Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Origin of the State

As few may know, I am a frequent commenter at Samizadata as well as the Belmont Club. The fact that I peruse these blogs most frequently is an indication of my political leanings, the result of years of carefully examining history and facts, as well as some forceful logic.

Strictly speaking, I am a classic liberal(as opposed to the modern liberal who is not liberal at all) leaning towards conservatism. The only reason why I don't veer all the way to anarchy, or even the anarcho-capitalism favored by the Austrian economists is because they committed the same grievous error as the socialists; they ignored human nature.

There was indeed a time when Man was a bunch of largely unconnected individuals, without any state or larger organization than the tribe to govern them. It lasted till about 8000 BC. Then the first civilizations arose.

So why did people decide to band together? If the Austrians were right, then people would be happy enough on their own without needing to band together to form larger demographic constructs, which would be the basis for the modern nation-state. Obviously, that was not the case. So what went wrong(or right)?

Thomas Hobbes has the answer in Leviathan. Men are motivated by mainly two things: desire and fear. There is no fear greater than the fear of death. No matter how strong or how smart a man is, he can never be free from the fear of death. And in the natural world, which is to say, the world before the birth of civilization, the fear of death was especially strong in man. Hobbes classified the right to self-protection against violent death as the most basic human right. But when resources are scarce, especially resources vital to living like food, what's a caveman to do? The answer was easy: kill the other cavemen competing for those resources. And then there is desire. Frankly speaking, we have unlimited wants. Man is naturally a creature of acquisition. As Machiavelli put it, 'The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can'.

Couple the two, and in a Royal Rumble world, you have a system in which every man looked out for himself, 'war of all against all' (bellum omnium contra omnes). And so, life was 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'. In short, the life of pre-civilization man.

The solution to that sticky problem was for every man to give up some of that natural right to a higher authority, for the higher authority to provide security against the fear of death, to punish those who transgressed against the natural rights of others, and so on. With such a higher authority, it became easier for people to pool their resources together. And while one man may find it difficult to overcome nature to produce more resources for himself, a group of many men under a single authority will find it much easier.

A single man, or even a single tribe, cannot possibly dig a irrigation canal several miles long. But a nation of people can, making the land much more agriculturally productive. But such nation of people can only come about through the existence of a central authority that enforces laws to ensure that people can cooperate without fear of death, as well as everybody doing their fair share. In other words, Leviathan.

The anarchists may argue that people will do so anyway if it is in their self-interest, in the absence of a higher authority, but why would they? They could negotiate contracts with one another, but what if the contract was violated? What then? In other words, you can't get away without having a state to impose law and order.

And that is why anarchy is unworkable. But what about the state? What if it gets too powerful, eats up too many 'rights'? Is it a good, or bad thing?


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