Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

This Is Where the State Leads

For those who wield power and those who profit by being near it, the system works well.

The Real Estreya/FlickrThe Real Estreya/FlickrGovernment is more than a territorial monopoly on aggressive force. It's also the heir to a centuries-old manufactured mystique, reinforced through its schools and other institutions, regarding its sanctity and sacrosanctity. The mystique is generated by and tends to manifest itself in the dogma that one's State is uniquely virtuous and deserves to be judged by standards applicable to no one and nothing else. This is hardly less true of secular states than it was during the time of the divine right of kings. In some important ways, people have not gotten over that principle.

It long been recognized that governments cannot reign merely through brute force. There are too few rulers. So they need help in achieving popular compliance, and they find it in ideology. It is state ideology, the indispensable dogma, that creates the aura of sanctity. Where once people believed the ruler was the deity's representative, in today's democratic republics, they believe their rulers are their representatives. But it's the same scam, perpetrated by rulers and their high priests in the intelligentsia, to maximize subordination and minimize resistance.

Ideology in this context means something much deeper than what is usually meant. It does not refer to the approaches known as "conservatism" and "liberalism," or the differences between those who want "big government" and those who want "limited government." It refers rather to the deeper view that The State with its authority to threaten and wield violence is indispensable and intrinsically virtuous, as nothing else can be. Therefore it is not to be judged as we judge other people and institutions. When someone does wrong in office—a Nixon, say—it is chalked up as an abuse of power. Power itself is beyond reproach.

As I said, this mystique is taught and reinforced in the government's schools, which goes far to explain why governments want to control education. But other institutions stand ready to support The State— that is, the permanent regime that endures regardless of party or personality. The establishment news media are among its chief boosters and conveyors of the dogma. Their owners and personnel have career and financial reasons for not questioning the government's ultimate authority, but they also have the same reasons most other people have: their acculturation included indoctrination in the official dogma.

For those who wield power and those who profit by being near it, the system works well. If you seek evidence, look around. Notice, to pick the most recent example, how this week's naval run-in with Iran was received. Two U.S. naval boats entered Iranian territorial waters. The 10 sailors aboard were picked up by the Iranian navy. They were freed the next day with a conciliatory statement. Even though the U.S. government early on acknowledged that the boats had violated Iranian territory (with shifting explanations), the news media played down that fact as long at they could and spent their time trying to inflame the public about this affront to America.

When Iran released video of the sailors being taken into custody (on their knees with their hands behind their heads) and of a sailor apologizing for the "mistake" (while the others sat on the floor, the one woman among them wearing a headscarf) we were informed by CNN and no doubt the other outlets that we ought to be shocked and humiliated. And undoubtedly many Americans were. (Judging by the responses to my skeptical tweets, people were fuming.)

Since the media were slow to inform us that the armed boats had crossed into Iranian waters near the militarily sensitive Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf (a long way from the United States), viewers and readers could rail against Iranian "aggression." But once word got out that it was the United States that had violated Iranian territory, the outrage did not subside. In other words, it didn't matter what the U.S. military did. America could not be at fault regardless of what had happened. Under no conceivable circumstances could anyone be justified in detaining American sailors or expecting an apology from the United States. Doing so is a casus belli. (The U.S. government refused to apologize to Iran in 1988 after the Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 274 people, during Saddam Hussein and Iraq's U.S.-backed war against Iran. Then-Vice President George H. W. Bush said at the UN, "I will never apologize for the United States—I don’t care what the facts are.”) That Barack Obama did not respond firmly to Iran this week—militarily or at least by suspending the scheduled relaxing of sanctions under the Iran nuclear agreement—was grounds in many people's eyes for calling him an appeaser.

Don't expect people to ask what they would be saying if the tables were turned and Iranian boats had entered U.S. territorial waters. No, that would imply there is one standard for all—and that would violate the official dogma, which in the American variation means the United States is the exceptional nation: it alone gets to make and enforce its own rules. Territorial waters, especially ours, are for other countries to respect. It's instructive to contemplate that had Iranian boats crossed into American waters and a president responded exactly as the Iranian regime did—freeing the unharmed sailors the next day—in some quarters that president would have been accused of appeasement. Many Americans would be too caught up in war fever to demand an apology.

The unconscious hypocrisy was extended when Iran was accused of violating the Geneva Conventions and international law generally by showing the sailors and the apology on television. (The Geneva conventions apply only in wartime.) All of a sudden Americans are sticklers for international law, which mattered little when the U.S. government was launching illegal wars of aggression (still being waged), torturing prisoners, and indefinitely detaining suspects seized far from any battlefield. (Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions forbids torturing any prisoners, uniformed or not.) In the eyes of most Americans, the American State can do that and anything else—because it's the American State.

