Appendix C. All moral arguments for the state are wrong.

Here are the topics addressed in this appendix:

This appendix supplements Chapter 6. Is the state legitimate? It assumes that you have already read Chapters 1 through 6 and that you understand the self-defense theory of justice and my definition of the state, but that you are interested in reading more about why the state cannot be justified.

Some statists base their political philosophy on natural law. In essence, they say the state is needed to enforce natural rights. Other statists who don't believe in natural law say that the state is needed to create law and order. I have already disputed the premise of the second group (I will say more about them later). First I will deal with the arguments used by the statists who believe in natural rights and who try to show that the state is a voluntary organization. Later I consider whether the aristocratic or the democratic theorists have good arguments for who should rule and whether the state is necessary at all.

Social-Contract Theories

The most common justifications of the state are social-contract theories. Some of these theories depend on a document such as the United States Constitution. Others use social contract to mean a tacit agreement rather than a written one. Either way, the essential point of all social-contract theories is that the state gets its authority from the consent of the governed through an agreement whereby each citizen voluntarily gives up some of his rights so that the state can operate.

To assess the plausibility of explicit social-contract theories, we need to determine the rights that citizens would have to delegate to an institution for that institution to qualify as a state. Then we need to see whether any state that we know of, or that we can imagine, was created, or could realistically be created, by an explicit contract of the type required. If no legitimate, explicit contract can justify even a minimal state (one that meets the definition of a state without any extra frills), then we can dispense with all explicit social-contract theories and go on to assess the theories that rely on tacit consent.

Explicit Social Contracts

For an institution to be characterized as a state, it must monopolize the political means within a specific geographic area. It must forcibly prevent any institutions within the area from using the political means or, at least, it must regulate any institutions that it allows to use the political means. Most states do much more than this, but none do less.

What sort of a contract would the people living in the area have to sign to justify the actions of such a minimal state? What rights would they have to agree to give up?

To create a legitimate, minimal state, each individual would have to give up his right to defend himself or others from the state's use of the political means, except as authorized and regulated by the state. The parties to this contract have no right to bind anyone other than themselves to its terms. So the state formed by this contract could have no authority over anyone who did not explicitly agree to it. The contract and the authority it gives to the state cannot apply to future generations or to new immigrants until they agree to it. Also, even those citizens who explicitly agree to the contract still retain the right to withdraw their consent at any time. If any one of the inhabitants refuses to sign or otherwise explicitly agree to these terms, the state has no more authority over him than any other individual or institution has. Each individual retains the right to defend himself from anyone who uses the political means. If two or more of the inhabitants refuse to agree to the contract, they retain the right to defend themselves, and they retain the right to help in each other's defense without interference or regulation.

There is no evidence that any state was ever formed by such a contract. If there ever was such a contract, it must have been agreed to in prehistoric times. The people to whom the contract might have applied must have died long ago. No one alive today is a citizen of a state that was created by such a contract, and no existing state can legitimately base its authority on such a contract.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose name is foremost among social-contract theorists, ridiculed the idea that any existing state derives its authority from an explicit contract with its citizens. In his book, The Social Contract, Rousseau provided an excellent refutation of explicit social-contract theories. He said that agreeing to such a contract was like volunteering to be a slave. A person would have to be crazy to agree to be a slave. A tyrannical monarch who derived his authority from explicit contracts with his subjects would rule a nation of madmen.1

Those who refer to a written constitution to justify the right of the state to rule its subjects have no better case than Jesse James would have had if he were audacious enough to defend his right to rob trains by referring to a note that said, "Jesse James is hereby authorized to rob trains." Signed, "Jesse James."

The idea of a written social contract is easy to refute. No serious thinker can believe there ever was an actual social contract that was legitimate and binding in accordance with the principles of contract law. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant would not have had to develop their own theories to justify the state if there had been an explicit contract that justified it already. The idea of an explicit social contract is a myth propagated by apologists for those in power and believed in only by the most gullible part of the public, Supreme Court justices, and those who are uncomfortable with critical thought.2

Both Rousseau and Kant believed that the state has the right to force people to obey its laws. They both used language in describing the state that made it sound as though they believed the state's authority rests on the consent of the governed. But if you read their works, you will find that they did not believe the state's authority is based on explicit consent. What they meant by such terms as the general will, social contract, and unanimous consent was not what one would naturally think they meant. They were much too sophisticated to believe in an explicit social contract.

Even though they used the term social contract, Kant and Rousseau each realized that an explicit social contract is a fiction. Their use of the term was not based on a false view of history. It was a deliberate attempt at deception and obfuscation. Kant recommended brutal treatment for anyone who questions the legitimacy of the social-contract myth:

Whether as a historical fact an actual contract between them originally preceded the submission to authority or whether, instead, the authority preceded it and the law only came later or even is supposed to have followed in this order—these are pointless questions that threaten the state with danger if they are asked with too much sophistication by a people who are already subject to civil law, for, if the subject decides to resist the present ruling authority as a result of ruminating on its origin, he would be rightfully punished, destroyed, or exiled in accordance with the laws of that authority itself.3
Kant placed the authority of the state above the rights of the individual. More than that, he placed the authority of the current administrators above the rights of all individuals combined.4 Jesse James was never this presumptuous.

Implicit Social Contracts

Instead of explicit social contracts, which are easy to deny, political theorists have used the idea of implicit social contracts to justify state authority. John Locke expressed his implicit social-contract theory this way,
...every man that has any Possession, or Enjoyment, of any part of the Dominions of any Government, does thereby give his tacit Consent...5
This is the "love-it-or-leave-it" philosophy. Dissenters are told, in effect, that they have implicitly agreed to the "social contract" by virtue of the fact that they have chosen to live in a country governed by a state. Because all countries are currently governed by states, this argument amounts to the assertion that we all have voluntarily agreed to obey the laws of some state by virtue of the fact that we live on the earth rather than somewhere else. One of the implications is that the state can do no wrong to anyone unfortunate enough to live within its borders. That is, the state cannot violate the rights of its subjects, because whatever the state does to them, it does with their tacit consent. To put it in its worst light, this theory means that the German Jews and others who did not become refugees and who were put into concentration camps by the Nazis gave their tacit consent and were not wronged.

The Landlord Analogy

What is wrong with this love-it-or-leave-it argument? Suppose you live in an apartment and you have a lease that says no children or pets are allowed. Suppose you don't like this rule, and you decide to have children or pets in your apartment. In this case, the love-it-or-leave-it argument makes sense. The proper thing for you to do is to either renegotiate your lease, or find another place to live.

John Locke's argument implies that the relationship between the state and its subjects is like the relationship between a landlord and his tenants. If we accept this analogy, we can accept the conclusion that if you don't like the laws of your country and you can't change them, then the only proper alternatives are to obey the laws anyway or leave the country. If there is something wrong with this argument, it must be that the analogy is imperfect.

One weakness of this analogy is that the landlord and the tenant have an explicit contract, a lease, but the state and its subjects do not. Let's treat this as a minor technicality and move on to a more important weakness of the analogy.

Before someone can legitimately demand that you leave a place, he must be able to prove that he owns the place or that he is the authorized agent of the real owner. If the state is the legitimate representative of all the real-estate owners in the country, it could have the authority to regulate the behavior of tenants and visitors. (Tenants and visitors could be thought to tacitly consent to obey the rules of their landlords or hosts.) Then, it might be true that tenants and visitors who don't want to obey the state's rules should leave the country. However, if there is any unowned land in the country, the state's jurisdiction could not include such land. Consequently, anyone who wanted to be free from the state's regulations could live on such land, homestead it, and make his own house-rules there, without having to leave the country. Furthermore, if a tenant or visitor deals directly with the owner of the real estate that he intends to use, instead of dealing through an intermediary agent such as the state, then only the rules agreed to by the two contracting parties would apply, not the state's laws.

The state's laws would not apply to real-estate owners while they are on their own property, because a real-estate agent can have only as much authority over any particular piece of property as the owner chooses to delegate. Owners could also deal directly with each other and make their own contracts about the rules that each must obey on the other's property. The state could have no right to impose any different rules than the rules the owners choose to adopt. Your real-estate agent cannot require you to leave your home and your country because you disobeyed one of his rules.

This means that the love-it-or-leave-it argument assumes more than that the state is the representative of all the real-estate owners in the country. It assumes the state is the owner, the landlord, of all the real estate in the country. We must make this assumption or else we cannot say that the nominal real-estate owners, their tenants, and guests have no right to make contracts that violate any of the state's commands. The love-it-or-leave-it argument assumes people can only use the real estate in their country as authorized by the state, as if authority flows from the state to the individual rather than from the individual to the state. The love-it-or-leave-it argument also assumes the state owns all the land, even the wilderness areas that no one has ever homesteaded. Otherwise, people could move to the undeveloped parts of the country and get out of the state's jurisdiction.

The assumptions implicit in the love-it-or-leave-it argument are implausible. Obviously, people resided in each country and owned real estate in each country before any state was established in that country. Since real estate was already owned by families and private individuals before the state was devised, the only legitimate way for the state to become the landlord of that real estate would be by explicit contracts with each of the owners. This has not happened.

At this point, the only way to persist in the love-it-or-leave-it argument is to use circular reasoning. You have to assume the very thing that you mean to prove. You have to assume that everyone has tacitly agreed to give ownership of all their real estate to the state. If we grant this, it follows that by residing in a country, you tacitly agree to obey the rules of the state that owns the country. The love-it-or-leave-it argument can be reduced to the bizarre assertion that the state got its authority by virtue of the fact that the legitimate property owners at the time the state came along kept their land inside the state's borders rather than move it to another country, and by keeping their land there they tacitly agreed to let the state own it. It is no wonder that people did not move their land to another country when the state came along. It is practically impossible to move land, so the fact that they didn't move it should not be interpreted as consent to give it to the state.

The love-it-or-leave-it theory proves too much. If people who fail to remove their land from the country thereby tacitly consent to give their land to the first state that establishes itself there, then what difference does it make whether the state is democratic or dictatorial? The argument is as good for one as it is for the other.

Suppose an individual is confronted by two or more groups that command him to obey their rules or leave the country. Which group's rules would he be tacitly agreeing to obey if he continued to reside in that country? Which group would be the legitimate state? How can he distinguish between a newborn state and a gang of extortionists?

John Locke's love-it-or-leave-it theory assumes that the state owns the country. Yet, according to Locke's own homestead principle, small portions of the country are owned by many different people as a result of their being the first to mix their labor with the land, or as a result of voluntary trades whose history ultimately goes back to the original homesteaders. The state, therefore, does not own the country, and the state is not morally equivalent to the country's landlord. The love-it-or-leave-it argument has some plausibility when applied to people who live in public housing projects, but there is no basis for applying it to the majority of the inhabitants of the country.

Totalitarians can use the love-it-or-leave-it argument more consistently than those who believe in private property. In countries with socialist or communist governments, the state is the landlord. However, the state's claim to ownership rests on conquest rather than voluntary contracts, and since property titles cannot legitimately be earned by conquest, the ones with a moral obligation to leave are the conquerors, not their victims.

The Service-Contract Analogy

An argument used to justify taxation is that the state has an implicit service contract with its subjects that gives it the right to demand payment for the services it provides. This argument overlooks the differences between government services and market services.

In the free market, the customer chooses whether to buy a service, when to buy it, where to buy it, what kind to buy, how much to buy, and who to buy it from. State services are financed by the taxpayer, whether he uses the service or not, whether the service is provided at the times and places the taxpayer prefers or not, whether the kind and amount of service is what the taxpayer wants or not, and whether the service violates the moral and religious principles of the taxpayer or not.

State-provided services are more like protection rackets run by gangsters that they are like free-market services. This protection-racket analogy, though more accurate than the service-contract analogy, is of no help in justifying the state.

The Passive-Submission Argument

One fact sometimes cited as evidence that the state is voluntary stands out above all others: the people outnumber the agents of the state. Because of this it seems obvious to some thinkers that the government could not rule the public without the public's cooperation and consent. If this inference is correct, then all existing governments are voluntary.

