Blake Gilson" />
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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Citizens must rethink state’s power

Suppose after your overseas flight crashes into the Pacific Ocean, you and 10 other families have arrived on a deserted island. One’s first reaction is to turn the surrounding area into a hospitable environment. After the basic necessities are secured, a question of governance arises. Who will ensure law and order?

In For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard uses an example of the Joneses to suggest that everyone should give them all of the weapons and allow them to resolve all of the disputes within the community. With the power to administer justice and handout violent retribution for crimes, the Joneses determined how it is best to protect the community from outside elements and internal threats. For this service, the Joneses will use their weapons to extract what they feel is just compensation.

What lunacy would it be to give such power to the Joneses? The problem being, who would protect the community from the Joneses? This situation reduces the community to pleading for sympathy as the only means of recourse.

We find ourselves in the same dilemma. When asking who must maintain law and order, many assume that the only way for the community to function is for there to be a monolithic center of power that deals out justice on its own accord. There is no higher recourse; there is no competing provider of law and order. Citizens are reduced to throwing themselves to the mercy of the state.

Why do we presuppose the monolithic center of coercion is the only means to ensuring justice? Understanding the nature of coercive monopolies, would not the only logical result of a monolithic center of justice be that its services ensure a rising cost and falling quality?

Robert Higgs, senior fellow in political economy at The Independent Institute, frames the issue of law and order as a conflict everywhere between citizens and their respective governments. In the article "War and Leviathan: The Trick that Works Every Time," he writes, "states, by their very nature, are perpetually at war – not always against foreign foes, of course, but always against their own subjects…. They fall into such erroneous moral reasoning because they are told incessantly that the tribute they fork over is actually a kind of price paid for essential services received, and that in the case of certain services, such as protection from foreign and domestic aggressors… only the government can provide the service effectively."

The contradiction seems apparent. The state is seen as a genuine protector, but when a group of citizens wish to test this service by supporting another provider of law and order, the state’s violence against would-be-competitors exposes the state for what it really is: a security racketeer.

There is always a portion of the population that dislikes what the government does, but through a means of supposed civil duty or flat-out threats of imprisonment, it is compelled to fund such projects.

These issues raise more questions than answers, but ultimately cast a doubtful haze over the blind acceptance of the state that seems to permeate modern thought. So deeply engrained into the minds of many is the Hobbesian view that a society without an all-powerful state is chaos that many alternative systems are dismissed before due consideration.

I fear that the justification for the state rests more on tradition than a pressing need to bust up monopolies or ensure property rights. Could competing security firms work out a network to agree upon rules to benefit everyone? Does the corner of our government have to be a coercive system of taxation?

The question at the heart of the famous book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, by Robert Nozick: "If the state did not exist, would it be necessary to invent it?" is one that needs to be discussed wider and with more openness than it currently seems to be.

Gilson, a business sophomore, can be reached via [email protected].

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