The Paradox Of Self-Government
Posted by pwl on November 3, 2012
The Paradox Of Self-Government
By Alan Lovejoy
The state hypothesis argues that granting the state certain powers and authorities that no other entity has is the optimal solution to the problem of peaceful human interaction, cooperation and collaboration. Of course, there are many variations on the theme: Absolute monarchs, direct democracies, and modernly Constitutional republics, to name just the most common.
The principle argument for the state hypothesis is that human beings tend to mistreat each other, and so the state is necessary in order to protect the rights of all from the deprivations and abuses of the few.
But who will guard the guards themselves? Humans do not cease to have a tendency to mistreat others simply because they become employees (or leaders) of the state. That is the central paradox of establishing a state with a monopoly on the authority to operate as a government.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” ~ James Madison
The United States was founded by those who believed that a Constitutional republic might be the optimal form of a state, and that a Constitutional republic with limited powers might be a good solution to the problem of how to keep the state from becoming the very thing that it is intended to prevent from coming into existence, namely, a tyrannical violator of individual rights that no one has sufficient power to oppose:
“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.” -Thomas Jefferson
But the state hypothesis has a fundamental flaw that categorically prevents it from being true: It’s based on multiple logical contradictions.
The state, by definition, claims it has two authorities that no other entity has:
Firstly, it asserts the authority to be the monopoly provider of certain services: Law making, law enforcement, judicial services and the use of coercive force. As the monopoly provider, it charges for those services whatever it wants. And not only does it give its “customers” no choice regarding the price they must pay, it doesn’t even let them choose which of its services they must buy. They must buy all of them.
Secondly, it asserts the authority to make laws that no non-state entity has any right to make or enforce–such as the right to steal (e.g., impose taxes) and the right to enslave [see below.]
And both of those claims are the principal justifications proffered by those who believe in the state hypothesis. Those claims of authority are what both define and (allegedly) justify the existence of the state.
But the state cannot possibly have any authority that those who create it do not have themselves. There is no other source for such authority.
Valid rights can only be those that all concede that everyone else may enforce against all others. So to be valid, one person’s claim that he has the right to enslave someone else by force means he must peacefully acquiesce to that same claim by others. If he does not, then his claim does not assert a valid right.
In contrast, my claim that I have the right to life requires that I fully and reciprocally accept and respect everyone else’s claim that they have the right to life. If I’m willing to do that, then my claim of the right to life is valid.
That’s what equal rights mean: They are symmetrically and reciprocally possessed by everyone without logical contradiction.
In order to avoid logical contradiction, individuals can have no valid right to make and enforce laws whose restrictions or compulsions violate the rights of others. Nor can individuals have any valid right to violently and forcibly prevent others from competing with them in providing services–since if one person has the right to provide those services, so must everyone else.
We are all sovereign individuals. We are all equal in that we all have equal authority and jurisdiction.
You are not free if someone has more authority over you than you have over them. Liberty requires the prohibition of any “subordination or subjection” of one person to another. Since any interference by A with B’s liberty constitutes a subordination or subjection of B to A, the right to liberty follows straightforwardly from the fact we all must have equality of power and jurisdiction.
That’s why the claims of the state that it has the rightful authority to make you serve it, to make you use only it as the monopoly provider of governmental services, and that you must pay for those services a price you have not agreed to pay–even for those services you neither need nor want–are not valid.
The state can have no rightful authority you don’t have equally, symmetrically and reciprocally. If the state has the rightful authority to force you to buy its services at a price it sets, you must have the same rightful authority to reciprocate. If the state does not peacefully concede that point by paying the tax bill you send it, then its claim to have the authority to do the same to you is invalid–because it creates a logical contradiction.
“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” and “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.” ~ Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816
The all-powerful state is a parasite masquerading as its own cure.
It is a logical contradiction to argue that something that does X should exist in order to prevent X from happening. But that is precisely what the state hypothesis does: It argues that, in order to prevent the powerful from establishing a tyrannical rule that violates the rights of the weak and the poor, it is necessary to establish a state with the sole power to violate anyone’s and everyone’s rights.