This argument proves too much. It justifies all states, including brutal, totalitarian ones.

Fortunately, this argument is not correct. Even when people dislike a command, they will obey it if the cost of disobedience is high enough. People do not often rise up in arms to overthrow the state. This does not mean they give their consent.

If an armed gang of thieves holds up a train, and the passengers, who outnumber the thieves, give up their wallets and jewelry, this does not mean that the passengers consent to being robbed. The train robbers are still thieves, despite the passengers' submission. Similarly, if you choose to pay your taxes and obey the state's commands rather than risk being put in prison, this does not mean that you acknowledge the state's right to take your earnings and to boss you around.

It is true that the state is a minority and its subjects are the majority. It has to be that way, because if a parasite gets bigger than its host, they both will die. The state is able to govern its subjects without their consent, even though the subjects outnumber it, because the state is organized, armed, and dangerous, and the public is usually unorganized and unarmed. The state is outnumbered by its subjects, but the subjects are out-gunned by the state.

If statists are so sure that the state enjoys popular support, why don't they prove it by making the payment of taxes voluntary? This would show exactly how much support the state really has, and it would eliminate one of the primary moral objections to the state. The fact that all states impose their taxes and their regulations by brute force implies that they do not really believe in the passive-submission argument. If they don't believe in it, why should we?

The State as a Prerequisite for Society

Both Rousseau and Kant wrote that unanimous consent is a necessary prerequisite for the initial formation of a society. They were correct. People are born into societies, and when they are old enough to make their own decisions, they usually choose to continue to live in societies, because they derive benefits from doing so. Man is a social animal. It is natural for him to live in society, and it is in his self-interest.

But Rousseau and Kant meant to imply more than this. They wanted to justify the state. To do this they implied, without offering any evidence, that the state is necessary for society. If this were true, then the fact that society is necessary for man would imply that the state is necessary for man. Furthermore, if society is voluntary, and if society implies the existence of the state, then the state is voluntary too.

Neither Rousseau nor Kant went so far as to assert that the state is truly a voluntary organization. They knew better. But they persisted in using the language of consent to describe the ultimate justification of the state.

Thomas Hobbes' position was different. He believed that people have a natural right to do whatever they want, including the right to kill each other. He also believed that where there is no state the people constantly make war on each other and, consequently, there can be no society, property, civilization, culture, or security. Only the state can establish peace and order. The state makes property rights possible. For Hobbes, the state is legitimate even when it is established by conquest, because oaths and covenants that you make under threats are still voluntary actions. So, when someone extracts a promise from you by putting a sword to your throat, you are morally obligated to keep your promise.

According to Hobbes, the people give up their rights to the state to such an extent that whatever the state does is authorized by them. Yet, Hobbes said that the individual keeps his right to defend his life and the right not to have to bear witness against himself. In Hobbes philosophy, rights can be mutually contradictory. The state has the right to execute those who break its laws, and those about to be executed have the right to use violence to resist being executed. Such contradictions are not acceptable in a theory of justice. A right that can legitimately be violated is not a right.

In Hobbes' theory, the state is created either by a voluntary contract or by a contract coerced by conquerors. In either case, those who become subjects express their consent. People submit to the authority of the state because, according to Hobbes, otherwise they would always be at war and society would not be possible.

Hobbes' theory cannot be correct, because society must exist before language can be developed, and a common language must be developed before people can use it to make covenants. So society must predate any state that could be established in the way Hobbes described. But if men were able to live together in society long enough to develop a common language, without the state, then they must have been able to live in peace without the state, which contradicts the principle reason that Hobbes gives for the state being necessary and for people to submit to it.

The General Will

Rousseau believed that the state is not formed by contracts but by something called the general will. The general will is hard to understand. It is a collectivistic idea.6

Realizing that there could be no valid contract to justify the state, Rousseau resorted to double-talk. He knew that real moral agents (individual men and women) would never unanimously agree to give up their autonomy, so he invented a superior, collective, moral agent with a life and will of its own to overrule the wills of the separate, individual, real moral agents. This general will is smarter than any individual and has the right to overrule any and all individuals.

This act of association forthwith produces, in lieu of the individual persons of the several contracting parties, a collective moral body. The latter is made up of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, and it acquires, through the said act of association, its unity, its collective self, its life, and its will.7
Rousseau ascribes human, and even superhuman, qualities to the general will. He regards this construct as a moral agent and ascribes to it more authority than that of any of the real moral agents in a society.

It is perfectly legitimate to use a term such as the general will. It may even be handy to have such a term, after you define it. For example, it is easier to say "the general will supports this proposition" than it is to say "the number of assembly members in favor of this proposition minus the number of assembly members against this proposition is a positive number."

The danger in using the general will is that it sounds like the general will belongs to a moral agent capable of thinking, valuing, willing, approving, acting, and having rights. If we use the longer phrase, we are not likely to make this mistake. If the general will is simply the numerical difference between the number of assembly members opposed to a proposition and the number who favor it, then it is clear that this number is not a moral agent. A number cannot think, will, value, approve, act, or have rights. Not even large, positive numbers can do these things.

Rousseau's argument that the general will is morally superior to the wills of real people might convince some folks, but he knew it wouldn't fool everybody. Ultimately, he had to acknowledge the fact that each state imposes its rule by brute force. He made it sound as beneficent as he could by saying that the state forces people to be free.

Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the entire body politic, which is only another way of saying that his fellows shall force him to be free.8
In other words, if all the political prisoners in the world weren't such knuckleheads they would be thankful to the general will for forcing them to be free in their jail cells.

The State as a Category of Thought

Two centuries ago Immanuel Kant developed a moral philosophy similar to mine. If Kant had incorporated his moral ideas into his political philosophy, he would have been an anarchist.9 10

Unfortunately, Kant abandoned his own theory of human rights in deference to the state. Kant believed that natural society, without the state, is flawed because nature allows each person to decide what is right, independently of the opinions of others. To approve this natural diversity is to renounce universal justice. For Kant, like Hobbes, the natural society amounts to a war of all against all, because nature does not guarantee justice.11

Without the state, according to Kant, it is legitimate to strike the first blow because, "Everyone is presumed bad until he has provided assurance of the opposite."12

Because criminals have no right to be free from violence, and because everyone in a stateless society is presumed to be a criminal, no one in a stateless society has a right to be free from violence. But this contradicts the idea of justice. Therefore, we are obliged to abandon natural society and create a state that will guarantee good behavior.

Kant believed that justice requires an authority to establish rights and to guarantee them within society. Such an authority must be external to the individual. It must result from the common will as expressed in a constitution. In other words, a constitutional state is a logical necessity deduced from the idea of justice and, therefore, the state has the right to force people to obey its laws and submit to its authority.

Kant had a tendency to regard his own assumptions as categories of thought. He could not imagine any way to protect people from war and violence other than by creating a constitutional state. In his mind, the state is so closely associated with the idea of justice that he virtually elevated the state to a category of the mind like time, space, causality, and the laws of logic. Unfortunately, many people share Kant's deep-seated belief in the authority of the state. For these people, justice without the state is as unthinkable as motion without time.

Kant made several assumptions in his justification of the state. He assumed that (1) nature does not guarantee natural rights, (2) the state can guarantee them, (3) the idea of justice requires that people be guaranteed their rights, (4) everyone should be assumed guilty of threatening to violate natural rights unless they can provide assurance to the contrary, (5) the way to provide such assurance is to submit to the regulations and judgments of an external authority, and (6) the only external authority that one can submit to for this purpose is the state (preferably a constitutional one that represents the "general will"). From these assumptions it follows that anyone who refuses to submit to the state is a criminal, and it is legitimate to use violence against him to force him to conform. If there is something wrong with this argument, the error must lie in one or more of its assumptions.

(1) It is clear that nature, or rather men in a stateless society, cannot guarantee natural rights. The existence of crime proves this assumption. For men in a stateless society to make such a guarantee, they would have to either make it physically impossible to violate rights (by voluntarily living in isolation, or by paralyzing or dismembering their bodies, or by putting themselves in chains, and so on) or by making it impossible to think of violating rights (perhaps by submitting to lobotomies). It is safe to say that in a stateless society some men would not voluntarily agree to make the personal sacrifices needed to guarantee that they will not commit crimes.

(2) Can the state guarantee that no one will violate natural rights? The state could make crime physically impossible by putting everyone in chains, by paralyzing everyone, by dismembering everyone, by isolating everyone, and so on. The state could also eliminate all motives for crime by performing lobotomies on everyone. (Who would perform the lobotomy on the last surgeon?) However, there are obvious drawbacks to each of these techniques. Some utilitarians would object that this is not the way to maximize happiness. But this objection is irrelevant. The goal is not to maximize happiness but to guarantee justice. Another objection to this approach is that it would eliminate the human race. Reproduction would become impossible. The life-span of the existing generation would be shortened, and when they die the race would end. In addition to these practical objections, the morality of this approach is questionable. It boils down to eliminating injustice by eliminating all moral agents.

The only way to guarantee that no one will commit crimes is to deprive all people of the ability to choose between right and wrong. That is, to deprive them of their status as moral agents. Kant's assumption that the state, and only the state, can guarantee that no one will commit crimes is probably correct, but it is doubtful that Kant or anyone else would approve of the techniques that the state would have to employ to accomplish this goal.

(3) Does the idea of justice require that people be guaranteed freedom from injustice? After seeing what it would take to guarantee freedom from injustice, most people would be opposed to such a guarantee. Does the idea of justice require that all moral agents be incapacitated? On the contrary, justice is a relationship between moral agents. The idea of justice presupposes that there are moral agents who are capable of choosing between right and wrong and are free to act on their decisions. Because guaranteeing that there is no injustice entails the elimination or incapacitation of moral agents, such a guarantee is incompatible with justice. To say that the idea of justice requires a guarantee that there can be no injustice is to imply the contradiction that the idea of justice implies that moral agents not be allowed to make moral decisions.

(4) Should everyone be presumed guilty unless they provide assurance of their innocence? Most thinkers believe the contrary. Guilt can be proven, innocence cannot. Guilt can be discovered by narrow investigation. Innocence is limitless. To prove guilt, it is only necessary to show that a particular crime was committed against a particular person at a particular time and place by particular people. To prove innocence, it is necessary to prove that a particular person never committed any crime against anybody anywhere. If you really want to avoid injustice, you must assume that other people are innocent until proven guilty.

I have already granted the validity of assumptions (5) and (6). Only the state can guarantee that no one will commit crimes. However, it has to be a totalitarian state rather than the kind of state that Kant would have liked.

Kant was correct in his assumptions that nature does no guarantee that there will be no injustice, that men will not voluntarily guarantee it, and that only the state can guarantee it. But he was wrong in supposing that justice requires a guarantee of no injustice. In fact, justice is incompatible with such a guarantee. Men are not required by the idea of justice to make this guarantee, and they should not be presumed criminals for refusing to do so. Consequently, Kant's argument fails to justify the state's use of violence against men who choose to retain their moral autonomy. His attempt to overthrow natural rights and to justify the state is a complete failure.

Contrary to what Kant believed, the state is neither a prerequisite for justice nor a necessity of thought. In fact, if the principles of justice are universal, eternal, and unchanging, then justice cannot depend on positive laws, which vary from country to country and from one year to the next. Nor can justice depend on the state, which is the creator of positive laws. Justice is grounded in reality, not in politics.

Kant's account of the situation is upside-down. Starting from the premise that there are natural rights and that justice is a category of thought, he comes to the conclusion that we should submit to the dictates of whatever state happens to rule the country we live in. He should have reached the much different conclusion that there is no moral authority behind positive laws that contradict natural rights.

The fact that the state uses violence to keep its subjects in line shows that its authority does not rest on the unanimous consent of the governed. Rousseau and Kant knew this. Kant wrote that, "only the united and consenting will of the people by which each decides the same for all and all decide the same for each—can legislate."13 Then he qualified this by saying that only active citizens need to consent to legislation, even though the legislation is binding on all the people and that passive citizens should be forced to obey against their will. He defended this abandonment of his own principle on the ground that the state could not function in any other way.

