Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What Is Statism?

"Statism" is a loaded political term that has much popularity among those who oppose the term and what it stands for. "Statism" describes people that have faith in the State and support its role in social and economic affairs, typically left-wingers such as Paul Krugman and others. But what is statism, really? What is it, and why is it so evil?

To fully understand statism, one should understand what the State is. The State, as defined by libertarian scholars, is the organization of "political means," an organization that has delegated itself the sole authority to provide services such as police, the military and other services. While it may or may not involve itself in other areas of life, a State always has a monopoly on the use of force and the production of security. It has delegated to itself territory over which it may rule. 

It is not formed through a voluntary exchange or through productive means but rather through exploitation. The State cannot own resources, so it must depend upon those of its citizens and those of others to survive. It can exist be it bad or good because it is not subject to the conditions that the free market would enforce on a voluntarily formed organization. For unlike something formed from economic, productive means, the State is the organization of political and exploitative forces. One cannot refuse taxation without facing force from State officials. And no State will ever give up its own power voluntarily.

Murray Rothbard said of the State in his classic essay "The Anatomy of the State," "The State 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. Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a "social contract"; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation. "

A statist, then, is a person who believes in the force of the State to control a person's life, liberty and property in ways that are not strictly confined to abiding by the non-aggression axiom ("no aggression against life, liberty, or property"). The statist would support a monopoly on police force, courts and law. He would also support an expansive state that is not limited in size or scale. The statist also has faith in the State as a locus (or at times the locus) of moral value and order. He may or may not support intrusion into the bedroom or into one's personal habits, but the statist is one who loves the State and loves what the organization stands for, be it out of ignorance or deliberate intention.

Can Conservatives Be Called Statists?

Conservatives of the American kind are usually considered to be champions of limited government and traditional American values, so labeling them statists would seem odd to others (who are not libertarians). But are conservatives really in favor of limited government when they support legislation that will use the power of the State to crack down on personal immorality? How can conservatives be called "champions of limited government" when they support wars of intervention in the name of "spreading democracy" or "sending a message of disapproval for tyrannical actions" or "cracking down on those A-rabs?"

As I defined statism, as conservatives typically see the State as necessary for moral flourishing, this alone should qualify them as statists, for unlike the libertarian and anti-statist, the conservative sees the state as inherently good, a flawed institution, but a good institution, and that without the State, immorality will flourish and chaos will ensue. This is the trait of all statists, and thus conservatives, apart from their support for the State, cannot be called "limited-government people," for if a person wants to truly subscribe to the doctrine of "limited government" (which I believe is an ideological and practical unicorn) he must reject the role of the State in intervening in personal and foreign affairs. He must support a government strictly limited to the defense of private property and the rights of individuals ("rights" being defined as those things which defend the individual from aggression and which leave him otherwise free). 

Can "Liberals" Be Called Statists?

"Left-liberals" are seen as being defenders of freedom because they are generally friendly to civil liberties and most defend freedom of speech and civil liberties. However, they support government restrictions on economic liberties in the name of equality and sometimes they support other "egalitarian" and "politically correct" legislation. They also tend to support universal healthcare laws such as the Affordable Care Act, public schooling, labor unions and taxes.

Also, while the conservative supports intervention in foreign affairs and personal lives, liberals are inconsistent because they support restrictions on economic liberties and thus can be called statists, since liberals believe in using State power to restrict productive activity in the name of fairness and goodness, and the liberal sees the State as the locus of equality and fairness and that without it chaos would ensue. Thus, while liberals accuse conservatives of "legislating morality," (and rightly so, but on wrong foundation), the liberal supports "legislating morality" in that he or she wants to use the State to restrict activity that they find evil.

The Errors of Statism

Why is statism erroneous? What makes it so bad, even when it is package in such moral and practical terms? The basic reason is that statism puts faith in few human beings to run other human beings and rule them in the name of order when in fact such rulership is exercised through exploitation and parasitism.

#1. Statism is wrong because it supports legalized exploitation. Statism is wrong because in an attempt to bring stability to society, it puts trust in select rulers to lord power over other men. Some might say that Romans 13, a biblical passage, justifies this and that if one opposes this exploitation then one is opposing The LORD God himself. But even if the State were "ordained," it was ordained in the sense that God has included it in His plan for humanity and uses it for His glory, not that He justifies the very existence of such an institution. Revelation 13 details statism in its fullest form, with the Antichrist lording absolute power over peoples and exercising the power of central planning. And when the devil tempted Jesus, he implies that all the kingdoms of the earth, the States, belonged to him and that if Jesus bowed down and worshipped him then all the kingdoms of the earth would be given to Him (Matthew 4). Also, never in history has the State voluntarily given up power. The only ways it dissolved were through war, revolution and secession/decentralization. 

#2. Statism is wrong because it rejects that society and individuals can manage themselves through God-given/natural mechanisms. One of the crucial insights of libertarian/classical-liberal theory is that society doesn't need to be managed through central planning and through oligarchy; rather, society can be self-managing. This idea translated into Hayek's doctrine of spontaneous order, the doctrine that describes order emerging spontaneously, without a central planner. While one could say God created order and thus He is a "central planner," the doctrine of spontaneous order teaches that the state is artificial and that order can arise naturally without the use of exploitation and force. The late libertarian Leonard E. Read explained the doctrine of spontaneous order in his classic essay "I, Pencil," 

There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a mastermind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.
It has been said that "only God can make a tree." Why do we agree with this? Isn't it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles that manifest themselves in nature an even-more-extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies — millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human masterminding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.
The above is what I meant when writing, "If you can become aware of the miraculousness that I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing." For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand — that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding — then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: each one acknowledges that he himself doesn't know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation's mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people — in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity — the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental "masterminding."
Read concludes his essay by saying this:

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

This can square nicely with the Christian doctrine, as many have shown, for God created man and has given him abilites to reason and think, putting him above the other creations of God. Even with the sinful nature of man, God still has not taken away these gifts from man, and my perspective is that without a state, man can use his innate abilities to develop order apart from the use of exploitation. Statism rejects this in favor of an exploitative institution in the name of order. It rejects the possiblity of order outside of State exploitation, and it gives power to a few people to lord power over other people, another reason why statism is immoral.


This very brief article didn't delve as much into the nuances of statism as I would have liked, but I hope that this piece would be a starting point for further discussion among Christians, libertarians, anarcho-capitalists/voluntaryists, conservatives, liberals and all kinds of folks who love dealing with political issues. Statism, while seemingly attractive and promising of order and stability, is immoral, impractical and unethical; it negates productivity in defense of exploitative force and it destablizes true order in favor of artificial order. It would do us well to abandon statism and try freedom.