Systems based on logical contradictions cannot work, in the sense that they cannot reliably work as intended or designed. There are ways around those logical contradictions. But creating and empowering a state is not one of them.
So what is the alternative?
Firstly, there is no such thing as a utopia. There is no system of societal organization that will give everyone everything they want. Nor is there any system that will guarantee that no one’s rights are violated.
But we know that an economy that is completely owned and operated by the state does not work as well as one where there is some sort of partial “free market.” And we know why:
- Monopolies are not optimal economically, and generally lead to tyranny and dictatorship politically.
“If an agency is the ultimate judge in every case of conflict, then it is also judge in all conflicts involving itself. Consequently, instead of merely preventing and resolving conflict, a monopolist of ultimate decision making will also cause and provoke conflict in order to settle it to his own advantage. That is, if one can only appeal to the state for justice, justice will be perverted in the favor of the state, constitutions and supreme courts notwithstanding.” ~ Hans-Hermann Hoppe
- Free markets dynamically and organically solve the “economic calculation problem” far better than any politburo, central planning agency, dictator or philosopher-king.
There is no reason to believe that those two well-established facts do not apply to making laws, enforcing laws, providing judicial services or using coercive force.
Relying on free markets to provide all services, even those traditionally provided by the sate, does not mean there would be no government or regulation of the market at all. And no, providers of products and services would not be expected to be their own regulators. That won’t work for the same reasons it doesn’t work in the case of the state.
Yes, markets can fail too. But when they do, they adaptively fix the problems–and do so more quickly and effectively than politicized monopoly governments do.
But the fact is, in spite of claims to the contrary, the free market has not failed in any significant way:
We don’t live in a society where the free market has the primary authority or responsibility for protecting rights, property or otherwise. We live in a society where the primary authority and responsibility for that has been socialized and politicized.
It is the state and its public (not private or free-market) system of law making, law enforcement and judicial services that our society gives the authority and responsibility to protect lives, health and property. So any failure to do that function effectively and/or satisfactorily cannot possibly be rightly placed anywhere else than on the state, and not on the free market. The state prohibits the existence of a free market in law and/or judicial services. It claims to be the monopoly provider of such services, and enforces that claim with overwhelming force.
The state makes the rules that define what activities will be allowed and which will be prohibited, makes the rules that determine whether, when and to what extent commercial ventures that misbehave will or will not be forced to pay for damages, and makes the rules that may or may not prohibit fraudulent or harmful activities. The state enforces those rules, judges whether its rules have or have not been followed, and grants immunity from suit or prosecution as it sees fit. And those who believe in the state hypothesis are not all that happy with the results–but inexplicably blame the free market for this failure of the state.
And the critics of the free market, amazingly, even fully understand the reason that states fail so badly! It’s because they are the monopoly providers of governmental services. These critics abhor both monopolies and huge organizations, rightfully preferring small, local organizations and denial of monopoly power. And they can explain their reasons for that attitude quite cogently. But for some inexplicable reason, they only have that attitude with respect to private businesses in general, and large corporations in particular. Why they don’t apply the same logic to the largest, most powerful corporations–namely, states with a monopoly on the provision of governmental services in general, and law and justice services in particular–is one of the great, confounding mysteries of the modern age.
“If men are good, you don’t need government; if men are evil or ambivalent, you don’t dare have one.” ~ Robert LeFevre
Or at least, having a government with the monopoly on making law, enforcing law, providing judicial services and using coercive force would be exceedingly stupid. That puts all risk of failure in one place, guarantees that tyranny will evolve eventually, and ensures that there will be no easy escape when it does.
“The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.” ~ Gustav Landauer
For a deeper dive into how and why the stateless free market could obviate any need for a state, peruse the following:
- Government: The Unnecessary Evil
- Government Explained
- The Jones Plantation
- How Could A Voluntary Society Function?
- Law without Government: Principles
- Law without Government: Conflict Resolution in a Free Society
- Law without Government: The Bargaining Mechanism
- Law Enforcement Without Government PART 1
- The Market for Liberty | Chapter 1: If We Don’t Know Where We’re Going…
- State or Private-Law Society