If the state necessarily uses violence against peaceful people, then the state is unjust. Kant realized the contradiction between natural rights and state authority, but he reached the wrong conclusion. The necessity of the state was more fundamental to Kant's way of thinking than natural rights. He never seriously questioned the necessity of the state, nor did he have any tolerance for those who did.

Although Kant is usually regarded as an advocate of absolute moral principles, in his political philosophy he was so reactionary that he even regarded philosophizing about rebellion and natural rights as a form of treason.14 Kant's political philosophy is similar to that of Thomas Hobbes—the arch-enemy of natural law. They both assumed that the natural condition of mankind, before the creation of the state, was war and injustice, and that the only way to introduce justice into the world is by creating the state.

Kant made positive contributions to natural rights philosophy, but in his political philosophy Kant revealed himself to be a legal positivist and an enemy of natural law by subordinating natural law and even his own concept of the categorical imperative to expediency.

Most legal positivists are utilitarians who dismiss the idea of natural rights in order to promote happiness either for the individual or for the greatest number of individuals. Kant was different from other legal positivists in that happiness was not the goal of his political philosophy. Kant's goal was to eliminate the injustice that is inevitable as long as people are free to choose between right and wrong. For this he abandoned the categorical imperative, natural law, and the rights of man.

The Minimal State

During his libertarian phase, Robert Nozick offered a theory to explain how a minimal state (limited to protection, compensation, and retribution services) could arise in a morally justifiable way.15 His argument does not lend support to any states that have actually existed. No states that we know of have arisen by means that are justified by Nozick's theory, and all historical states exercise more powers than can be justified by his theory of justice.16

Nozick's theory was an attempt to provide a moral argument for the establishment of an organization that monopolizes the retribution business within a geographic area by using the political means of coercion to prevent competitors from assessing criminal guilt in ways it doesn't approve. This hypothetical organization fits the definition of a state except that it does not use the political means of taxation to finance its operations.

Nozick starts with the state of nature in which everyone has the right to defend himself against crime and to form voluntary associations to enforce justice. In this society, all the protection agencies adhere to Nozick's principles of justice. These principles are similar to the ones presented here except that (1) forcible appropriation of compensation from criminals and punishment of criminals are not considered to be crimes, and (2) it is OK to prohibit people from doing risky activities if you compensate them for this violation of their rights.

Nozick predicted that if the free market were allowed to operate in the protection industry, one of the competing protection agencies would inevitably become dominant through an invisible-hand process (a series of rational actions by people who do not have this goal in mind—the result of human action but not of human design). This dominant protection agency would evolve into an "ultraminimal" state without violating anyone's rights.

Next, Nozick used his principle of compensation to justify the transformation of the ultraminimal state into the minimal state. This handy principle allows you to morally violate someone's rights. In other words, it allows you to violate someone's rights without violating their rights. The legitimacy of the minimal state rests on this principle.

Nozick offered no convincing moral arguments for his principle of compensation. It is less likely that people would agree on this principle than that they would agree on procedures to protect their rights. Yet Nozick made the opposite claim and used the compensation principle to justify the suppression by the dominant protection agency of the risky procedures of competing protection agencies.

It is purely a conjecture that in the free market there would have to be a dominant protection agency. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, Nozick's prediction is correct that one agency would become dominant in the rights-protection market. Let's also assume, for the moment, that everyone agrees it is OK to prevent people such as the Intrepid Protection Agency from doing something that risks violating the rights of a suspect or a witness or anyone else, as long as you compensate the Intrepid Protection Agency for doing so. Does it follow that the dominant protection agency could and would use the compensation principle to suppress the procedures used by all of its weaker competitors and thereby become a minimal state?

Given the avaricious nature of successful businessmen, it is likely that the dominant agency would want to establish a monopoly. If the compensation principle could be exploited for this purpose, it is reasonable to suppose that it would be. Would the dominant agency be able to apply the compensation principle objectively to establish a monopoly?

Unfortunately for Nozick's theory, there is no objective way to measure compensation or to determine what compensation is commensurate with any particular violation of rights. Different people value their rights differently and value the same compensation differently. Some people would fight and risk death to defend their rights. Other people are less idealistic or more cowardly and would surrender their rights easily. No compensation could buy off people in the first group. They would always be a destabilizing force and a threat to the minimal state. The second group could be brought into compliance by mere threats, without any need for compensation. Between these two extremes are an infinite number of possible positions. Any particular compensation would be exactly right for only a small percentage of the people. For some it would be too little compensation and for others it would be more than enough. We have no objective way to determine the correct compensation.

If some people continue to fight for their rights despite the fact that they have been given something in compensation for violating their rights, it is safe to assume that the compensation was not enough. If some people surrender their rights under duress after receiving something in compensation, we cannot be sure that they really prefer this situation. It may not be satisfaction with the compensation that stills their resistance. They may have stopped defending their rights because they are out-gunned. The prospects for successful resistance may discourage them from openly rebelling against what they regard as injustice. This is quite different from being satisfied by co-optive compensations.

The right that Nozick believes the dominant protection agency should usurp is the right to participate with another protection agency that uses procedures for determining guilt that are unreliable or risky in the opinion of the dominant protection agency. If such procedures actually violate the rights of innocent people, it is legitimate for the dominant agency (or anybody else) to stop the violations. However, sometimes risky procedures do not violate the rights of innocent people. In these cases, it is not legitimate to stop these procedures. Suppose the alleged criminal and the alleged victim both agree to obey the decision of a particular court that, in the opinion of the dominant agency, uses risky procedures. From whom does the dominant agency get the authority to overrule that court?

It is surprising that Nozick singled out the issue of procedural rights to be the centerpiece in his argument. The determination of the legitimacy of fact-finding procedures is not as difficult or controversial as the determination of appropriate compensation for crimes. More important, the potential for rights violation by risky fact-finding procedures is not as great as the potential for rights violation by unproven principles of compensation and punishment.

Nozick's argument that one protection agency should monopolize retributive justice would have been stronger if he had concentrated on the widespread disagreements about what punishments and compensations are appropriate instead of concentrating on the less controversial subject of procedural rights. Suppose the Hanging Tree retribution company uses the same fact-finding procedures and recognizes the same procedural rights as the Fastidious Justice company, which is the dominant protection agency in the area. Suppose the Hanging Tree company administers the death penalty for all felons convicted by its non-risky guilt-establishing procedures. Suppose the Fastidious Justice company believes in administering less severe punishments. Wouldn't Fastidious Justice have the right to prevent Hanging Tree from administering the death penalty in cases where Fastidious Justice believes the crime calls for a lesser punishment? Doesn't Fastidious Justice have an obligation to do this in cases where the condemned person is one of their clients? Isn't this a stronger argument for Fastidious Justice to monopolize the justice industry than the argument that Nozick offered?

After exercising a lot of ingenuity and effort to present a moral justification of a minimal state, Nozick concluded his book by appealing to utilitarian values. He advocated a framework for society that allows people to voluntarily form, join, not join, dissolve, or resign from communities that make up their own living arrangements and club rules. He argued that this framework is the ideal utopian process, because it allows a multitude of communities to experiment with different life-styles, and it offers a free market in communities competing for the allegiance of individuals. The competition among the various communities within this free-market framework will lead to ever-improving social experiments as the individuals migrate from the less satisfying communities to the more satisfying ones.

The free-market framework does not impose a static order on society. Nor does it force people to continually experiment with different life-styles. If a social framework did the former, it would halt progress. If a social framework did the latter, it would lack the market test for determining the relative success or failure of social experiments.

The free-market framework allows individuals to keep living a life-style they are content with or to try an alternative life-style, if they think that would make them happier. It does not impose an ideal life-style on anyone, nor does it impose experimentation for its own sake. The free market treats individuals as moral agents who are responsible for their own lives.

Nozick called this free-market framework the utopian process, because it is the process necessary for making progress toward the ideal society in which everybody is as happy as they can be. He may have been correct, and I think he was, but some people don't like freedom and diversity, and they would not be happy in such a society. No social framework can be proven to be the best from a utilitarian point of view, because happiness cannot be measured. However, the free-market framework can be justified by natural law, because it is the only possible framework for society that respects the rights and autonomy of moral agents. The general framework that Nozick advocated in the utopian part of Anarchy, State, and Utopia is the same as the framework of justice presented here.

Although Nozick was definitely on the right track, he had some misconceptions about rights that raise theoretical problems for which he had no answers. It may be possible to offer such generally attractive compensations that the majority of people would be content to lose their right to choose their means of protection. But the compensation principle cannot justify premeditated crime. The fact that most people can be bought off or intimidated is hardly a principle upon which to build a moral argument.

Who should rule?

So far I have been assessing various arguments for the state by proponents of natural rights. None of them are persuasive, because the state is not compatible with basic rights. Now I want to change the focus to the question "Who should rule?"

Since the state cannot be morally justified, the obvious answer is that no one should rule, or that each adult should govern himself and children should be governed by their parents until they become adults. But I want to withhold this point so that I can use other grounds to criticize the arguments of those who say that this group or that group should rule. After I consider other defects in the argument that a particular group should rule, then I will remind the reader that it is a violation of basic rights for that group (or any other group) to rule other adults.

For ease of analysis, I divide statists into two basic groups: those who advocate an aristocratic (top-down) form of government and those who advocate a democratic (bottom-up) government. By aristocratic government I mean any form of government by an elite group who are said to be blessed with special authority over the common man. This includes such institutions as monarchies, dynasties, dictatorships, caste systems, feudalism, theocracies, and plutocracies, as well as pure aristocracies.

By democratic government I mean any form of government in which a large percentage of the population is alleged to participate on an equal level in setting government policies. This includes such institutions as constitutional republics, parliamentary governments, communal governments, and pluralistic states, as well as pure democracies.

Many states mix elements of aristocratic and democratic political systems. Some are in transition from feudalism to a parliamentary system. Some are in transition from liberal democracy to socialism or fascism. Some are in transition from socialism or communism to democratic capitalism. Others are in transition from a race-based caste system to pluralism or from colonial status to communism or military dictatorship. Almost every possible combination of aristocratic and democratic political philosophy has had an opportunity to be field-tested on some hapless population at one time or another.

Rather than analyze the justifications for all of the possible combinations of aristocratic and democratic elements as Aristotle tried to do, I will analyze the justifications for aristocracies and democracies in general. First I will look at aristocratic theories.


A basic assumption of the aristocratic political theorists is that some men have a natural right to rule, while others are naturally suited to be subjects or slaves. Aristotle championed this attitude,
It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.17
The word natural in the context of aristocratic political theory does not mean universal or equal, it means "according to the natural differences among classes of mankind." Aristocratic political philosophy is a class theory. It supports privileges for one class and more or less subjugation for the others. It means the natural leaders should make the decisions.18

The aristocratic philosophers reasoned that, because men are not equal in ability, they should not have equal authority. As parents have better judgment than children, members of the natural ruling class have better judgment than their subjects and masters than their slaves. To ensure that wise men will rule, an aristocratic class must be recognized and all political leaders must be selected from this class.19

The aristocratic political philosophers did not believe that all human beings possess "manness" equally. They believed "manness" is unevenly distributed among mankind and that the more "manness" a man has the more power he should have over others. Might does not make right, but virtue, defined as the ideal of "manness," should be linked to might. Those in power should be the most virtuous men, and it should be the duty of the subject classes to obey the ruling class.20

The aristocratic political philosophers associated rights with an overall assessment of the quality of the individual's class. They rejected the idea of equal rights.

The Doctor Analogy

A standard argument for submitting to the ruling class rests on an analogy between the ruling class and medical doctors.21 This analogy is drawn to suggest that as we recognize the authority of doctors and defer to their judgment in matters of health, we should likewise recognize the authority of the aristocrats and defer to their wisdom in matters of social policy.

