Who is to blame for societal ills? It’s always tempting to look for someone to blame. After all, as Rush sings in their song, Free Will, “Blame is better to give than to receive.” When it comes to the ills of society, “progressives” are very fond of blaming “greedy capitalists,” businessmen, and free markets. On the other hand, libertarians like myself are quite fond of placing all of the blame in the lap of the State. As much as I despise the State and all it’s works, I am convinced that the truth lies between these two extremes, or rather, within them both.
Recently, I overheard a “liberal progressive” family member complaining about the drug wars. During a newscast about some kind of drug related violence, she shouted something like “those greedy alcohol-peddling businessmen are to blame.” I guess she figured that the liquor merchants were using their political clout to keep out potential competition. I don’t deny that such conniving may play a role. Adam Smith himself rightly observed the tendency of businessmen to work against free markets. “People of the same trade seldom meet together,” he wrote in the Wealth of Nations, “but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
But these conspiracies usually involve the State. The State, with it’s regulations and powers of taxation, is a powerful ally to the unscrupulous and well-connected businessman, and a powerful foe to his competitors. Reading articles like Bradley and Fulmer’s recent piece in the Freeman, Regulatory Failure By The Numbers, reveals that behind every regulation is a special economic interest group. “Follow the money,” as they say, and it will lead to a hand pulling the strings of the State.
The State, then, is the machine–the weapon of unscrupulous men. I am often tempted to blame the state machine. But then I am reminded of the bumper sticker slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and I realize that the culprit is not the system, but people. Ordinary people, doing bad things, are always the problem. The State just provides a way for lots of people to do lots of bad things.
I am not an anarchist because the State is the root of all evil. I am an anarchist because “bad” is what the State stands for and what the State does. The State is a machine born of the worst that is in man. It is a machine of control. It is the brainchild of people who, at best, have not considered the immorality and foolishness of controlling others. It is nothing more than the twisted offspring of people who see no problem with robbing and enslaving others (or have not yet understood that this is what the State entails). The machine is not at fault, even though, unlike guns, it is incapable of good. Like the H-Bomb, it is a diabolical instrument that cannot be used legitimately. But when it comes right down to it, people must still pull the trigger. Get rid of the machine and crooked people will build another worse than the first. The minds of the people have to change or we’ll never be rid of the State.
I oppose the State. But I also oppose crooked businessmen and private organizations that use illegitimate means to reach their ends. There will always be thieves, murderers, and control freaks. The question is, how many will there be? The fundamental issue is not policy, but character. Even anarchy cannot work in a world of thieves, though it may be better at discouraging their production. And even if the majority of the people come to believe in freedom and responsibility, eliminating the State would not rid the world of evil, just it’s most efficient machine.
I can hope that one day the world may rid itself of the State. But I have my doubts that anything like that will happen in the near future. As Louis Carabini wrote in his book, Inclined to Liberty, “There are those inclined to liberty—freedom of the individual to live his or her life in any peaceful way. And there are those who are inclined to mastery—permitting others to live their lives only as another sees fit.” It seems to me that those who value freedom and responsibility are vastly outnumbered. As Nock wrote in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man:
“If mankind really have an unquenchable love for freedom, I thought it strange that I saw so little evidence of it; and as a matter of fact, from that day to this I have seen none worth noticing. One is bound to wonder why it is, since people usually set some value on what they love, that among those who are presumed to be so fond of freedom the possession of it is so little appreciated. Taking the great cardinal example lying nearest at hand, the American people once had their liberties; they had them all; but apparently they could not rest o’nights until they had turned them over to a prehensile crew of professional politicians…
According to my observations, mankind are among the most easily tamable and domesticable of all creatures in the animal world. They are readily reducible to submission, so readily conditionable (to coin a word) as to exhibit an almost incredibly enduring patience under restraint and oppression of the most flagrant character. So far are they from displaying any overweening love of freedom that they show a singular contentment with a condition of servitorship, often showing a curious canine pride in it, and again often simply unaware that they are existing in that condition.”
Nock viewed “humanity” as mostly anthropoid animals from which every now and then a true human being–one who values reason, freedom, and responsibility–shoots up momentarily and by chance, like a fountain of sparks from sheet of flowing lava. He viewed humanity as unchanged from it’s neolithic state, and not capable of change. I sometimes believe him. As he points out, there is little evidence of any substantial improvement over the millenia of history. And yet I can’t help but wonder how I came to reject the lies of the State, and I can’t help but hope that greater numbers may yet be convinced as I was. After all, Henry Grady Weaver and Rose Wilder Lane may beg to differ with Nock on this point, picturing humanity instead as a man tied down, but struggling to rise, and making progress over time. Nor can I help sometimes seeing in myself the same conflict, the insidious tendency to shrink from responsibility and accept compromise for comfort’s sake, and the same struggle to rise. In fact, sometimes I feel like I am the lava flow, with my own better nature shooting up now and then from a primal current.
Considering this apparent nature of humans, it is no wonder that they invented the State. Neither is it any wonder that they did not invent the free market, which arose naturally, as if it were formed by an invisible hand, like the shapes formed by clouds and flocks of birds.
No, I certainly don’t blame free markets for society’s problems, but neither do I blame the State. I blame “us”. Maybe we can rise from these chains, both as individuals and as a society. I hope we can make progress toward abolishing the State, and I’ll certainly do my part, but in doing this I am afraid I am like Aragorn before the Black Gate.