This is where The State leads. A self-declared and self-enforced monopoly on force is bound to generate a self-perpetuating dogma that induces people to suspend their critical faculties and countenance a double moral standard, not to mention atrocities. Those are sufficient grounds to work for the abolition of The State.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.

Photo Credit: The Real Estreya/Flickr

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • But Enough About Me||

    Beat you to it, everyone.

  • MuhROADS||

    SHIT GOD DAMN FUCK ASS

    We're enemies now But Enough About Me. Soon you will feel the wrath of all of muh ROADS, I know you libertarian types are vulnerable to publicly funded transportation programs, you will taste the asphalt, you will be taxed, hell I might even use EMINENT DOMAIN, HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    You will rue the day you took my first post. Soon™.

  • But Enough About Me||

    Gimme kiss. MWAH!

  • But Enough About Me||

    Oh, and you can just call me BEAM. :-)

  • ||

    *facepalm*

    Richman starts off well:

    "the deeper view that The State with its authority to threaten and wield violence is indispensable and intrinsically virtuous, as nothing else can be. Therefore it is not to be judged as we judge other people and institutions. When someone does wrong in office—a Nixon, say—it is chalked up as an abuse of power. Power itself is beyond reproach."

    And then goes about excusing Iran and Obumbles. Yep, we are the bad guys.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persepolis_(comics)

  • JWW||

    Dammit. I have to remember when the story's title is bad, read the byline first.

    I read two sentences of garbage before checking that this was another shit Richman article.

  • ||

    It is just a matter of time before one of these backward totalitarian shitholes uses a nuke. I can only imagine the logical contortions Richman and his ilk will engage in to explain it away. Western aggression is bad. Eastern aggression, not so much.

    Punch yourself in the face Richman. You deserve it.

  • buybuydandavis||

    " I can only imagine the logical contortions Richman and his ilk will engage in to explain it away."

    I'm sure when it happens he'll be happy to explain how we made them do it.

    Every bad thing they do is our fault. Every bad thing we do is our fault.

    Hate America First!
    Sheldon is in the house!

  • gigarath24||

    The problem is that when America is involved in everything. So of course we're to blame for 95% of the bullshit.

  • Reverend Draco||

    If "we" weren't involved in places we have no frakking business being involved, we wouldn't be to blame for 95% of the bullshit.

  • Bman||

    Well, since the U.S. government is responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 30 million people since the end of WW II, I have to agree with the fact that the U.S. Government is evil!
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/u.....ii/5492051
    But just go back to watching Fox news like a good republican. The horrendous death and destruction experienced by a massive number of people with families in other countries do not matter. RA RA RA USA USA USA!

  • aliciakelley786||

    my friend's half-sister makes $77 /hour on the computer . She has been laid off for 7 months but last month her income was $12280 just working on the computer for a few hours. browse around this web-site

    Open This Link for more Information...

    ➧➧➧➧ http://www.Wage90.Com

  • ||

    To everyone but turtles-all-the-way-down anarchists like Richman, the state *is* a necessity in some form, if only to create the legal framework of defended, individual freedoms; a legal framework that allows the creation of markets.

    It is a logical fallacy to believe that markets, which are a product of a legal framework, can produce the legal framework that is their basis. It's either turtles all the way down, or you believe that markets exist in a state of nature. Either belief is an act of faith.

    And here we have Sheldon "Act-of-Faith" Richman again proceeding as if the territorial monopoly on physical aggression is an evil (apparently because of the word "monopoly") on its face, and lecturing the rest of the world on the unknown ideal of life without a police force or an army, and drawing moral equivalence between any two societies that have any kind of state.

    If Richman is the face of libertarianism, libertarianism doesn't deserve to be taken seriously by anyone over the age of sixteen.

  • Paul GL||

    If all you have is a transparent misrepresentation of what's in the article, why should anyone, regardless of age take you seriously?

  • Brian||

    In the beginning, there was law. And the law was good.

    And the law said, "let there be markets." And, lo, there were markets.

    And the people said, "Wow! Property rights and peaceful exchange of goods and services! I'm glad the powers that be invented that from whole cloth! It's such a swell idea. Here I was trying to milk a corn stalk, before markets were invented. Thanks, powers that be!"

    And the people were well. And the powers were pleased.