There are serious flaws in this analogy. First, the political wisdom of the ruling elite is open to question to a much greater extent than is the medical expertise of doctors. Doctors go through years of training and apprenticeship before they begin to practice medicine. Political leaders do not study a comparable body of knowledge. They do not learn how to diagnose or cure social problems in a scientific way. In many cases, the ruling class simply inherits power. In other cases, rulers attain power through deceptive or brutal means. Either way, the rulers are not required to demonstrate mastery of any useful art or science. Yet we are supposed to liken their qualifications to those of medical doctors.

Second, the analogy does not hold up with respect to the scope of authority that the aristocratic philosophers would like us to grant to the ruling class. They want us to grant greater authority to the ruling class in the political field than we grant to doctors in the medical field. They want the ruling class to have more authority to prescribe cures for wide-ranging and critical social problems than doctors have to prescribe cures for diseases.

In the United States, despite the codes of professional ethics and the licensing requirements established on behalf of the American Medical Association, patients are still free to choose their doctors, and doctors still have to compete for patients. There is no comparable choice with respect to rulers in an aristocratic state. Even in a small town where one doctor has a monopoly of medical services comparable to the political monopoly of a ruling class, the doctor's authority in his domain is not comparable to the authority of the political aristocracy in their domain. A doctor cannot enforce his prescriptions by threatening to fine or imprison uncooperative patients. A doctor's decisions are not backed by the police. A doctor does not have the authority to subpoena patients. He cannot grab unwilling patients off the streets and force them to take his medicine. He must wait for patients to come to him voluntarily, and when they do, he can only offer educated advice, he cannot force-feed them.

If it is proper to limit a doctor's authority, then, by analogy, the authority of political leaders should be limited even more. On the other hand, if expertise is the criterion for granting authority, as the aristocratic political philosophers claim, and if the expertise of the ruling class warrants the power that they have, then doctors, who have much more expertise in medicine than the ruling elite has in social science, should be empowered to grab people off the streets, force them to take medicine, make them submit to operations, use them as guinea pigs, and make them pay the expenses. By this analogy, doctors should have as much authority everywhere as the National Socialists allowed them to have with respect to prisoners in concentration camps.

If we are not willing to allow doctors to have such powers in their field of expertise, then why should we allow the ruling class, who have less expertise, to have even greater powers? The aristocratic argument makes no sense, unless we assume there really is a class of men who know much more about governing than doctors know about medicine.


The classical aristocratic philosophers did not have the advantage of knowing modern economic theory. They did not know that, as Ludwig von Mises proved in his treatise on socialism, no aristocracy, not even one comprising the most intelligent and benevolent men, can direct economic activity as efficiently as the free market.22 It would take superhuman prophetic powers to forecast and oversee the production of all the goods and services, in the right amounts, at the right times, and at the right prices to have an efficient economy. Without the market to provide feedback, in terms of relative profits and losses, the people who engage in the production and distribution of economic goods and services have no way of knowing when they are producing the things that people want most and when they are wasting resources.

These facts about efficiency could be used in an argument against central planning by the aristocracy, but they are only relevant to those forms of central planning such as socialism that recognize the economic welfare of the masses as a goal. Efficiency from the point of view of the aristocratic class may well be different from efficiency as viewed by the subordinate classes. Ludwig von Mises' argument against socialism does not apply to the aristocratic theories that regard the material welfare of the subordinate classes as relatively unimportant. The point of view of the public was not the point of view of the classical political philosophers. Aristotle and Plato advocated rule by the aristocracy for the goals of the aristocracy. So the aristocratic philosophy cannot be refuted by utilitarian or economic arguments.23

Private Murder versus Noble War

Aristotle disapproved of private murder, but not because of any belief in the right of the individual to live in peace. He saw nothing wrong with killing innocent people per se. He praised the killing of innocent people when done as an act of war.24 For him, the only thing that could make killing good or bad was the degree of selfishness behind it. Private murder is usually motivated by personal feelings such as envy, jealousy, greed, and revenge. Aristotle regarded such motives as self-centered and ignoble. War, on the other hand, involves killing strangers whose death affords no personal benefit or satisfaction to the soldier. Killing in war was, therefore, for Aristotle, unselfish and noble.

Warfare is unselfish. It requires extreme personal sacrifice for the benefit of the state. The good soldier risks his life and kills total strangers at the command of his superiors. For Aristotle, nothing could be more honorable and noble than such total selflessness. His disapproval of private murder and his glorification of war can be understood in the light of his opinion that honor is more important than rights. Your rights can be ignored or violated. They are not within your control. But, according to Aristotle, no one can take away your honor. Only the individual can bring honor or disgrace upon himself. He concluded from this that honor is of more concern than rights.

Aristotle was totally wrong on this. You can do more to defend your rights than you can do to defend your honor. As mentioned earlier, your honor, which consists of other people's opinions of you, is not your property, and it can never be under your control. If someone does not have as good an opinion of you as you think you deserve, there is not much you can do about it. If you use force against him, it is not likely to make him think better of you.25

Aristotle asserted, gratuitously, that some people should rule. If this assumption is true, it would, of course, be better to be ruled by wise men than by foolish men or politicians. But what reasons are there for making the assumption in the first place? How do we know that wise men don't regard rule by the wisest or by anybody else as unwise?

The aristocratic philosophers did not address the basic questions of political philosophy: Is the state necessary? Is the state a social or an antisocial institution? Can any state be legitimate? Why should man be a political animal when no other social species is political?

The aristocratic philosophers did not differentiate between the state and society. So, they reasoned that, because man cannot realize his full potential except in society, man is a political animal. They did not consider the possibility that a social animal and a political animal might be two different kinds of creatures. They regarded anti-political rebels as criminals, and they regarded soldiers, who fight against natural rights, as noble men.

Scientific Evidence

Aristotle and other classical political philosophers who lived before the discoveries of modern science were mistaken when they asserted that there is a small class of men who are fit to rule and large classes of men fit only to be ruled.26 If men were supposed to be controlled by other men, and not do their own thinking, then there would be natural differences among human brains similar to the differences between worker, drone, and queen bees. If some men were supposed to do the thinking for all of society, only those men would need human brains, and the rest of mankind would need only the brains of beasts. Our species is not built this way. Whether the aristocratic theorists like it or not, we all have highly developed brains.

If some men have a right to rule, then the ruled and the ruling classes must have fundamentally different natures. The ruling class must be the only true moral agents in the society, the only class with rights. The subject classes must be subhuman and sub-moral. There is no biological evidence to support this.

If men aren't supposed to think for themselves, why do they have such large brains? Only those whose brains are defective or underdeveloped require other people to make decisions for them. Normal adults have enough intelligence to think independently and to make their own decisions. There is no scientific evidence to support the aristocratic theory that there is a small class of men who are so much wiser than the rest of us that they should govern everybody. I see no biological evidence of an elite class who are as superior to normal humans as adults are to children.

Just as each man is endowed with lungs to do his own breathing, all men have minds of their own to do their own thinking.

Natural Law versus Aristocracy

The aristocratic theory implies greater differences in mental abilities among classes of men than there actually are. It implies that men do not all have the same nature and the same basic rights. It is a philosophy of natural law based on an unscientific and mistaken understanding of human nature.

In an aristocracy, those who govern do not live by the same rules as everybody else. The ruling class does not abide by universal principles of justice. A political aristocracy must necessarily be opposed to the concept of equal rights.

Not only is aristocratic government unjust, it is unnatural. Each man wants to avoid pain and hardship. It is natural for him to use his brain to minimize his discomfort and maximize his pleasure. In addition to these common characteristics of human nature, each man has a unique personality, and a unique set of talents, values, and goals. Each individual has his own nature in addition to the common nature he shares with all men. Consequently, no single plan can satisfy everyone, and a different course of action may be suited to each individual. There can be general rules for everyone to follow, but the rules must allow enough discretion so that each individual can devise plans for achieving his personal goals. Everyone ought to be allowed to use his own mind to think of ways to pursue his own projects, because that is what our common nature and our individual natures require.27

If a man does not allow all other men the freedom and independence necessary for them to pursue their own projects, he fails to recognize the equal humanity and unequal personalities of his fellows. He misunderstands human nature. Part of the common nature of man is that each one of us has a unique personality, a unique set of values, and unique experiences. The same things do not make all men happy. The imposition of a social plan overlooks the fact that we all have different personalities, and it unnaturally restricts the possibilities for pursuing different projects.

The need of some people to control the lives of others conflicts with the natural desire of each individual to control his own life. A society based on the rule by some men over others denies humanity to all but the rulers.28

Basic rights balance the common nature of mankind with the unique nature of each individual. Only by recognizing that every individual has his own personality and by respecting each person's right to be treated as a moral agent, can we live in harmony with these important aspects of our nature.

The aristocratic philosophy has little to recommend it to the common man. It is a denial of natural rights and a misunderstanding of natural law. It amounts to a justification for an imposed and unnatural division of mankind into castes. So we must reject aristocratic philosophy and turn our attention to democratic political theory.

The Evolution of Democracy

Even though the history of democracy can be traced back to ancient Greece, it was aristocratic doctrines of various kinds that dominated Europe throughout the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages.29

The Protestant reformers challenged the authority of the pope and the hierarchy of the Roman church. They broke away from the monolithic church and formed new sects, and, even though many of the Protestants were themselves intolerant, the long-term result of their independent thinking diminished the authority of the pope and increased religious freedom.

Protestant thinkers were no longer restricted by the Roman Catholic dogma, which proclaimed monarchy to be the best form of government. In the countries where the princes and kings supported the Protestants, the Protestants generally continued to support the aristocracy. But some Protestants, especially in countries where the ruling class did not support their sect, progressed from challenging the religious authority of the pope to questioning the secular authority of the kings.

It stands to reason that if men are competent to question religious tenets involving the fate of their immortal souls, they must also be competent to make their own decisions in the short-lived and relatively insignificant secular realm here on earth. Consequently, it is not surprising that the first influential philosophers to advocate equal rights in Europe were Protestants, and the first people to successfully disown their monarch were those in the predominantly Protestant American colonies.

The most important political philosopher during the transition period after the Protestants rebelled against the Roman church, but before they challenged the authority of the state, was Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes tried to reconcile natural law and divine law with state law.30

For Hobbes, natural rights are at war with each other. In nature nothing is right or wrong, because everyone has unlimited rights to do whatever they want. Anything goes, so nothing is unjust.31 Hence, it cannot be wrong to force people to submit to the state. The state determines what is right and wrong. The social contract that creates the state is the contract that makes all other contracts possible. Hobbes' unlimited natural rights are really not rights at all, because nobody has a duty to allow anyone to exercise them. Hobbes' so-called natural rights are really a denial of all natural rights.

In Hobbes' theory, it doesn't matter whether the form of government is a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a democracy. Whatever form the state chooses is legitimate. Like the monarchist and aristocratic philosophers, Hobbes supported the ruling class, but, unlike them, he believed that all men are equally wise. In this respect he was a democrat.32

Modern political philosophy grew in response to the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Many of the Scottish and English moralists of the 17th and 18th centuries wrote their essays and sermons specifically to refute him. They stressed that men are born with natural rights, and that the state must be formed in accordance with these rights.33 Later, Thomas Paine went so far as to deny Hobbes' contention that there was only war and chaos before there was government.34

According to the democratic critics of Hobbes, men have rights simply because they are human beings. A man does not have to earn rights by being smart or strong or a member of a special caste. Nor does a man have to bargain for rights by entering into a social contract. All men have the same basic rights from the day they are born. The individual is the primary moral unit. There is no aristocratic class or sovereign king with more rights than the ordinary man.35

After this libertarian beginning with respect to equal natural rights, the democratic philosophers foundered by trying to reconcile natural rights with the laws imposed by the state. Their belief that the state can legitimately have only those rights delegated to it by its citizens presented them with a problem that the aristocratic philosophers and Thomas Hobbes avoided, namely, how can the authority of the state be reconciled with the natural rights of the individual.

