The Origin of Government

So many people think that without government, society would crumble. Mankind would revert to inert, passive matter with no direction and no order. Or maybe chaos would reign and the weak would be subjugated and abused by the strong (though one could argue that is precisely what we have now with government). Roads would disappear and no one would be able to build them again. The environment would be abused and the general standard of living would be greatly reduced. This, without a doubt, is pure fiction. People should not fear “anarchy”, it is the ultimate freedom and the ultimate respect for the individual as a valuable human being. Some people still believe government to be a keeper of order and a protector of life and property (when conducted properly). That, yes, the state is slow and inefficient sometimes, but there really is no other viable solution to the needs of society in regards to arbitration, protection and harmony. There is a dualism in people’s minds that it is either the order of the state or the chaos of “anarchy” that we have before us. “The state provides so many valuable services that we rely upon to trade and live!” they argue. These people talk as if the state is an entity outside of humanity with powers no normal human has. They talk about religion and the concept of an entity above humanity as “unscientific” and “illogical” while they unknowingly look to the state and its laws and politicians in this same “illogical” and superstitious way. These people who support and value the state ask skeptics “who will build the roads?” when these people talk about abolishing government. It is easy to say such things against those that view government as illegitimate since these advocates of the state can see the police, fire fighters, courts, roads, and welfare checks being provided by a central authority.

But what about the others? The advocates for freedom? These people see government as a scourge and immoral institution that is no better than a common gang of thieves. They have principles and ethics that they apply consistently across all individuals no matter their position in power. They believe in what is called “the Non-Aggression Principle” which states that initiating violence against others and their property is fundamentally illegitimate and unjustified. The advocates of the state themselves believe in the principle, at least in their own personal lives, outside of the political sphere. The believers in the former idea look at those that adhere to the latter as crazy, dangerous, illogical, or all three combined. Is this a fair judgment or could the anarchist (in this case the voluntaryist/anarcho-capitalist) be onto something? Is the state necessary? Are there other possibilities? How did the state form? Is there a fundamental problem with not consistently applying principles and ethics to all individuals regardless of their station in society or politics? These are all questions we need to be asking.

In the beginning…
To understand the state as an anarcho-capitalist understands it, one must ask the question of how the state began. Seeing the ancestor of the state laid bare shines a truthful light on the word games and lies will live with today. Was it created to punish wrong doers and criminals or was it created by criminals? It is the opinion of this author that it is pure fairy tale nonsense to believe that the state was created to fight injustice. That to believe such an idea (an idea spread by the state and its syndics no less) is not only wrong but potentially dangerous. Let us relate this idea to the concept of film and storytelling. The classic 1954 filmSeven Samurai is a great place to start (same with 1960’s Magnificent Seven which was a western retelling)[1,2]. In Seven Samurai, we see the story of a poor mountain village that is agrarian in nature. There is a cruel marauding group of bandits that sees the village from afar and the bandit chief realizes that they have raided this village in the past. Instead of raiding it again, the chief suggests that they wait until the end of the growing season to sack the village so that they can take the barley harvest from the peasants. Some hidden villagers happen to overhear the discussion, and with alarm, return to their homes to warn their friends and neighbors of the impending attack. The alarmed villagers are torn between surrendering their harvest or fighting back. In the end, they decide to fight back and hire any samurai willing to help them. The film then proceeds to tell of the epic adventure that unfolds as some noble warriors take on the bandits. We will stop telling the story here so that the greatness of the film is not spoiled for the reader that has not seen it.

What we want to focus on is the beginning of this tale. A group of bandits see a village and note that if they ride into town now, they will not get as much as if they wait for the harvest to arrive. Let us play out an alternate version where no heroic samurai are hired. The bandits make their disastrous appearance after the harvest. They demand a large portion of the barley through acts or threats of violence. We all can agree that this is what bandits do best. Some people specialize in weaving, farming or smithing. The bandit only excels at violence and intimidation. The chief bandit, however, is a clever one. He leaves just enough barley for the villagers to survive on and tells them that they will be back after the next harvest to collect his share again. What we have just outlined is possibly how the first income tax ever came about. This clever bandit has just figured out how he can exploit the labor of others by specializing, very simply, in violence (while trying to protect himself from the same kind of violence).Of course, the scenario that played out in Seven Samurai could still occur. Perhaps after a few seasons of surviving off of the meager remains the bandits leave, the villagers fight back. Fighting back affects the valuations the bandits place on the loot. Sure, they have better weapons and skills in combat (since they specialize in violence), but now the acquisition of the loot has become harder and more dangerous. The famed classical liberal Frédéric Bastiat said the following:

“Now, labor being in itself a pain, and man being naturally inclined to avoid pain, it follows, and history proves it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than labor, it prevails; and neither religion nor morality can, in this case, prevent it from prevailing.”[3]

Franz Oppenheimer agrees when he notes in his book The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically that there are two methods for gaining wealth; labor or forcibly expropriating the labor of others.[4] Oppenheimer claims in his book that man did not live under a “State” until the economic means became available for certain repulsive marauding bandits to subjugate those economic means.[5]

The bandits steal from the villagers because it is easier and less painful than working themselves. Why rent or purchase your own land, plant seeds and till the soil and worry about frost, insects and other crop destroyers for the distant hope that in a few months time you can reap a harvest? Letting others deal with all of that and simply taking it from them is easier (if the victims are helpless). If the villagers rise up, it is possible that plunder could now become more painful than labor. So what can the bandits do in order to keep this scenario from occurring? What can they do to keep the villagers under their thumbs and stop them from defending themselves? The solution is simple really; they can move in and live among them in order to strong-arm them from within. While living among them, they can keep an eye on who comes and goes. They can pick out suspicious characters that could be plotting an overthrow of their power. However, in order to do this, the bandits must offer the appearance that they provide a value to the villagers. Perhaps they give the villagers a new religious center by paying for it with the resources they stole from them in the first place. Maybe the year after that, they repair a fence or just give some of the resources they’ve stolen back to certain members in the community. If anyone takes issue with this, they can go right back to what they usually do which is killing them. Another method is to threaten them with the violence of another gang. They can tell the villagers that on the other side of the hill there is another village controlled by another gang and if the bandits were not there to “protect” them, that gang would come over the hill and kill them in order to take their things. The villagers should be thankful that they have such benevolent bandits protecting them! This means that the villagers are given the choice of picking one ruler in order to keep the other from conquering them[6]. This is a horrible situation to be put in; one of picking a warlord now so that another one doesn’t take over (which, by the way, is the logic used by all statist when they express opposition to anarchism).

After some time they offer the villagers other services like roads, arbitration, defense, and even “free” education” in exchange for their compliance in being stolen from. Through free education, they can teach the next generation confusing terms that hide what the bandits are really doing. “Theft” becomes “taxation” and it is necessary to pay for the wonderful education they are receiving as well as the other valuable social services they all take advantage of. “Murder” becomes “war” and it is done so that their way of life can continue unabated and unhindered by those that are not “them”. The bandits themselves would no longer be called “bandits” but politicians, legislators, nobles and kings. The individual that sees through this charade no longer has to be silenced by the bandits themselves since the indoctrinated masses will defend their conquerors name from the “slander” of the recalcitrant. Perhaps the bandits can also let some members of the community in on the racket to help placate them. By this point, the bandit leader has acquired more villages thanks to the resources he has forcefully taken from the original one. He has an empire and bigger territory to control now. Placing members of the community he has conquered in places of power under his authority, while giving said local leaders privileges and kickbacks for his cooperation, means that controlling larger populations of people and areas of land becomes easier while he can reap the rewards of those he has conquered and their property. If he is a really clever bandit leader, perhaps he allows the villagers themselves to vote for their local representative.

Perhaps his position as bandit leader is also open to an election as well. Even if it is not the same bandit leader in power but a new one that is “elected”, after some number of years, the results are the same. A ruling class has emerged that lives, rather parasitically, off of the productive people under their coercive control.

The statist (meaning someone who defends the concept of government) might raise opposition to the above scenario that has just been described. They may say that it is “speculation” and that they themselves can construct a similar scenario where government is created by a community that bands together to punish the crimes of those that do evil in their midst. This is, of course possible. But if you accept this statist origin story of a government being created to wield the sword of justice, many moral, economic and theological issues arise that still make government nothing more than a gang preying on productive people. Whether it arises from within the community or outside of it makes little difference in the long run. Not only that, but many experts and great minds throughout history have come to the same conclusions as the origin story put forth by the anarchist. David Hume said:

“Almost all the governments which exist at present, or of which there remains any record in story, have been founded originally either on usurpation or conquest or both, without any pretense of a fair consent or voluntary subjection of the people. When an artful and bold man is placed at the head of an army or faction, it is often easy for him, by employing sometimes violence, sometimes false pretenses, to establish his dominion over a people a hundred times more numerous than his partisans.”[7]

Our hypothetical bandit leader, based off of Seven Samurai, is the kind of man whome David Hume is describing above. Philosopher Crispin Sartwell notes that if one wishes to have “realistic” view of the State’s origins, they must acknowledge that the widespread use violence has played a critical role in its creation and preservation.[8] Indeed, sociologist Max Weber defines the state as a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”[9] Our hypothetical bandit leader has made this claim and even the “just” origin of government favored by the statist falls into this category as well.

