disease and curing it.
But there’s another sense in which the alternative is assumed to be far worse than the present condition. I’m referring to the type of government almost all people live under, which is the nation state. As bad as states might be — we’ve all been taught — it certainly beats the alternative, anarchy.
Headlines have never been favorable to the state as a form of government. In the days when states couldn’t threaten humanity with total extinction it was common for writers like Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Alfred Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken and others to lampoon them mercilessly, even if their criticisms amounted to little more than entertainment. The public for the most part expects others to make changes in government when the need arises and registers their preference at the polls. Ruling elites know this of course and have rigged the system of state governance, whatever form it takes, to ensure significant change never happens. See Brexit.
Here in the US as elsewhere, the quarrels between the political parties are mostly for our entertainment. Neither party would ever seriously consider doing away with the income tax or the federal reserve, for example. Doing so would starve the state, and our bipartisan overseers won’t allow it. Even worse, thanks to government schools and a corrupt media, most people see nothing wrong in principle with government theft.
It is alleged that the state represents order, whereas the absence of the state releases all the evils of which man is capable, producing dog-eat-dog chaos. Since states have become our schoolteachers the idea of government without the state is simply not discussed.
According to most dictionaries, synonyms for anarchy include lawlessness, disruption, turmoil, disorganization, and disintegration. Such terms also describe countries being bombed back to the stone age, such as those in the Middle East where “righteous” states have intervened to eradicate evil or “defend the freedom” of their clueless citizens thousands of miles away.
The synonyms also depict the current state of Venezuela, where a human rights organization “detailed cases of sexual violence, censorships, personal insecurity, limits on political rights, food shortage, malnutrition and inadequate health service -- all amid hyperinflation and high levels of corruption and impunity.”
Venezuela has stolen the spotlight from Zimbabwe, which in recent years had prices doubling every 24.7 hours, thanks to the state’s printing press. According to CNNMoney, “About the only thing Venezuela has in abundance is chaos.”
Is it possible states create the conditions associated with anarchy?
The US war in Iraq from 2003-2011 cost $1.06 trillion. Since the invasion was based on lies and without a declaration of war, every Iraqi life lost amounts to murder. But to the government and media the war was a mistake, nothing more, like getting off at the wrong exit. From 2012-2014 another $7.8 billion was paid to “contractors” who stayed in Iraq. From 2015-2016 the US spent $38.7 billion fighting militants its original invasion made possible.
The devastated city of Mosul claims it needs $100 billion to rehabilitate it. Baghdad wants the same. No one is coming forth with money. The US has already spent $60 billion over nine years for Iraqi reconstruction, $8 billion of which was wasted through corruption and mismanagement.
And none of the money it spent was the state’s to begin with. It was loot stolen from hapless Americans. Any reasonable account of the cost should also include the infringements on liberty that monsters such as the DHS and Patriot Act impose.
Given what the US state and its coalition partners have done to Iraq, to Iraqis, to American military personnel, to the cultural climate of peace and liberty that makes prosperity possible, it’s hard to imagine a stateless America would be even worse.
Keep in mind that it wasn’t anarchy that produced the massive death and devastation of the two world wars, or the numerous illegal regime change operations carried out by US intelligence agents. Neither Stalin, Hitler, nor Mao are remembered as anarchists, though Mao, the number one murderer, gets off with having only made a “mistake” in some quarters. It wasn’t anarchists who built atomic bombs. It wasn’t anarchists who dropped them on civilian populations. Nor is President Trump considered an anarchist for declaring he might hit North Korea with nuclear weapons if it doesn’t behave.
Father Abraham, Wilson, and FDR are not renown for their anarchist views. Through the state they had the means to go to war while forcing others to do the killing and dying. Through the state they had the propaganda tools and the arms to keep most of the public compliant. Through the state they had the means to steal wealth from their citizens to pay for it. Even today, with their crimes detailed online, they remain among the “great” in American history because of an insouciant public that has been indoctrinated from an early age.
Better than the alternative?