To solve this problem, the democratic philosophers had to rewrite history. They had to ignore the fact that the state, historically, arises out of conquest. Instead, they said that the state arose out of voluntary agreements by everyone in society. They devised theories about social contracts, the "general will," and representative government—all with the objective of characterizing the state as a voluntary association. To disprove the democratic theory it is only necessary to show that the state was not created through unanimous consent, and, therefore, the democratic theory does not apply to any existing states.

Democratic philosophers usually say we have voluntarily given up our natural rights whenever those rights conflict with the laws of the state. They choose to believe that the state results from voluntary agreements of some sort, so that they can say that state laws supplement or supersede natural rights without violating them. Natural rights, it turns out, have a short life. They last only long enough to provide a justification for certain kinds of governments. Having done this, natural rights and natural law relinquish all authority to the democratic state. Some of the Enlightenment philosophers were so weak in their support of natural rights that they became legal positivists.36

Hobbes believed that the state is often born by compacts extorted by violence, but this was alright, because there was no right or wrong before those states were created. The democratic philosophers, on the other hand, believe in natural rights, but they believe that the state was created voluntarily and that natural rights are not violated by democratic states. The net result is pretty much the same: no one now has any natural rights.

The liberal political philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries differed from the aristocratic philosophers in their beliefs about the importance of the state. The liberals regarded government as a necessary evil.37 The aristocrats regarded it as a positive good. The liberals, being more individualistic, saw the state as a means to protect everyone's rights so that men could live in peace and security. For them, the state is the servant of the individual and of society. To the more class-conscious aristocratic philosophers, the state is the fulfillment of man's political nature and the source of all honor and glory. It is more important than the lives of its subjects. The people are the servants of the state.

The debate between the aristocratic and the democratic political philosophers is a debate between statists. Neither group questions the need for the state. What they disagree about is whether men have equal basic rights that place limits on the state. Neither side has a good case.

The aristocratic philosophers do not believe that men are born with rights, except for the aristocracy who were born to rule. The democratic philosophers, on the other hand, believe that men are, or were, born with natural rights, and that these rights were the same for all men, but these rights were given up voluntarily so that the state could provide essential services. The claim of the aristocratic philosophers that men are naturally divided into classes with inherently different natures is not supported by science. The claim of the democratic philosophers that governments are based on voluntary consent is not supported by history.

Despite their different beliefs about rights, the aristocratic and democratic philosophers are alike in that (1) they both deny that man has any natural rights now, and (2) they both believe that the state has legitimate authority to govern society. Both the aristocratic and the democratic philosophies have been called natural law philosophies, but they have little basis in nature, and they deny individual autonomy, individual responsibility, and natural rights. They would be more accurately classified as authoritarian or unnatural law philosophies. Of the two, only the democratic philosophy deals with natural rights at all, but only as a means to justify state authority. Having justified the democratic state and its laws, the democratic theory abandons natural rights in favor of civil rights.

Natural law is supposed to be used to judge positive law, but, in the hands of the aristocratic and democratic philosophers, natural law has been relegated to a theory for justifying submission to man-made law.


Democratic theories of government include the libertarian ideas that the individual is important, that all authority ultimately comes from the people, that organizations are created to serve the people who create then, that the people are not merely the servants of the organization, that organizations have only those rights that the people delegate to them, and that the people can change an organization and its administration if they so choose.

Proponents of democracy assert that democratic states comply with natural rights and freedom. They claim that in a democracy the law is the same for everyone, everyone has the same rights and obligations, everyone is counted equally, the state is fair, and the people retain ultimate control over their rights and liberties.

These claims about democracy may be true of some democratic theories, but they are not true of any actual "democratic" states. Just as all historical aristocratic states have failed to demonstrate the wisdom of the aristocrats, all known democratic states fall short of the ideals of equal rights and equal protection under the law. Is this due to poor implementation of the democratic theories or flaws in the theories themselves?

Rather than examine each historical case, I will examine the theories. There are many democratic political philosophies. Each so-called democratic state has professional lawyers, judges, and political theorists who spend a large part of their professional lives trying to figure out a theory to explain and justify that state. It is not possible to deal with each theory individually. Some of them are tied to social-contract theories that I have already discussed. A common pattern is to use a social-contract theory to justify the creation of the state and a democratic theory to justify its daily operation, change, and growth. In so far as a democratic theory relies on one of the social-contract theories that I have already discarded, I will not discuss it. Instead I will focus on the democratic part of the democratic theories.

We need to discover the common ground of all democratic theories. What is the moral basis of democracy, and how does it justify the authority of the democratic state? I will start with the theory of pure democracy, then look at representative government, and then proceed to a discussion of democracy limited by natural rights.

Pure Democracy

Pure democracy is something that nobody really believes in. It is only useful for highlighting some of the problems that any theory of democracy must deal with.

Pure democracy is the method of deciding all questions by majority vote and imposing the decisions by brute force on everyone. The only moral restrictions on pure democracy are that everyone must get the same number of votes and the voting must be conducted fairly. There must be no deliberate miscounting of the votes, no fraudulent votes, no deliberate misrepresentation of the questions being put to a vote, and so on.

There are no limits to the questions that may be voted on. In a pure democracy, natural rights can be legalized, limited, or outlawed depending on their popularity. If natural rights are respected in a pure democracy, it may be merely a passing fancy of the majority, and it is subject to change through the voting process. If 51% of the public votes in favor of slavery, slavery becomes legal.

A pure democracy is amoral. By definition, a pure democracy cannot be justified. It recognizes no natural rights that could be used to justify it. The only rights it is bound to respect are civil rights such as the right to vote and the right to due process of law.

Most theories of democracy that people actually believe in are based on, or limited to some extent by, an attenuated belief in natural rights. A pure democracy is not limited in this way. A pure democracy is strictly a method of making and enforcing decisions. The method—deciding according to the vote of the majority and imposing the decision on everyone—is what all democratic theories have in common. By analyzing the method of pure democracy, we can discover problems common to all theories of democracy.

The principal characteristic of democracy is that it is a method for arriving at decisions. And the most obvious fact about the democratic method for arriving at decisions is that it is unscientific. The trend toward democratic government is a symptom of a growing disbelief in a scientific approach to legal questions.38

To apply the democratic method to legal questions is to imply that reason, experience, and the scientific method are not appropriate for these kinds of questions. To advocate democratic physics is to deny natural physics. To advocate democratic law is to deny natural law. The only way to escape from this conclusion is to believe that the democratic method is endowed with a mysterious efficacy such that it becomes a short-cut for arriving at logical and scientific conclusions without requiring all the fine reasoning and hard work of the scientific method. Indeed, some democratic theorists have ascribed miraculous powers to the democratic method.39

It is odd that in a democracy the individual is not considered competent to govern himself, but is considered competent to participate in governing everybody else. The assumption underlying the democratic decision-making process seems to be that everyone is equally intelligent and that the intelligence of individuals can be added and subtracted so that the most intelligent decisions are those with the most popular support. This may explain the actions of those ardent democrats who go around exhorting people to get out and vote, regardless of which side the people are inclined to support. This seems to imply that when more people participate in the democratic decision-making process there is more intelligence in the outcome. Presumably, decision A made by a vote of 10,000 to 9,000 would be wiser than decision B made by a vote of 1,000 to 1, because decision A has 1,000 net units of intelligence in its favor, whereas decision B has only 999. How else can we explain the logic that motivates those who urge everyone to vote?

As a means of arriving at decisions, the democratic method is unscientific, and, when applied to legal questions, advocating it requires either a denial of natural law or a leap of faith. This, however, is not the only problem entailed in the democratic method.

Democratic theories have to explain (1) who decides which questions are to be put to the vote, (2) how the questions will be phrased, (3) in what order the questions will be voted on, (4) how often voting will be conducted, (5) whether ballots will be secret, (6) how ballots will be cast, (7) who will count the votes, (8) how many votes will be allowed per person, (9) whether votes may be split, and so forth. The answers to these questions could have a significant effect on the rules adopted in a democratic society. For example, if I were responsible for deciding which questions will be voted on and when, and if I knew that the majority are in favor of legalizing slavery, I would not put that question up for voting. If slavery were already legal, I would have people vote on it continually until it was outlawed, and then I would not give the people the opportunity to vote to legalize it again. If I could, I would lump the slavery question with another question in a package deal in such a way that the results of the vote would suit my purposes. If alcohol consumption were illegal and I knew the majority of the people were dissatisfied with this prohibition, I might have them vote on a joint proposal to legalize alcohol and outlaw slavery. On the other hand, if a pro-slavery individual or group were responsible for deciding which issues will be voted on and when, they might do just the opposite of what I would do.

Obviously, it makes a great deal of difference who decides what the people will vote on and when. Ultimately, someone, some subset of the population, has to propose the questions and set the priorities for deciding the questions. If the democratic process is used to decide which questions will be put to a vote, that merely pushes the problem back one level. Then the question becomes, who decides which list of questions will be voted on as candidates for subsequent elections. It would be like having primary elections to select candidates for the general election, except there is no logical starting point.

To keep all the decision making democratic, it would be necessary to have pre-primary elections, and before that, pre-pre-primary elections, and so on ad infinitum. From an anti-democratic point of view, this kind of insistence on pure democracy is good, because it makes it impossible for any democratic decisions to ever be made. From the pro-democratic point of view this is an embarrassment, because the democrat has to either give up the theory completely, or at least admit that ultimately the questions to be voted on cannot be selected by the democratic process, and that whoever controls the list of issues will have enormous influence on the decisions adopted in the society.

Democracy as a method of making decisions is both unscientific and inconsistent. The decisions made through the democratic process are likely to be unwise, because they are not based on scientific reasoning. Furthermore, the decisions are not even guaranteed to reflect the priorities of the majority, because the questions posed and the order in which they are voted on cannot ultimately be determined by majority vote and are, therefore, subject to manipulation by whoever makes these decisions.

Democracy as a decision-making technique has serious deficiencies, but these pale into insignificance when compared with the second important characteristic of the democratic method: the coercive imposition of the decision of the majority on everyone. If the decisions made by the majority turn out to be unwise, as is likely to happen because they are not based on reason or science, the policy of imposing the decisions on everyone maximizes their bad effects.

If the democratic method were simply a way of formulating recommendations, and if it did not compel everyone to abide by these recommendations, then the impact of poor democratic decisions would not be so devastating. For example, if the majority voted to raise the minimum wage to $1000 an hour in the mistaken belief that raising the minimum wage will benefit the poorest workers, but the majority did not have the power to enforce this recommendation, then employers who could not afford to comply would not have to go out of business, and the economy would not be ruined. If we assume that the majority would prefer a productive economy to a nonproductive one, then not imposing the majority opinion about minimum wages would produce better results, from the point of view of the majority, than imposing the majority view on minimum wages.

The same is true for many other majority opinions. The general public is ignorant of the economic consequences of many policies. As a result, they often approve of specific policies such as minimum wage laws that are bound to produce results they don't want. The democratic method of arriving at uninformed decisions and then imposing those decisions on everyone simply maximizes the impact of popular misconceptions. This is not only true of economic policy but of all other fields in which the democratic method could be applied: art, morals, religion, history, science, and everything else. Democracy minimizes the impact of relevant knowledge and expertise in any field where it is employed.

The sensible thing to do is to minimize the effects of ignorance and prejudice. Democracy maximizes them. More than this, democratic political theory concentrates on maximizing the effects of ignorance and prejudice in the field that has the widest impact on society: law. When democracy is applied to the government, the rules adopted by the voting process are enforced by the state, and these rules become laws.

Not only does the democratic method produce unscientific decisions and maximize their impact on society, it also delays the testing of alternative decisions and experiments. Democracy is potentially totalitarian and it is subject to the same criticisms as any of the other stifling forms of tyranny that prevent dissenters from experimenting and testing alternative policies that might produce more popular results.

In summary, pure democracy is an unscientific method of arriving at decisions coupled with a method of enforcing those decisions that maximizes their effects and prevents experimentation that could lead to new knowledge that could result in benefits to the very majority democracy is intended to gratify. Even if we assume the ultimate good is to please the majority, it is doubtful that the democratic method is appropriate.

