Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Society versus the State

Tibor R. Machan

Some careless people, even with academic credentials, confuse the state and the government. But just think, there is no consent where the state is concerned whereas with government you can have, even if it is rare and difficult, the consent of the governed.

Over the centuries countries have mostly had states, organizations that involve some few people ruling, regimenting, regulating the vast majority. This is statism, wherein people are seen as but small parts, even cells, in the large body of the state. Prominent statists were Plato (read in a certain way), Hegel, Marx, and the Nazis, Fascist and Communists. For these folks the individual lacks independent significance. It isn't that individuals do best in life when they form communities among themselves but that they lack an identity apart from membership in such groups. As Marx called us all, we are species beings, ones whose very nature is firmly, irrevocably linked to all the rest Choice is, of course, impossible to such people and is viewed as but a mirage.

A free country, in turn, consists of a large number of individuals who choose, once adults, to be together, to form social units of many varieties but reserve the right of exit. They are at odds with the statists exactly on this point. Statism doesn't accept that individuals are free to be or not be part of a society and that in principle, at least--though with admittedly great difficulty and disadvantage--they could even be hermits. (But it is better to be a hermit than a member of a Fascist or communist state!)

I am moved to remark on all this because several of the people with whom I associate in the academy insist on claiming that everyone belongs to society and that thinking of people as having independence, the right of freedom to choose, amounts to regarding them as atoms, unrelated to anyone else. (The image is silly, of course, since atoms are tightly linked to each other.)

From this rejection of independence follows, of course, the belief that we are all obligated to the state and those who elect to speak for that state may regiment us around, compel us to follow their vision of how we must relate to other people. For centuries and even today many political thinkers and leaders held this idea so the notion that individual have natural rights to their lives, liberties, and property had been rejected and forcibly resisted, too. And indeed it still is, even in that famous free country, the U. S. A.

For example--and many could be listed--the idea of taxation really amounts to the claim that everyone with resources may be compelled to part with quite a bit of it so the "leaders" can do with it as they judge right. And that means, of course, that everyone is subject to forced labor since a great many people's resources come from their work. By the collectivist view this work is the state's property! (Even Karl Marx had some trouble with this notion!)

I am proud to report that I resist such collectivist thinking not just in theory but in practice, as much as I am able. For a small example, instead of staying in hotels, where the proprietor is legally required to take some of my money and hand it to the state, I stay with friends and acquaintances as much as I can. Then I will take them out to dinner or show them my gratitude some other way. I may even "rent" their spare car. In short, I pit the free society of which I am a part against the coercive state into which many folks would gladly conscript me.

I urge you to do the same! On many other fronts, too, one can legally evade the state and, thereby, statism. One need not be a bomb thrower, which tends to harm innocent bystanders. One can come up with various ways to remain relatively free, more so than most, even while the agents of the state, as well as their academic cheerleaders, manage to command the police and army in their efforts to impose their will. Let us continue the American revolution and not make it easy for them. In time these statists might indeed wither away and leave us only with a remnant that makes sense, a just and free government that governs with the consent of the citizenry.

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