Within human history, there is a rich and full tradition of burning literature — libricide as it has been termed. From the burning of the Library of Alexandria to Nazi Germany, it has been a favourite pasttime of religious and political leaders alike. There is a common streak that runs through it all; the fear of opposition. For if the public is allowed to read it will think. If thoughts become antagonistic to those at the top rungs of society, their positions might be threatened.
This fear is well founded. Books, and increasingly digital media, does indeed function against the wishes of those in power. Knowledge improves the common man’s capacity to think more clearly and figure out that which others would like to keep hidden. To a tyrant it is essential to keep the masses ignorant otherwise tyranny would be much more difficult. As Étienne de La Boétie put it,
One never pines for what he has never known; longing comes only after enjoyment and constitutes, amidst the experience of sorrow, the memory of past joy.
Boétie’s pamphlet The Politics of Obedience is a succinct exploration of tyranny and what keeps it alive. He comes to the startling conclusion that it is the people themselves that maintain the rule of the tyrant. It is the people themselves that staff the endless halls of bureacracy, the police, the taxation department, and the tyrant’s courts.
And so rulers invent devices to make us feel better about being ruled. The latest such device is the modern constitution which is an integral part of the celebrated democratic form of government. We are now enlightened enough to break from the old “ownership” forms of government, where everything was the property of a ruler or dictator, to a more inclusive form, where everyone is a “shareholder” in the State. The constitution is ostensibly a pact between citizens and government functionaries, describing limits to State actions. The modern interpretaion — being more enlightened of course — has been thoroughly gutted by centuries of encroachment by the State. Perhaps leaving its interpretation up to a government agency was not such a good idea.
In 1870, a lawyer by the name of Lysander Spooner published a pamphlet titled The Constitution of No Authority. He considered the legal standing of the constitution, arguing that it had not been signed by any citizen then alive, and thus held no authority whatsoever. In the eyes of the law, the constitution was a contract null and void. By induction, this is also true today, and true for all the democratic States of the world which swear allegiance to a constitution, written or not. Just because we are born in a democratic State with a constitution in power does not mean we automatically become signatories to it. Even if a majority of citizens do sign a constitution, it is only those signatories who are beholden to that pact, no one else. In fact,
It cannot be said that, by voting, a man pledges himself to support the pretended “constitution”, unless the act of voting be a perfectly voluntary one on his part. Yet the act of voting cannot properly be called a voluntary one … A man finds himself environed by a gang of tyrants, robbers, and murderers (masquerading as a “government”) that he cannot resist; … who force him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave.
Voluntary voting? Hardly.
But we must have a State! As Hobbes put it, without “the terror of some power” life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” If it weren’t for the State we’d be at each other’s throats in a murderous battle for any limited resources we can claim. Of course we all know this. Right?
Unfortunately, historical evidence does not support this benevolent view. Frank Chodorov describes the origins of the State in his The Rise and Fall of Society. He explains that livestock herding nomads would raid settled communities of farmers and steal food, goods, and women; killing anyone they did not need. These raids increased in frequency until,
Somewhere along the line the marauders hit upon the economic fact that dead men produce nothing, and from that observation came the institution of slavery; the herdsmen improved their business by taking along captives and assigning menial chores to them. This master-slave economy, the theory holds, is the earliest manifestation of the State. Thus, the premise of the State is the exploitation of producers by the use of power.
In time the constant raiding was replaced by offers of security — security from raids by other marauders that is. This was a further step along the economic efficiency ladder, because raids cause destruction of capital stock which must then be rebuilt. In effect, the sedentary farmers gave up their freedom to one group of marauders for protection against other groups of marauders.
It is not much of a leap to realize that this is essentially similar to the situation society finds itself in today. Except that today our fealty is appealed to by platitudes of national pride and civic duty. Chodorov takes inspiration from Oppenheimer’s The State when he says
There are two ways by which men can acquire economic goods: production and predation.
The State clearly falls into the predation camp. At this point even if one is not convinced of the uselessness of the State, one must at least accept the immorality of its existence. The State is the very Hobbesian jungle where the powerful rule the weak and take what they may by force.
But we must have the State. It is the only way we can recieve justice and peace. It is the giver of Law and its enforcer.
“The Law perverted!”, excalims Bastiat in The Law.“Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!”
Bastiat observes an extremely important point. But one which should be fairly obvious given the way the State was born. Law in the context of a free society functions to provide protection of property and person. It works through reciprocity and recompense. If a man is stolen from, the law acts to quickly return his property. By contrast, a State-full system of law focuses instead on the exercise of authority and power. The following US Supreme Court ruling should not come as a surprise
WASHINGTON, June 27  - The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.
Bruce L. Benson in his The Enterprise of Law explains that voluntary law institutions can and have existed within history, an example of which is the original common law system. “Anglo-Saxon laws were very concerned with protection of individuals and their property.” Gradually, monarchs began to take over the functions of law, but also began twisting it for their benefit. To the extent that instead of restitution to the victim, “violation of the King’s peace required payment to the King.” Law began serving purposes other than justice. Benson concludes that not only is free and spontaneous law possible, it is necessary for the provision of justice.
Under customary law, “the spontaneous order arises from each element balancing all the various factors operating on it and by adjusting all its various actions to each other, a balance which will be destroyed if some of the actions are determined by another agency on the basis of different knowledge and in the service of different ends.”
From the perspective of the State then, these books — and many others — may constitute a threat. The State’s existence depends on the lie of its beneficience continuing among the public, as Boétie explained. The truth is that the State is not necessary. It is predatory and lives off the honest labour of the productive classes. Any of the various programs and services it tries to offer invariably become inefficient and authoritarian.
Yet humanity still suffers under one or the other State. Here’s hoping that some of these books actually manage to make the public think and understand the lie of the State.