Representative Government

Representative government is a variation of democracy in which the subjects use the democratic method to select representatives, and the representatives use the democratic method to select the laws. The laws are said to reflect the will of the majority, but there is no guarantee of this. If we assume that each representative will vote for or against legislation in the same way as the majority of his constituents would if they were allowed, then representative government would be virtually the same in practice as pure democracy, and it would have the same shortcomings. The only advantage of representative government would be that the representatives relieve their constituents of the chore of voting on legislation.

The more discretion the representatives have, the easier it is to enact legislation and the less guarantee there is that the laws enacted will reflect the beliefs of the majority. As an example, consider the national government of the USA. Every two years the citizens in each congressional district who are over 18 years old and have registered to vote are given the opportunity to vote for a candidate for the House of Representatives. Twice every six years they can vote for a senatorial candidate. Once every four years they can vote for a slate of delegates to the Electoral College who, traditionally, vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates to whom they are pledged. The congressional and senatorial candidates who get the most votes and the presidential candidate and his running-mate who get the majority of the Electoral College votes win the contests. In what sense can these "representatives" be said to speak for the majority?

Suppose Mr. Blue, Mr. Gray, and Ms Pink are running in your district for election to the House of Representatives. Suppose that the only issues you personally care about are (1) abortion (you are against it), (2) military spending (you think it is much too high), (3) free speech (you think freedom of expression should be granted to everyone, even communists, pornographers, and racists), (4) government handouts to the idle rich and poor (you are against them), and (5) standard-shift automobiles (you can't operate them and you think they should be outlawed for safety). You find that you agree with Mr. Blue on abortion and handouts. You agree with Ms Pink on military spending and free speech. You don't know where Mr. Gray stands on any issues, but you suspect he will not try to change the existing laws very much. Nobody even addresses your pet peeve: standard-shift cars. None of these candidates can truly represent you on all five issues. If Mr. Blue is elected, you fear he will try to turn the country into a garrison state. If Ms Pink is elected, you fear she will put more people on the dole, raise taxes, and ruin the economy. If Mr. Gray is elected, you fear he will continue the country's mindless drift toward the abyss. So you decide that the only one who can represent your views is yourself, and you write your own name on the ballot. If you lose the election, you are not represented in Congress.

Suppose, miraculously, you win the election. You are now a member of the House of Representatives. Can you vote so as to accurately represent your own views? Probably not. For example, one of the most important things Congressmen have to vote on is the federal budget. They do not vote on individual items. They vote on appropriation bills that are as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory. How do you as a Congressman represent yourself when asked to vote on an appropriation bill that includes less money for abortions, more money for the Pentagon, less money for handouts to the poor, and more money for handouts to the rich? Voting in the House of Representatives is arranged so that a Congressman cannot even represent himself, much less anybody else.

In an American presidential election, which is one of the most actively participated in of all elections in the USA, approximately 60% of the population is eligible to vote. Of these about 55% bother to vote. (Perhaps the people who don't vote have come to realize the futility of it.) If a presidential candidate gets 60% of this vote, as Lyndon Johnson did in 1964, it is called a landslide or a mandate. But a landslide of 60% of the popular vote means that only 33% of the eligible voters and 19.8% of the population voted for the winner. Of the 19.8% who voted for Lyndon Johnson, many voted for him because they were afraid of his opponent rather than because they agreed with Johnson's views.

Many of those who voted had little knowledge of the candidate's views on the issues of the day or even what the issues were. Those who did have an understanding of the issues and definite opinions about them had to decide which candidate agreed with them on the issues. This is not an easy thing to do. Lyndon Johnson promised not to send American soldiers to Viet Nam. If someone voted for Johnson because he believed this campaign promise, in what sense can such a voter feel that Johnson represented him?

All that Lyndon Johnson's election proved was that 19.8% of the population, after listening or not listening to the candidates' campaign promises, chose to vote for Johnson. It did not prove that they believed Johnson would represent their views. The same sort of conclusion can be reached with respect to every other presidential or congressional election. To use a more recent example, George Bush won a landslide victory in 1988 after promising not to impose any new taxes. Once he was in office, he authorized new taxes. Many who voted for him felt betrayed. Shouldn't they have known better?

Let's assume, for the sake of further analysis, that all the members of Congress represent the majority of their constituents. Does it follow from this that the opinions of the majority will be reflected in the laws? To answer this question we need to understand how legislation is enacted.

Laws are enacted when a majority of the legislators vote for a bundle of proposals most of which they don't understand. The number of bills voted on these days is so great that, even if he is conscientious, a legislator cannot possibly read them all or understand them before voting on them. Because legislators don't know the provisions of many proposed laws, they can't base their votes on the majority views of their constituents. They can't even vote on their own views. They are forced to rely on other considerations to determine which way to vote. They consider their own political interests first. So they make deals with each other and with special-interest groups. They vote for legislation favored by those who promise to support them in the next political campaign. Or they take bribes. This is the nature of what is euphemistically called representative government.

Whether representative government is better or worse than pure democracy depends on whether the special-interest groups are wiser than the general population. This cannot be decided a priori.

Ballots as Substitutes for Bullets

Democracy is sometimes portrayed as a great invention for fostering the interests of the majority without bloodshed. Where there is no democracy, if one group wants to impose its will on another, the two groups might do battle and lives could be lost on both sides until, finally, the more powerful group wins. In a democratic state, the fighting and dying are replaced by the peaceful method of counting the number of people on each side and declaring victory for the larger group. In this way, both groups are, theoretically, better off than they would have been had they gone to war. Democracy, therefore, is better than all other forms of government and better than no government.

This argument assumes that the more numerous group is always victorious on the battlefield. It overlooks other factors that can be decisive: weapons, supplies, military training, battle strategy, knowledge of the terrain, morale of the troops, and so on. The other factors could change the outcome so that the smaller group could defeat the larger one. When these factors are taken into account, it is possible that the minority would be better off without democracy.

If democracy is primarily a means of avoiding domestic battles by counting the number of potential warriors on each side of a dispute and adopting the policies of the majority instead of actually fighting, should women have the vote? Shouldn't crippled people be disenfranchised? Should the votes of senior citizens be counted?

Another questionable assumption implicit in this argument is that if a person is willing to vote for something, he would be willing to fight for it at the risk of his life. Many people, given the opportunity afforded by a democratic state, would be willing to vote for a redistribution of wealth from a minority group to themselves. But, without the mechanism of the state, many of them would not be bold enough to risk their lives to steal the same amount. So, even if democracy does provide a relatively bloodless mechanism for settling disputes between groups, it does so by reducing the risks involved in joining the dominant group in crime and, thereby, increases the potential amount of injustice in society.

Democracy and Natural Rights

Pure democracy, as defined earlier, is incompatible with natural rights and is not really advocated by anybody. The reason for discussing it was to highlight some of the inconsistencies and shortcomings common to all systems that employ the democratic method. With this background we can begin to assess the limits imposed by natural rights on democracy.

By combining our definition of the state with the duties imposed by natural rights, we can define a legitimate democratic state as follows:

A legitimate democratic state is an organization that makes its decisions by majority vote, uses the political means to impose those decisions on majority and minority alike within it political borders, and respects the natural rights of everyone.
Does this define a kind of state that can actually exist, or does it define something impossible such as a square circle?

For a democratic state (or any other kind of state) to be morally justified, it must respect the natural rights of all moral agents. This severely limits the scope of its activities. It cannot pass any laws that invade the lives or trespass on the private property of any peaceful people. Can a democratic organization that is limited in this way still be recognized as a state?

The political means include taxation and monopolization of the use of brute force within a specified geographic area. Can these methods be reconciled with natural rights by any democratic theory?

The revolutionaries who overthrew British rule in America believed that taxation without representation was unjust. Apparently they believed that there is something about the right to vote that justifies the state's demand for tax money. What is it about the right to vote that could possibly justify taxation?

The right to vote is the option to participate in a collective decision-making process whereby (1) recommendations, activities, prohibitions, regulations, or candidates for office are proposed, (2) a mechanism for expressing one's preference is provided, (3) a mechanism and an algorithm for tabulating the votes is employed, and (4) the tabulations determine which proposals are adopted by the group. Nothing about this right to vote necessarily contradicts natural rights. The only thing that justice requires is that the voting procedures be voluntary. As long as all the parties involved agree, there is nothing wrong with creating democratic voting rights. There is also nothing wrong with creating undemocratic voting rights. More important than the right to vote are the rights to refuse to participate in any voting process and the right to withdraw from any voting process.

To justify taxation by a democracy, we must show that (1) all of those who are required to pay taxes have voluntarily agreed to the same democratic decision-making process, (2) they have agreed to obey the tax laws that result from the process, and (3) they have not changed their minds. If anyone has not formally agreed, he is not obligated to pay the taxes. If anyone has agreed, but has changed his mind, he is not morally obligated to pay the taxes, but he loses the right to whatever property, if any, was specified as a performance bond when he made the agreement.

Taxation that is consistent with these requirements would hardly be recognizable as taxation. A democratic state that collected its revenues by such voluntary means would be indistinguishable from a private club or business in this respect. This voluntary method of collecting payments is so unlike what historically has been called taxation that it would be better to call these payments by such names as insurance premiums, membership fees, dues, or even prices.

Real taxes cannot be justified by democracy. The founding fathers were only half right. Taxation, with or without representation is tyranny.

Regulation of Competition
A legitimate democratic state cannot levy taxes. Can it still be a state with respect to the other political means? For instance, does it have the right to prohibit or regulate competitors within its geographic domain?

Suppose that a democratic organization decides to go into the policing and protecting business, as modern states commonly do. It is highly unlikely, because of the unscientific and inefficient nature of the democratic decision-making process, that a democratic organization would be able to fairly out-compete all rivals in the policing business, or any other business, within a large geographic area. To survive, it would have to use the political means of suppressing and regulating its competitors.

If people make a contract with a democratic organization to defend them from invasion, they would still have the right to defend themselves, and they would still have the right to make contracts with other individuals or organizations for their protection. There is no limit to the number of contracts with different organizations that an individual could make, except the limit of his budget. For example, he could concurrently have self-defense contracts with three organizations that call themselves a democracy, a monarchy, and an insurance company. What right does the one called a democracy have to regulate the other two? If either of the other organizations oversteps its authority by infringing on someone's rights, then the democracy would have the right (or, if the victim were a client, the duty) to intervene on the victim's behalf. But the same would be true for the monarchy or the insurance company if the situation were reversed and the democracy infringed on someone's rights. A democracy has no more right to regulate the activities of other protection agencies within its geographic area than the other agencies have to prohibit or regulate democracies within the same area.

Any individual may make a special contract with a democratic protection and judicial services organization. The special contract could allow the organization to treat him almost as badly as a state treats its subjects. The contract could require him to make payments (similar to taxes) in exchange for the organization's services. It could require him to testify in court or serve on a jury (similar to the subpoena and impaneling powers assumed by many states). It could require or allow him to vote in the organization's elections. It could require performance bonds as a means of enforcing the rules of the contract (similar to a state's penal code). One of the rules could be that the individual is not allowed to make any contracts with other organizations (this would give it quasi-monopoly power with respect to its clients, similar to the coercive monopoly power of a state). If, and only if, an individual made such a contract, the democratic organization would have legitimate state-like powers over him.

While it is conceivable that some people would voluntarily agree to such a contract, it is unlikely that everyone in a geographic area would agree to it. For a democratic organization to act like a state, everyone in that geographic area would have to voluntarily agree to the same contract. This has never happened. No democratic government was ever supported in this way. It is so far-fetched that we can safely assume no democratic state of a significant size will ever be legitimate.

Civil Rights versus Natural Rights
Many democrats act as though they believe civil rights are sacrosanct. In their minds, the one-person-one-vote principle, within the established political borders, is the first principle of justice. Nothing that violates this principle can be acceptable to them.

The democrats are correct in believing that we all have the same basic rights, but their view of rights is too parochial. If a person's rights do not depend on his class or race or ethnic origin, because these differences are morally irrelevant, why should a person's rights depend on where he happens to live? Why are political borders morally relevant?

