Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Myth of National Defense: The History

The first chapter of the book is entitled: The Problem of Security: Historicity of the State and "European Realism", by Bassani and Lottieri.

"[The State] forbids private murder, but itself organizes murder on a colossal scale. It punishes private theft, but itself lays unscrupulous hands on anything it wants, whether the property of citizen or alien."

Albert J. Nock, 1928

The authors contend that one of the greatest mistakes of many libertarians is to follow a simplistic scheme of power, that is to call "State" every form of political aggregation and to believe in the perennial nature of this human artifact. In other words, if the state is nothing more than political power, and if this entity has been with us forever, then isn't libertarianism just another form of utopia?

Perhaps this should be further considered. A central axiom of libertarianism is the idea that the same morality applies to every person - as I like to put it, the same action cannot be legal or illegal, right or wrong, moral or immoral depending on the employer of the actor. For the libertarian, the fundamental concern isn't politics as politics, but the idea of a monopoly of violence, or a monopoly on "legitimate" use of force.

This is the one characteristic that has truly set the "state" above its predecessors - the ruling class is legitimized to act by any means necessary, while the people at large are bound by a set of laws created by the rulers (in addition to being bound by common morality). These ideas have been developed by several writes in the 16th century, the most famous being Machiavelli, but also to include Botero, who was the first to argue that men may legitimately act in ways that would be considered crimes if done for the safety of the state.

To repeat, the state was not always so. To quote Pierson: "For most of its history, humanity got by (whether more happily or not) without a State....Once we have recognized that there were societies before the State, we may also want to consider he possibility that there could be societies after the State."

Certainly, the medieval period is one such period where a political and juridical order existed in Europe prior to the rise of the modern State. (I have commented elsewhere about the region labeled Zomia, in Southeast Asia as another such stateless zone.) The word feudalism is often used to identify this time in history. It is a word full of emotion. Unfortunately it is a word covering the ignorance about a time before the modern state came into being. I will admit I have much to learn about this period in history.

The self-governing regions of northern Italy and central Europe certainly qualify, in the authors’ view, as a different way of providing peace and security. In such places and during this time, merchants and citizens formed their own statutes regarding passage, immigration, and exchange. This seems rather appropriate - who would care more about the people coming to trade and / or live amongst them than the already established residents of the region?

For several centuries, customs, traditions, and traditional Roman laws worked together to assure a juridical order. Law was a way to resolve conflicts, and was usually a private matter, resolved within well defined rules. Feuds broke out often, but were relatively minor affairs, with the families involved asked to quickly restore the public peace. Basically, community norms "handled" the situation.

With the advent of the concept of “State”, this history had to be purged and the creation of a history to include the concept of state began almost immediately, for example especially in the second half of sixteenth century France. The historians went to work.

I have touched on this idea before: why is there a history of the state, and little or no history of "no state"? To ask the question should answer it. The state, the provider of education, the writer of history, surely would not want to expose the subjects to the idea that there was life before the state. Likely within a few generations the transformation was complete.

Hereafter, the State and sovereignty went hand in hand. Sovereign authority became the absolute power of the State. Not temporary, not delegated, not answerable. The sovereign need not be gifted, only that he has the absolute power to decide.

There is no liberal neutralization of this concept of monopoly authority. A constitution will not hold it in check. In the situation where law is controlled by a monopolist institution, force dictates law. This is tyranny. What authority would grant otherwise? In whose hands could such power be trusted? Would the desired good-natured citizen even want such power? Certainly, those who desire such power are always the last ones who should have access to such power.

That the State provides useful functions does not imply that only the state can provide these functions, say Rothbard. He adds that the libertarian insists on applying the same moral law to everyone, no one is above this law. When the behavior is otherwise, it cannot be distinguished from a professional criminal class.

History provides alternatives. Other systems of organizing society are available. The free market is identified as one of the best tools to unite humanity and connect individuals. The free market requires that relationships are built, and that these relationships are built based on trust. Such a cohesive cannot be achieved in a system where the view is to plunder or be plundered, or as Rothbard put it "...a meaningless plunder of all by all..."

Society under the State is not civilized. To the extent there is a State is directly correlated to the incivility of society. There is nothing civilized about a monopoly of the use of force. There is nothing civilized about actions allowed to some while disallowed to others. Yet, these are the features of the State. That many call this “civilization” says much about the degree to which humanity has been purged from our being.

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