The World Wide Web gives us eyes. With these eyes we can see past the usual gatekeepers and read commentaries exposing government for its never-ending egregious actions. We see in these articles a hint of the nightmare world of 1984, with a suggestion that we could end up there if we do nothing but read.
But I find one thing wrong with these accounts: For all their insights, there is rarely a mention of government’s inherent criminality. Instead, the authors elaborate on the latest government atrocities and leave it at that, with an occasional comment that if we returned to our constitutional roots none of this would happen.
But we were once at our constitutional roots and these things are happening. It is the roots that are flawed. As Lysander Spooner wrote in 1870,
But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
Thus, for example, we read about the FED’s current monetary stance, whether it’s good or bad for the economy. Have we lost the concept of monetary freedom? That in a free world there would be no FED and no monetary policy? That the easily-inflatable digits forced on us as a medium of exchange serves the interests of a privileged elite at our expense? That the FED’s inflationary prowess has augmented the funding of foreign “adventures” that leave endless wreckage and death in their wake, while stuffing the bank accounts of warmongers? That it’s equated saving with self-immolation? That the counterfeiting FED is made possible by a government that’s criminal by design?
Flawed from the start
Governments as they exist are built on a criminal framework: a legal monopoly on violence over the territory they claim to rule. Such institutions are called states. Governments and states are not necessarily the same, but today’s governments are states. They are not free market entities. We cannot deal with a state under which we live as we might deal with a private company. If Apple’s iPhone upsets me, I can go to Samsung; if not Samsung, LG or Huawei. If they all upset me, I can do without a smartphone. I have choices. If the state’s institutionalized thief upsets me, tough; if I resist the only outcomes are fines, prison or death. States are the antithesis of civilization.
Why do we put up with them? Answer: Because they make us put up with them. We need to put up an intelligent fight.
Murray Rothbard and Albert Jay Nock, among others, offered us insights on how states operate. The State, in Rothbard’s succinct summation,
provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively "peaceful" the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society. [Anatomy of the State]
Nock tells us that
Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class. [Our Enemy, the State]
The claim that the Constitutional Convention was an exception, that the founders of the federal government had no criminal intent, has been turned upside down with the research of historian Leonard L. Richards. See his Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle for details. In reviewing the book Gary North said Shays’s Rebellion “is the most important falsified event in American history” and that Richards’ “thesis [as of 2002] has not yet moved into the textbooks. It should.”
Libertarian writers should call out the state whenever news of its atrocities or underhanded deals reaches us. Don’t just tell us the Deep State is painting the Middle East red and threatening the world with nuclear annihilation, and is about to set another recession on us due to its monetary manipulations. Point out that this is what happens when an organization assigns itself a legal monopoly on violence, with or without a constitution. Otherwise the myth will persist that the state is fundamentally a benign organization promoting the welfare of all people, and that it is only certain rogues that are giving it a bad name.
In his essay The Criminality of the State, Nock urges a similar approach. Writing in 1939 for the American Mercury, Nock said that state atrocities are outrageous but we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen. Yet most people are surprised.
The history of the State being what it is, and its testimony being as invariable and eloquent as it is, I am obliged to say that the naive tone of surprise wherewith our people complain of these matters strikes me as a pretty sad reflection on their intelligence. Suppose someone were impolite enough to ask them the gruff question, "Well, what do you expect?" — what rational answer could they give? I know of none.
Polite or impolite, that is just the question which ought to be put every time a story of State villainy appears in the news. It ought to be thrown at our public day after day, from every newspaper, periodical, lecture platform, and radio station in the land; and it ought to be backed up by a simple appeal to history, a simple invitation to look at the record. . . .
In this way, perhaps, our people might get into their heads some glimmering of the fact that the State's criminality is nothing new and nothing to be wondered at. It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal.
It’s true that a weak state is far preferable to a more powerful one, and that Americans once had a government that pretty much left them free. But given the nature of the state, it was not destined to last. We need a government based on market incentives, not one built on a legal monopoly.
For a primer on how society would function at a far better level without a state, see Robert P. Murphy’s excellent Chaos Theory.
George Ford Smith is the author of several books, including The Flight of the Barbarous Relic (novel) and The Fall of Tyranny, The Rise of Liberty. He is also a filmmaker with three movies to his credit on Amazon Prime Video. His most recent production is A Christmas to Remember. He hopes someday to direct a film version of his novel.