The democratic contention that every citizen has a basic right to vote in government elections is as silly as the assertion that every person has a right to vote for Miss America or the Pope. Before Miss America, the papacy, and the state were invented, nobody had the opportunity, much less, the right to vote in these elections. The right to vote, like all other civil rights, is contingent on a specific invention (the democratic method). Civil rights are not eternal moral laws that can be applied universally. For voting in government elections to be considered a basic right, we must presume a basic right to the level of communication and knowledge of arithmetic required to implement the democratic voting process. But this level of civilization is not a gift from God or nature. It probably took thousands of years before human societies developed languages and arithmetic to the point where the idea of democracy could be entertained. Democracy and its associated civil rights, therefore, cannot be basic rights.

The only basic rights are those general principles of justice that can be applied consistently to all moral agents, regardless of class, race, ethnic origin, gender, political borders, the prevailing form of government, the level of civilization attained by society, or any other morally irrelevant contingency.


At first, the impact of the democratic political theorists was revolutionary, but, after the overthrow of the feudalistic regimes in Europe, democratic theory became less inspiring, and oppressed people began turning to Marxism as the philosophy of hope.

Marxism is not so much a justification of the state as it is a historical interpretation of it and a prophesy. Karl Marx thought he had discovered immutable, historical laws that determine the evolution of class struggles from one form of political structure to another. According to him, the political structure of a society is determined by the means of production used in that society. When the means of production change, the rules governing social relationships have to change, and social classes change, which results in a new conflict of class interests. This conflict is resolved by moving to the next stage of political organization. The basic stages of political organization that a society must go through are (1) military conquest and establishment of the state, (2) feudalism, (3) capitalism, (4) socialism, and (5) anarchism.

Marx regarded the state as a tool of the ruling class to oppress the other classes. The state is originally founded by conquest. Then the warrior chiefs divide up the country among themselves, and their families become the nobility. Thus we get feudalism. The ruling nobility uses the state to oppress and exploit the serfs, who are forced to work in assigned tasks and are not permitted to travel or to change careers.

Eventually, more efficient methods of production are discovered that require greater concentrations of workers. To build this new class of factory workers, rules have to change to induce the serfs to leave their farms and cottage industries. As the rules change to accommodate the new methods of production, the opposing social classes change also. Capitalists replace the nobility as the ruling class and wage earners (the proletariat) replace the serfs. The capitalists, according to Marx, must keep wages down to a mere subsistence level in order to make profits. Those capitalists who try to pay their workers fair wages are driven out of business by competition from less humane capitalists.

The successful capitalists begin to accumulate more capital and exploit more wage earners. The capitalist class becomes smaller, richer, and more powerful, while the proletariat class becomes larger and poorer, and the middle class (the bourgeoisie) gets absorbed into the other two classes (primarily the proletariat class). Competition among the capitalists forces them not only to keep wages down to the subsistence level, it also forces them to invest in better methods of production. These better methods of production provide the material basis for the next stage, when everyone is free from drudgery.

The class struggle between the capitalists and the proletarians eventually results in the proletarians taking over the state and the means of production. The result of capitalism is the dictatorship of the proletariat. This stage will last only long enough to eradicate any traces of the capitalist and bourgeoisie classes. When these classes have been eliminated, everybody will be the same class, the proletariat.

When there is only one class, there is no more class conflict. Since the purpose of the state is to provide a means for one class to oppress another, the state will no longer be of any use to anybody. So, it will wither away. When this happens, we will have reached the final stage of history: classless anarchy.

Marx's analysis is better as a description of the past stages of European history than it is as a predictor of the next stages. It is full of demonstrably false assumptions and contradictions. As a theory for predicting the future, it is more wishful thinking than science.

Marx was correct in describing the state as essentially a tool of oppression, and it was logical on his part to call those who control this tool the ruling class. He was also correct in recognizing that, historically, the state has usually been created by conquest and that in Europe the nobility can be traced back to the warrior chiefs and their generals who conquered the people and divided up the land.

However, Marx's predictions have been totally refuted by events. According to Marx, the proletarian revolution should have come first in the highly industrialized countries, not in Russia or China or Cuba. It should have been caused by the material forces of production, not by ideology. The workers in the capitalist countries should be the poorest. Instead, they are the richest.

When Marx's predictions failed to come true, Engels continued to denounce capitalism, even though the Marxist basis for condemning it had been disproved by history.40 Lenin tried to salvage Marx's theory of history by arguing that British workers were benefiting from British imperialism, which exploits the workers in the colonies. But this hypothesis could not explain the prosperity of workers in other capitalist countries that did not have colonies.41

Marx was correct in pinpointing the development of better means of production as the basis for hope for relief from drudgery, but he was wrong in thinking that we can have prosperity without private owners of the means of production to make decisions about how to invest capital profitably.

What is wrong with capitalists is that they usually belong to the ruling class. We need capitalists as capitalists, but we do not need them as members of the ruling class. What makes capitalists valuable to society is the efficient use they make of capital when under pressure from competitors in the free market. However, as long as the state exists, the political means will be an irresistible temptation to capitalists. They don't like competition, because it makes their income insecure. So they try to get special privileges for their businesses through the political means. They are forced to compete with each other for special privileges from the state. Those who succeed in getting special privileges will put competing capitalists out of business. When capitalists succeed in using the state to guarantee them a market, or what they regard as their fair share of the market, they are less valuable as efficient allocators of capital. So from a practical point of view, as well as for justice, we should make the political means unavailable to capitalists.

The machinery of the state can be used by one class to gain economic advantages over other classes as Karl Marx emphasized. It can also be used for other purposes such as to force people to behave as you think they ought to behave. Those who have access to political power commonly solicit support for themselves by championing compulsory compliance with popular moral values.

The State as the Adult Supervisor of Society

We can get people to conform to a particular moral code either by persuasion or compulsion. The voluntary method of persuasion is uncertain. Compulsion ensures compliance through the political means.

One of the arguments used against liberty is that most people aren't good enough or sensible enough to behave properly without supervision. This is the case with children and some retarded adults, but it is not true of all adults.

The responsibility for children and retarded adults rests with their parents or guardians. The responsibility for mature adults is their own. Normal people come of age sooner or later. Even parents recognize that when their child becomes an adult he is morally responsible for his own actions. Surely, if parents can give up governing their own children when the children become mature, then total strangers should not govern them either.

Political office seekers often presume to know more about what is good for us than our parents do or than we do ourselves. This is an arrogant attitude. Politicians are clearly wrong about this. Anyone familiar with politicians should know that a politician is not wiser than the average man and that if anyone needs to be closely watched and supervised it is the politician not the average citizen.

The State as the Central Planner for Society

When the would-be social planner is figuring out what everyone should be required to do in order to achieve the most good for the most people, he would be wise to consider whether his idea of social welfare is really more important than allowing individuals to experience moral responsibility. It is an important question, because if the possibility of becoming a mature, morally responsible, adult is more important than everybody having as many potatoes as his neighbor, then the social planner can best promote the greatest good by retiring.

Even if individual moral responsibility is not an important enough value to impede social planners, there are other practical objections to central planning. The social planners who make the decisions that determine the fate of the subordinate classes have to know what will benefit society the most. Should a particular individual be made into a doctor, a teacher, an assembly-line worker, a scientist, an artist, a farmer, a member of the ruling class, or something else? How can a social planner predict which of these careers would benefit society the most?

A foresighted social planner in the Middle Ages would have seen that the crusades would lead to a rediscovery of ancient knowledge and cause a renaissance in Europe. Maybe a limited nuclear war in the next century will lead to good long-range results. There are those who think military spending is good because it spurs technology. Others think exploration of outer space will produce the greatest long-range benefits to society. Who knows?

To do their job, social planners must decide which of the millions of possible actions today will produce the most social utility in the future. They must also decide whose happiness it is that they will try to maximize: the majority of those living today, the next generation, all future generations, or some combination of these.

Suppose the social planners choose the relatively simple task of trying to maximize the welfare of their own generation, and let future social planners take care of future generations. The solution would still be beyond their abilities. Social planners cannot be experts in the likes and dislikes of each individual for whom they make decisions. They cannot be sure that the long-term or even the short-term consequences of their regulations will make people happier. They have no scientific basis for calculating the happiness that will result from each of the millions of alternatives open to them. They do not have crystal balls that show the future. They don't even have devices for measuring happiness in the present. Yet they need all this and more. They need omniscience to do their job. No scheme can be proven to maximize happiness in society, because there is no way to measure and compare the happiness of different people.

To illustrate the difficulty of the problems that social planners have to solve and the inadequacy of social utilitarianism as a philosophy to guide them, consider the following situation. Suppose a man is so unpopular that his very existence upsets many people. Let's use Jesus as an example. Was it correct to crucify him? He was a radical religious reformer, with no visible means of support, who wandered around the countryside telling ignorant people that the world was coming to an end. His existence detracted from the happiness of many people in society. Only a few of his fanatic disciples derived any pleasure from his existence. What, according to social utilitarianism, should have been done about him? Crucifying him made a lot of people happier and only made a few people unhappy. However, Jesus lost all chances for happiness in this world. Maybe killing him was counterproductive. Maybe his loss was greater to him than the total of the increments in happiness his death brought to others. Maybe he should have been banished from society instead. Maybe he should have been locked up. It is impossible to determine the correct social-utilitarian course of action. Whatever course is chosen, arguments can be raised against it. There is nothing objective about social utilitarianism. It offers no absolute scale for measuring the happiness of individuals or of society.

Not only does utilitarianism fail to offer absolute answers, it cannot even be relied on to point us in the right direction. The utilitarian calculus is too burdensome and time consuming to turn to in a crisis. Social utilitarianism is not only inadequate as a guide to making decisions, it is useless.

Although I can't prove it, nature may have provided us with exactly what we need to achieve the much-sought-after maximum of happiness. Nature has provided a world full of people each one of whom is an expert in his own tastes, each of whom is equipped with independent intelligence, and each of whom is naturally disposed toward maximizing his own happiness. If we do not now have the happiest society possible, it could be because we have not taken advantage of what nature has provided. Instead, we have allowed some men to set up a system of rule over others which stifles the ability of each individual to maximize his own happiness.

Each individual's case is unique, because each personality is unique. The best-qualified person to consult in making decisions to promote an individual's happiness may be the individual himself. He is usually the one with the greatest amount of pertinent knowledge about his situation and the greatest interest in his own well-being. It could be that the way to maximize happiness in society is to allow each individual to make his own decisions, limited only by the need to allow everybody else the same opportunity.

The most intelligent man may not be the most competent person to decide what is best for another man. Only the individual himself knows what he likes and what his priorities are. While the more able man may be more successful at achieving his own ends, he cannot presume to be able to make decisions for less able people, because he does not know their goals as well as they do. Furthermore, it is natural for people to want to control their own lives as much as possible. Children constantly try to do things for themselves and become independent of their parents. The maturation process is natural. Perhaps it should be allowed to proceed. Maybe children should be treated as adult trainees and maybe grown-ups should be treated as moral agents with natural rights.

Adam Smith made a good case for his belief that when people act in their own individual self-interest in the marketplace, it is as if an invisible hand guides their actions such that the overall result is in the best interest of society as a whole. An equally good case could be made for the proposition that when social planners, with purely altruistic motives, use coercion to intervene in the affairs of their fellow citizens, it is as if an invisible hand with all thumbs guides their actions so that society as a whole is worse off.

The State as the Repository of Accumulated Wisdom

Conservative moral philosophers have high regard for reason and the moral sentiments, but most of all they respect tradition. They oppose sudden change. They are skeptical of system builders and radicals who would remake society. They are afraid of losing what has been gained for us by our ancestors and what has been tested by time. They believe there is safety in precedent, accumulated wisdom, and going slow.

