Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hobbes on States

"In such condition [without a state], there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

-Thomas Hobbes
The Leviathan

I disagree that civilization is impossible without the state. I don't think we have any evidence that meaningfully supports that; we have a long history of society falling apart and the government crumbling, but I know of no example of the state withering away, and with it, it's society - except at the hands of other, more violent states, which is hardly owned wholly by withering states, as it's a threat for all states.

I find Hobbes' claims about the inability to create industry without the state very unconvincing. For example, the global black markets are ~2 trillion dollars. Germany GDP is around 3.3 trillion, the US GDP is at 15.6 trillion, and global GDP is at 71.6 trillion. This is in spite and opposition to states from around the world. The mafia and gangs wouldn't even exist in their modern form without State imposed prohibition. This seems to be the complete opposite of what Hobbes' quote would lead one to think - you could be harmed or killed by other people in your day to day life, you don't have the protection of the police, you are vilified by the media, and your whole life can be destroyed at any instant by the state. And yet... it flourishes.

The use of violence to prevent further violence has some merits. As a lesser of evils, it is better than the alternatives. But there is an option for the removal of violence, to only use it in defence from the use of violence of others. You don't have to play the arms race, you can de-arm, de-escalate. You can push for a society that repulses and expunges violence, rather than enshrining it in the largest institution available.

By resisting the withering of the state, you are saying: "I know enough. What we have here and now is sufficient, and should be imposed on all others until they become more politically or militarily powerful than myself and those with me." You take money by force to support your system, and you use violence against those who refuse to do obey. You do this on the basis of imaginary lines on a map, saying "All those within these lines fall under my jurisdiction." There is no further reasoning why Montana does not impose it's rules on Idaho, or why Canada does not impose it's rules on Alaska, aside from the difficulty in doing so.

If you form a state purely on a voluntary premise, where you rule none who do not consent and you do not extort support to maintain it's size, you do not create a state that is recognizable to modern cousins. If you create a state without basing it in coercion and violence, you aren't creating a state.

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