It is funny to hear people today talk of government the same way people viewed it thousands of years ago. Socrates, in the Crito, said that the state is “more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding, also to be soothed, and gently and reverently entreated when angry, even more than a father, and either to be persuaded, or if not persuaded, obeyed.”[10] Socrates’ exaltation of the state sounds eerily similar the way the statist today conflate society and government. To conclude this idea, think on this parable by Frédéric Bastiat:

“I am acting with regard to it in the spirit which animated a celebrated traveler. He found himself in the midst of a savage tribe. A child had just been born, and a crowd of soothsayers, magicians, and quacks were around it, armed with rings, hooks, and bandages. One said — ‘This child will never smell the perfume of a calumet, unless I stretch his nostrils.’ Another said — ‘He will be without the sense of hearing, unless I draw his ears down to his shoulders.’A third said — ‘He will never see the light of the sun, unless I give his eyes an oblique direction.’ A fourth said — ‘He will never be upright, unless I bend his legs.’ A fifth said — ‘He will not be able to think, unless I press his brain.’ ‘Stop!’ said the traveler. ‘Whatever God does, is well done; do not pretend to know more than He; and as He has given organs to this frail creature, allow those organs to develop themselves, to strengthen themselves by exercise, use, experience, and liberty.’
God has implanted in mankind, also, all that is necessary to enable it to accomplish its destinies. There is a providential social physiology, as well as a providential human physiology. The social organs are constituted so as to enable them to develop harmoniously in the grand air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, and their chains, and their hooks, and their pincers! Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social workshops, their governmental whims, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities, their State religions, their gratuitous or monopolizing banks, their limitations, their restrictions, their moralizations, and their equalization by taxation! And now, after having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun — reject all systems, and make trial of liberty — of liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.”[11]

In the end, the state has never changed beyond that of its bandit heritage. Only words and names have. Today, we vote for, cheer on, and worship the same kind of men that assaulted the village in our hypothetical example and we do not even realize it. It shows the kind of “artful and bold” men these bandits are (as Hume called them) that can control such a vast number of people who clearly outnumber them and yet are abused by these rulers. Indeed, it does take a certain amount of admirable skill to control those you abuse that they defend their abuser. It is like the slave on the plantation that rats out the other slave for thinking too much or planning to escape and be free.

Once one realizes that they are the villagers in the above example and the ones having their productivity stolen by parasitic and amoral thieves, economics, philosophy and ethics achieve a perfect symmetry and harmony. The more people who realize this truth, the sooner man can live in freedom and peace while he enjoys all of the bounty that he produces. The power the bandit wields exists because it is legitimized in the mind of the ruled. The number of the ruled far exceeds the number of rulers, and it is through clever lies and words that a minority ruling class is able to convince people today to believe in a modernized “divine right of kings” perspective. It is why this author asks the reader, should they be initially against the abolition of government, to keep an open mind.

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  1. Kurosawa, A. (Director). (1954). Seven samurai [Motion picture]. Japan: Toho Company, Ltd.
  2. Sturges, J. (Director). (1960). The magnificent seven [Motion picture]. United States: United Artists.
  3. Bastiat, F. (2007). The Law. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  4. Oppenheimer, F., & Gitterman, J. M. (1914). The state: Its history and development viewed sociologically. New York, NY: Vanguard Press.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Jasay, A. D. (1997). Against politics: On government, anarchy, and order. London: Routledge.
  7. Hume, D., & Miller, E. F. (1987). Essays, moral, political, and literary. Indianapolis, IN: LibertyClassics.
  8. Casey, G. (2012). Libertarian anarchy: Against the state. London: Continuum.
  9. Weber, M. (1965). Politics as a vocation. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
  10. Jowett, B. (1892). Crito. Translated into English, with Analyses and Introduction Dialogues of Plato, 357-376. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511698033.011
  11. Bastiat, F. (2007). The Law. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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