The state has a reputation for creating monopolies. However, seeking control over our very method of communication may be the most worrying yet
The question of legitimacy inevitably involves a degree of subjectivity. Disagreement over its composition may be unavoidable. However, as a general definition, it is what is acceptable. Saying that a state is legitimate means that its rule is right and acceptable, based on certain principles, whether democracy, theocracy or one of many other ideas. Claiming that an establishment is illegitimate means that it is not just or right and therefore unacceptable.
As a libertarian, I believe that, on the whole, coercive relations and transactions between people are illegitimate, whereas voluntary relations and transactions are generally legitimate. However, the state has increasingly developed a monopoly on its definition of legitimacy. This definition rules out any notion of legitimacy, including voluntary relationships, which are not endorsed by the state.
The workplace provides a useful illustration. There are many ways in which the Government believes it should regulate the relationship an employee has with an employer before their interaction is considered legitimate. Regulations on the hiring process, health and safety, payment and taxation are all ways in which both the employer and employee must involve the state to give apparent legitimacy to their relationship.
Many would argue that such regulation is necessary in the workplace due to the risk of persecution and exploitation. I disagree with this position, but, even were it to be granted, the amount of, and the overall trend towards, intrusive and problematic regulations remains an issue.
Although a particular regulation may be justified in isolation, when taken as a whole, they begin to build a fairly scary picture of individual persons only being able to interact with the world around them with the permission of the state. Any other interaction is apparently unsafe and illegitimate.
Everyday occurrences that we would normally consider fairly private, and certainly nothing worth interfering with, often require some sort of state approval. Going out for lunch, or even a pint, with mates involves the state in all sorts of ways, with multiple levels of tax and regulation.
Marriage, having a child and moving houses can all be major events for families and individuals, not to mention profoundly personal affairs. Yet the state still considers it necessary to regulate such human interactions. God forbid that people could be trusted to interact with one another.
Practices that don’t have some sort of state involvement are generally treated as suspicious by government. For example, in 2011 MP David Gauke declared that paying people, such as domestic gardeners or cleaners, ‘cash in hand’ was “immoral”.
To many libertarians, and people in general, this is obviously disturbing – that the state can and does have such great involvement in personal matters is an inherently bad thing. However, for those that find this unproblematic, on the basis of the state’s (apparent) ability to prevent harm, it is worth highlighting that there is an underlying impact on society.
Exclusively defining legitimate relationships as requiring state sanction causes social fragmentation and division. However much statists accuse libertarians of wanting everyone to be “separate islands”, it is the mass involvement of the state in society that causes individuals to have fewer and weaker independent relationships with one another. Their primary relationship is with the state, not with one another.
This causes people to become less concerned with one another, and, whilst I have little time for romanticisation of an imagined golden age, such developments do cause people to become increasingly inconsiderate towards others when acting.
Capitalism is often blamed with making people anti-social and undermining community. My experiences suggest that it is actually the state that has played this role. Why should we feel that we should be responsible for our relationships with each other, if it is the state’s role to step in and manage those relationships anyway?
It is apparent that the state seeks to monopolise legitimacy, and, this is something that needs to be stopped and reversed. The first step, however, may simply be convincing the wider public that not only is this happening, but that it is a bad thing. Until now, people have not only accepted, but endorsed, the growing role of the state in social interactions. This is probably the most worrying aspect of the problem.