  • Cloudbuster||

    I don't know if you imagine that some proto-anarchist society actually existed at some point, but governments rise naturally and spontaneously among human populations. To disregard that is to disregard an aspect of human nature that is so fundamental to human behavior that it renders anarchism ridiculous.

    There will be a government. That is absolutely inescapable. All we have some control over is the form of the government.

  • ace_m82||

    There will be a government. That is absolutely inescapable. All we have some control over is the form of the government.

    Your fallacy is "appeal to tradition".

    Also, you're wrong as to whether or not there have been societies without government (at least, a "government" that demanded a monopoly on initiating violence).

  • Cloudbuster||

    You're misunderstanding the appeal to tradition fallacy. I'm not using the logical form:

    We have been doing X for generations.
    Therefore, we should keep doing X.

    or

    Our ancestors thought X was right.
    Therefore, X is right.

    I'm not saying that because things have previously been done a certain way that's a logical reason why they should continue to be done a certain way, or a justification for the correctness of the way things are done.

    I am saying that ignoring past observational data is foolish.

    If you hit your hand with a hammer ten times and it hurts each time, you can be pretty sure that hitting your hand with a hammer an eleventh time is still going to hurt.

    People don't act the way you imagine. Human behavior is predictable, for sociological and genetic reasons.

    We're not simply talking about advocating an internal combustion engine over a steam engine -- a better way too accomplish a desired end. We're talking about changing genetic predispositions. Fundamental human behaviors.

    You can't teach cats to run in tight herds like sheep. You can't teach a sheep to pounce on prey and snap its neck with its jaws. It simply can't be done and it's not "an appeal to tradition" to point that out.

    Anarchists literally want humans to behave in ways that aren't human.

  • EWM||

    Humans are extremely adaptable. It's why we don't all speak human. Anarchists want humans to adapt to a peaceful existence. If that couldn't happen, negros would still be slaves in the territory called the "United States".

  • Reverend Draco||

    Let's see. . . government and religion - both about 10,000 years old. The history of man - 100,000+ years.

    So, for a minimum 90% of the entire history of mankind. . . there were no governments.

    Troll fail.

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    When someone does wrong in office—a Nixon, say—it is chalked up as an abuse of power. Power itself is beyond reproach.

    Power is merely energy applied over time. It is neither good nor evil. As long as there is energy, there will likely be power. Just because it's political power that you have in your crosshairs, changes nothing. Power is much likel a gun in that it is the user who determines whether the use is going be noble or evil.

  • Kenneth Cochran||

    And all anarchists claim is that it is better to evenly distribute this power among 7 billion individuals rather than consolidate it in the hands of a few hundred thousand and expect them not to abuse it.

  • Cloudbuster||

    And that is true in an ideal world where everyone is an anarchist saint and hews to the precepts. But people are tribal, and people quest after power over others.

    The best you can do is fight to establish a nation that upholds some flavor of libertarianism within its borders. Globalist libertarianism or anarchism are among the most foolish of ideologies, right up there with marxism.

  • ace_m82||

    But people are tribal, and people quest after power over others.

    And when they act on their hubris, you shoot them. Problem solved.

  • Cloudbuster||

    And you don't suppose they will have considered that? And have worked through "legitimate" channels to undermine and intimidate your support, and have banded together allies and weapons until they're confident that "... you shoot them. Problem solved." isn't such a simple option anymore (in fact, you're the one likely to get shot?)

    It's like you people landed on planet Earth yesterday and know nothing about people.

  • Bman||

    And is your solution is to let the bully state rule over us and choose winners in disputes? Who decides what just "legitimate" channels are in this country? It certainly hasn't been our so-call justice system. Do you want to know why we have the present police state? Because _your_ elected representatives wanted it! Have you heard any politician campaigning to bring an end to the police state if he wins? I sure haven't. This, to me, means that the police state is here to stay regardless of who wins the elections.

  • Bman||

    "But people are tribal, and people quest after power over others." Not so! People are largely social and can form co-operative communities consisting of like-minded people without needing thuggish mafia overlords. Only bullies "quest after power over others" against their will!
    Anarchism is the only rational solution there is! We do not believe in 'the great man' theory, and we know that the state is an aggressive parasite. There never has been any such thing as a limited government. Statism of all flavours has failed to protect the natural rights of people in every country where it has been tried for more than 10,000 years. Only the insane keep trying to do the same things over and over again while expecting different results.

