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Rockwell on the Nature of the State

The process of legal reform–say, of tax law, or patent or copyright law–by which the law ebbs and flows, and continually changes, provoking cries of doom and disaster from biased special interest chicken littles, calls to mind an analysis by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., in his book The Left, the Right, and the State (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2008), pp. xiii-xiv (emphasis added):

What is the state? It is the group within society that claims for itself the exclusive right to rule everyone under a special set of laws that permit it to do to others what everyone else is rightly prohibited from doing, namely aggressing against person and property.

Why would any society permit such a gang to enjoy an unchallenged legal privilege? Here is where ideology comes into play. The reality of the state is that it is a looting and killing machine. So why do so many people cheer for its expansion? Indeed, why do we tolerate its existence at all?

The very idea of the state is so implausible on its face that the state must wear an ideological garb as means of compelling popular support. Ancient states had one or two: they would protect you from enemies and/or they were ordained by the gods.

To greater and lesser extents, all modern states still employ these rationales, but the democratic state in the developed world is more complex. It uses a huge range of ideological rationales—parsed out between left and right—that reflect social and cultural priorities of niche groups, even when many of these rationales are contradictory.

The left wants the state to distribute wealth, to bring about equality, to rein in businesses, to give workers a boost, to provide for the poor, to protect the environment. … The right, on the other hand, wants the state to punish evildoers, to boost the family, to subsidize upright ways of living, to create security against foreign enemies, to make the culture cohere, and to go to war to give ourselves a sense of national identity. …

So how are these competing interests resolved? They logroll and call it democracy. The left and right agree to let each other have their way, provided nothing is done to injure the interests of one or the other. The trick is to keep the balance. Who is in power is really about which way the log is rolling. And there you have the modern state in a nutshell.

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