Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Whatever is statism?

Statism - an introduction

If we're going to discuss statism we're going to need to agree on a definition of the state. I tend to use my take on the classic Weberian definition:

The state is the dominant group claiming to have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force over a given geographical area (and maybe are at least somewhat capable of enforcing this monopoly and active in doing so? - not sure if we need that but you see where I'm going...)

Just like both neo-liberalism and capitalism you don't normally find people going round saying "I'm a statist". Statism is the belief or assumption that the state is legitimate, desirable or inevitable.

A person who believes the state to be legitimate may have an idea that there is a robust philosophical basis for the existence of states (either in their current form or in some idealised form). This may be the social contract theory, the idea that in a functioning democracy 'we the people' are the state or, I don't know, maybe there are some lunatics running around proclaiming the divine right of kings still!

A person who believes the state to be desirable will probably appeal to a consequentialist belief that the existence of the state is preferable to any alternatives they can conceive due to the fact that it produces preferable outcomes (such as more pleasure and less pain as in utilitarianism).

A person who believes the state to be inevitable may or may not fit into either of the first two categories,but the defining characteristic of someone who thinks this way is that they don't believe that another way is possible, that whether or not the state has a legitimate philosophical basis or produces more desirable results that human beings will organise their societies into states as a natural part of our nature.  

De-mystifying the state

Nomadic bands

In the beginning there was freedom. Before the coming of tribes, empires and finally nation states human society consisted of small groups of nomadic hunter gatherers, the last few of these survive today in places like the Amazon Rainforest and Papua New Guinea, they have a strong sense of equality, they mix work and play, they combine a form of communism with a sense of respect for the individual which prevents anyone from ordering anyone else around.

(Then this happened:


About 10,000 years ago in the middle east, and shortly afterwards independently in other areas humans had recently developed agriculture and began to live in more densely populated communities. These communities began to produce a surplus of  basic essentials which allowed for the division of labour and a tribal form of hierarchy was established. It was still a far more horizontal and voluntary- ish society than a modern state but there can be no doubt that there was a chief and a professional class of warriors and other classic indicators of a move towards states. Many societies continued to exist and develop along these lines and some grew significantly complex. A crucial ingredient of statism was missing; monopoly in a geographical area. Kings were kings of a people group, not of an piece of land.

In examples such as Ireland before the invasion by the English a kind of pan-archism was established (which has been written about, controversially, by right wing -libertarians such as Murry Rothbard and David Freidman featured on the web here and here).


Some did groups did not continue to develop along these lines, some grew aggressively expansionist and formed the first empires, in conquering neighboring tribes they subdued the people and demanded tribute (taxation). It was around this time that density of human population, permanence of settlement and development of land for agriculture reached such a stage that monopoly control of areas of land came to be of prime importance. In a process that rarely happened overnight rulers began to consolidate their control of territory, not just people.

Nation states

As the old empires fell and split western Europe found that a power vacuum was left during the dark ages and the very begginings of the nation state began to come about. In England this process was only finalised in the centuries post Norman invasion of 1066. The king established by force that all the land he ruled over belonged to him and so his many tenants owed him rent (the beginnings of taxation as we know it). In addition the kings courts forcibly superseded local ones establishing a single set of laws to be followed by all in the land.

Nation states are more than this though and they did not gain preeminence even in western Europe until a much later date. A nation is a group untied under the banner of culture and ethnicity. So in the 19th century when countries like Italy and Germany were unified as nation states it was an attempt to unite all German people and Italian people under one banner. The preeminence of nation states across the world came about much later on, well into the 20th century as the colonial empires of European nation states broke up an arbitrary borders were drawn all over the world map to leave states behind as their legacy

History of borders:  
Borders in Africa:

The state today

By it's very nature the state is violent, it is hierarchical and it is lawless and disorderly. This is true always and everywhere of states. No pacifist, egalitarian or simple believer in the rule of law and the existence of order in society can consistently support the existence of the state, monopoly on law and order is by definition lawlessness. The idea of the 'nation state' in particular is also inherently racist. Death at the hands of the state was the number one cause of unnatural death in the 20th Century (i.e. not from sickness or accident etc.); from famines, wars, genocides, executions, assassinations etc. etc. millions upon millions of lives were ended due to these violent monopolisers of violence.

Further, the state today enforces a system of global apartheid, segregating different levels of workers in the global corporate capitalist system, used to grab land, suppress resistance, harvest wealth and control movement by national borders.

 A very very quick bash of the main reasons for belief in the state

The idea that we need states is so pervasive that despite the clear costs of continuing to have them people feel little need to excuse their support for them and instead demand that those who question their continued existence must provide a case for such a preposterous idea.
  • Security, internal and external is generally brought up by the right. 
  • The welfare of the people is generally brought up by the left.


The more horizontal a society is the more security is built in. War is not usually about genocide, where this has been the case it has been for very specific reasons, most wars throughout the history of states, empires and tribes going to war with each other have been about regime change. An extractive economy which harvests wealth effectively and effectively sucks the maximum amount to the top is a prime target for regime change, a horizontal one is not. The effort required to re-order it, the unavoidable guerrilla warfare, the mass resistance in the form of strikes, civil disobedience, slow downs and occupations would impose a cost so high on a prospective invader that another target would soon be sought out (obviously a horizontal society the world over would really go much further in eliminating this!).


The perceived need for a welfare state is a fundamental lack of justice. The massive divide between the 'employed' and the 'unemployed', the unequal nature of land distribution. Profiteering off labour due to a monopoly on the means of production by a state backed capitalist class, interest on loans due to a monopoly on capital due to the monopoly of capital by a state backed banking class, rent on land and accommodation by a state backed landlord class and taxation directly by the state would all be eliminated or largely eliminated (give this a read: The specific needs for education to prepare young workers to produce in a capitalist society would be diminished, the specific health needs of a workforce in a capitalist society would be diminished.

The welfare state exists to placate the people, to ward off revolution and to keep a trained, healthy and productive workforce.

The welfare state, national infrastructure, the military, the police and most of the rest of it are ways in which the political and economic elite are able to socialise the costs of their system whilst privatising the profits. It is no substitute for true justice.


This has been your left-libertarian guide to states, statism and why it needs to go.

Thank you for allowing me to monopolise your time.

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