  • Slim Strontem||

    Since (US) constitutionalism works well enough--Way better than any non-constitutionalism ever proposed;
    It follows that an ideology confident in its practice, and properly identifying such practice with their state's identity, is a thing of no harm. Then it follows that constitutionalism should be provided, rather than condemning the apparently unavoidable tendency of mortal man.
    Perhaps your goal was more against the exercise of sociology? It goes in hand with compliance, re, limited and required structures for the exercise of public powers, would cause the efforts for big (corrupt) government to be unprofitable.

  • gigarath24||

    ...but patriotism.

  • David Emami||

    I'm an anarchocapitalist in the same way that I'm for interstellar colonies: it's a good idea that I hope will happen eventually, but there are many intermediate steps along the way, and I know final success won't happen in my lifetime. But even if I want society without government and think it will work, I'm not blind to the fact that some governments are much much worse than others. To extend the analogy, Sheldon's view of the US/Iran disagreement (and pretty much every other time he writes on a US/someone-else conflict) is akin to saying that a Saturn V and a bulldozer are equally-bad spacecraft, because neither one can reach Alpha Centauri.

  • Intn'l House of Badass||

    It's kind of sad how far up his own ass Richman has to crawl in order to see Iran's actions as just and America's accident as nefarious.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Government causes people to get stupid piercings in their eyebrows?! Just another reason to hate government.

  • gigarath24||

    You need to go away salesperson.

  • bluecanarybythelightswitch||

    This was so bad I think it gave me cancer.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Don't expect people to ask what they would be saying if the tables were turned and Iranian boats had entered U.S. territorial waters. No, that would imply there is one standard for all...

    ...The unconscious hypocrisy was extended when Iran was accused of violating the Geneva Conventions and international law generally by showing the sailors and the apology on television.

    It's only hypocritical if you accept the fiction of an egalitarian world order.

    The world we really live in, internationally, is "might makes right." And you really want to be the one receiving apologies, not the one making them.

    As an analogy, I have a herd of horses. In a horse herd, there's a pecking order. Horses know nothing of egalitarianism or fair play. The dominant horses establish their position and retaliate against shows of disrespect. The subordinate horses defer out of fear and respect of the dominant horses. Sometimes a new horse or a young horse will attempt to change its place in the herd, and this requires boldness, aggression and a refusal to back down to those he or she is attempting to supplant.

    If you think the international order is any different than that, you live in a fantasy world. It's a fight for dominance, not a kindergarten where fair play is imposed on everyone by nanny UN. In the real world, nanny UN is a member of the herd like any other, jockeying for position and influence.

    (tbc)

  • Cloudbuster||

    (continued)

    Believe me. You want to be the top horse. You don't want "fair play." "Fair play" is a weapon the weak use against the strong. Fuck hypocrisy. You want other nations to worry about crossing you, and you want to put them down quickly if they dare cross you. Otherwise, one day, they'll be the strong horse and they'll be leading the herd, and you may not like it very much.

  • Cloudbuster||

    (continued)

    Believe me. You want to be the top horse. You don't want "fair play." "Fair play" is a weapon the weak use against the strong. Fuck hypocrisy. You want other nations to worry about crossing you, and you want to put them down quickly if they dare cross you. Otherwise, one day, they'll be the strong horse and they'll be leading the herd, and you may not like it very much.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, thanks, you have one piece of the truth… As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. Some violent nasty bastards here and there, will understand NOTHING, absolutely nothing, except force and the threat of force.

    The other piece of the truth here is spoken as follows…
    “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”
    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    I lust something terrible for the “dawn of eternal peace”, don’t you? It is admittedly a fine, fine line to walk, but I think we have to put the Eisenhower sentiment at the VERY least, just one, wee, tiny smidge BEFORE and AHEAD of the Teddy sentiment, if we have any real and genuine hope of ever getting there… Right must precede and trump might. The “endless cycle of violence” can ONLY be broken, if someone, somewhere, sometime judiciously choses to absorb a blow, and NOT strike back. I doubt the President Trump will have anywhere near what it takes, here…

  • Reverend Draco||

    As long as the State still exists. . . there will be no "dawn of eternal peace." The State is violence, full stop.

  • Bman||

    We are not like horses though. We don't have a stallion breeding all of the mares. We are individual predators like raccoons, bobcats, ect. Some people prefer to live in rural areas and some people prefer to live in (usually) single family dwellings close to others. We do not live in herds.

  • brownmaria696||


    I've made $76,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student.I'm using an online business opportunity I heard about and I've made such great money.It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it.

    http://www.workpost30.com

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online