It is true that the average man benefits from this accumulated wisdom and accepts the moral principles of his culture more or less uncritically. But, having gotten his moral principles, the good man is moved by his conscience to apply them, because he believes it is right to do so and wrong not to. He is not motivated by the conservative's philosophy that it is prudent and safe to observe the established customs or the majority opinion. A moral agent, no matter how conventional his moral beliefs may be, should regard it as an abdication of his moral responsibility to act purely on the basis of the conservative moral philosophy.42

This kind of abdication of moral responsibility is the root of many arguments for submitting to the authority of the state. Democratic political theorists tell us to subordinate our own moral judgments to those of the majority. Aristocratic political theorists tell us to subordinate our moral judgments to those of the ruling elite. Legal positivists tell us to defer to whoever happens to be in control of the state apparatus. Traditionalists tell us to defer to the laws and customs that have evolved slowly over the years. None of these political philosophies fully recognizes adult human beings as moral agents.

The State as God

Much of political theory falls outside of rational discourse and in the realm of the supernatural. For example, Hegel's state and Rousseau's unfathomable general will are sovereign deities with ultimate moral authority. States often use regalia, symbols, and ceremonies to induce awe and veneration.
As in the case of law courts, the authority of governments is usually enhanced by ritual ceremonies and insignia of office—this was especially true of monarchs who came to the throne through the pageantry of a coronation and spent their lives amid the etiquette of courts. In Europe kings were crowned by bishops, and the ritual of their office was often interwoven with church rituals.43
In some countries, worship of the state is a substitute for the worship of God.44 Herbert Read drew attention to the way the socialist rulers in Russia deified Lenin with effigies, a sacred tomb, and the creation of a legend in a deliberate attempt to create an outlet for religious emotions.45

In the democratic version of state worship, the common man is regarded as incompetent to run his own affairs, but when this same boob participates in the holy ritual of voting, he is temporarily transformed and united with the ultimate Law Giver. "As prayer will release transcendental forces, the voting ballot will move the sovereign will."46 "This is really a religious phenomenon."47

Proudhon attacked the new political faith whereby government by the grace of the people was replacing government by the grace of God and the idol of the people was being enthroned in place of the idol of the king.48

The state gains support by presenting itself as a sovereign deity to be worshiped. States have sacred scriptures such as the Magna Carta and the Constitution. They have saints and martyrs such as Lincoln and Lenin who are commemorated on national holy days. Hymns to the state are sung at sporting events. American school children are taught to pledge allegiance to the state and to treat its battle flag as a sacred icon. Soldiers who took up arms for the state are honored with decorations, parades, and memorial services.49 The heretics who desert the field of battle or join the other side are excommunicated and, if caught, executed for treason—which is regarded as the most evil of all crimes, because it is a direct betrayal of the God-State.50

The social-democrat religion has an analogy for original sin. As some Christians believe everyone is guilty because Adam and Eve ate apples in the Garden of Eden, so some social democrats believe all of us (except the individual perpetrators) are responsible for the injustices of the world. And as some Christians believe the way to salvation involves rites celebrating Jesus' martyrdom for their sins, the only way for some social democrats to assuage their guilt is by taking part in political rituals that shift responsibility to political representatives.51 The democratic belief in representation, especially in large congregations such as the United States, is almost as mystical and requires as big a leap of faith as the religious beliefs in atonement through virgin sacrifices, the crucifixion of Jesus, or other scape-goats.52

Rousseau's political religion has an analogy for the Christian belief in rebirth. In Rousseau's religion, "the patriot must collectivize his love for himself, and the individual must give his self to the whole; he dies as a "particular" and is reborn as a moral member of the collective body."53

When the state is a man's religion, rational arguments are not relevant. One either has the gift of faith or not.54 Citizens with strong belief in the state cannot judge it on its merits. It is as futile to discuss political philosophy with such people as it would be to debate with the unknown soldier in his tomb.55

The State as Jailer and Punisher

States and organized religions take advantage of our intuitive sense that evil should be met with evil by instituting penal systems and myths of spiritual penance and divine retribution. The state and the church thereby usurp our responsibility for discovering and internalizing moral principles, and they substitute their "laws" and tenets for our responsibility to make moral judgments. The state takes advantage of people who get caught breaking its rules and it fines them. Of course, the proceeds generally go to the state rather than to the victims of crime. The church takes advantage of people who break its rules, even if they have not been caught, and appeals to their guilty consciences by exhorting them to give money to the church until it hurts. The flaw in our nature that allows the state and the church to get away with this is that our consciences and our feelings of guilt are strong, but our ability to use reason to channel these manifestations of our moral sense appropriately is weak.

Perhaps the strongest reason for advocating the establishment of the state or for defending the existence of the state is that only the state can administer punishment fairly.

Most people believe that criminals deserve to be punished. Most people also believe that criminals who commit equal crimes should receive equal punishments. However, people do not all agree on what the fair punishment should be for any particular crime, and nobody can prove that one particular punishment is more fair than another punishment for the same crime.

If individuals were allowed to punish criminals as they see fit, the punishments received by criminals who commit similar crimes would vary, depending on the emotional state, physical capacity, economic resources, and theory of punishment of the individual who administers the punishment.56 Each individual retaliator might believe that the punishments he administers are fair, yet each should, logically, regard all the other retaliators who administer different punishments as unfair. Consequently, the overall system of punishments administered privately should be regarded by everybody as unfair.

Because it is unfair for criminals to go unpunished, and it is unfair to allow individuals to punish criminals as they see fit, the only solution is to have the state administer all punishments according to a uniform penal code.

I see nothing wrong with this line of reasoning, and I accept the conclusion that the only way that punishment can be administered fairly is for a single organization to monopolize the punishment business and to enforce a uniform penal code. The organization would have to be a state, or an arm of the state, because it would have to use the political means to maintain its monopoly. People do not agree on theories of punishment, so they would not all voluntarily accept the penal code of any single organization. One penal code would have to be imposed by force to the exclusion of all other penal codes in order for punishment to be uniform and fair. Only the state can do this.

This line of reasoning needs to be carried further. In a world divided up among many independent states, if we allow each state to administer its own penal code, then criminals who commit the same crime will receive different punishments depending on which state has jurisdiction over them. When we look at this system from a global point of view, we can see that it isn't fair. Fairness requires a superstate that monopolizes the punishment business throughout the world, in fact, throughout the universe. Nothing less than this will do.

The strongest argument for the state turns out to be an argument against all actually existing states, whose penal codes are unequal, and a justification for the establishment of one superstate that would rule the universe.

Before we run off to establish such a superstate, we should remind ourselves what this argument proves and then ask ourselves (1) Is the creation of a superstate that imposes a universal penal code possible? (2) Is the creation of such a superstate worth the trouble? (3) Is it just?

The argument is:

  1. It is unfair for criminals to go unpunished.
  2. It is unfair for criminals who commit the same crime to receive different punishments.
  3. Allowing individual people or individual states to administer punishments as they see fit would result in criminals receiving different punishments for the same crime, depending on the individual or state that administers the punishment.
  4. 1.Individuals and individual states should not be allowed to administer punishments as they see fit.
  5. Therefore, a superstate that administers a universal code of punishments is necessary.
I agree with the premises and the conclusions of this argument. It proves that, from a global or universal point of view, punishment cannot be administered fairly by men without a superstate. However, strong objections to the establishment of a superstate can still be raised even if we agree with this argument.

The argument does not prove that a superstate, if established, would or could actually administer punishment fairly. The argument proves that no man-made system of administering punishment short of a superstate can satisfy the requirement that criminals who commit the same crime be punished equally. Equality of treatment, however, is not the only criterion of fairness. If it were, then it would be fair to execute all criminals, because executing all criminals would guarantee that all criminals who commit the same crime would receive the same punishment. It would also be fair to lobotomize all criminals, or to brand them on the forehead. However, most people would agree that such widely different solutions cannot all be equally fair. In most people's minds, the margin of error for fairness is not broad enough to encompass all of these solutions. Consequently, if a superstate adopted and enforced any one of these solutions, many people would regard the superstate's punishment system as unfair, even if the superstate administered it universally and impartially, without corruption or favoritism.

Many of the people who believe that equal crimes deserve equal punishments also believe that unequal crimes deserve unequal punishments. This compounds the problem of determining the appropriate punishment. If fairness requires that some criminals such as murderers be punished more severely than other criminals such as pick-pockets, then the expedient solutions, such as executing or lobotomizing all criminals, are unfair, and it is necessary for the superstate to devise a more elaborate penal code. The number of possible penal codes is infinite. This makes it very unlikely that the superstate will be able to determine which of the possible penal codes is the objectively fair one. The odds are that the superstate would impose one of the unfair codes.

The uniform imposition of an unfair penal code by the superstate might be more unfair than allowing individuals to punish criminals as they see fit, even though private punishment would not be consistent. So, even if the superstate impartially imposed a uniform penal code, it probably would not be fair, and it could not be proven to be more fair than allowing the chaos of private retribution.

The fundamental problem with administering punishment is that men don't have any way to determine the correct punishment. This problem cannot be solved by delegating it to the state or to a superstate composed of men. Only a superhuman being who is omniscient with respect to crime and punishment can determine the correct punishment. If we met such a being, we would have no way to know whether he was a fraud.

Given the history of all known states in the past and the present, there is little reason to believe that any state or superstate will ever administer any penal code objectively and uniformly, without corruption, without prejudice, and without favoritism.

Because nobody knows what the objectively fair system of punishment is, and because it is unjust to impose a subjective opinion about fairness on others against their will, it would be unjust for the superstate to impose a system of punishment throughout the universe.

It is highly unlikely that we could create a superstate that enforces a universal penal code consistently, without bias or favoritism. If we could create such a superstate, it would probably enforce an unfair penal code, so it would hardly be worth the trouble. Consequently, the punishment problem does not provide a convincing argument for the state. The state does, however, relieve us of the burden of devising our own theories of punishment, and that is a welcome relief.

The State as the Only Defense Against Nuclear War

The invention of nuclear weapons has given rise to a new and powerful argument for the state. The argument is as follows:
  1. We do not want to be destroyed.
  2. Nuclear weapons can destroy us.
  3. Some states have nuclear weapons and would be willing to use them to destroy us if they could get away with it.
  4. Our only defense against these states is the threat of retaliation with nuclear weapons.
  5. Private industry cannot threaten such retaliation.
  6. Therefore, we need a state that will threaten to destroy any country whose government uses nuclear weapons against us.
What can we say about this argument? Is it sound? Yes. Is it moral? No. Let's check the soundness of this argument, premise by premise.
  1. We can agree that we do not want to be destroyed.
  2. Based on what scientists have told us, it is true that nuclear weapons can destroy us.
  3. We have to face the terrible fact that several states now have nuclear weapons, and some of them are hostile toward each other. They have these weapons primarily for two reasons: (A) For offense; to help them win a war against another state as the U.S.A. did to Japan in the second world war. (B) For defense; to threaten to destroy any country whose state would be so foolish as to launch a nuclear attack.

    I have no difficulty imagining that the leaders of these states are evil enough to murder the hostage population in a rival's country. So the nuclear war argument for the state applies to anyone living within the borders of any of the hostile states that have nuclear weapons, and it applies to those who live in nearby countries, because they too would probably be destroyed in a nuclear war. Some scientists believe that a nuclear war would destroy all life on earth. If so, we are all hostages to the nuclear-armed states, and this argument applies to everyone on earth.

  4. 1.The military experts are probably correct when they say that the threat of nuclear retaliation is the main reason why the nuclear powers haven't attacked each other. There is currently no other defense against nuclear weapons.
  5. 1.Nuclear weapons are clearly too dangerous to be allowed to be privately owned or traded in the free market. Would you trust someone who wanted to buy nuclear weapons? Why would anyone go to the expense of buying nuclear weapons unless they intended to use them? What would a private individual or corporation want to use nuclear weapons for except to terrorize whole populations into meeting their demands? Almost everyone would agree that nuclear weapons should not be privately owned. Anyone who has one is a threat, and we would be within our rights to forcibly disarm him.

    So, private industry cannot provide the nuclear deterrent needed to prevent our destruction by nuclear weapons owned by existing states.

  6. All of the premises are true, so we must accept the conclusion that we need a state to provide a nuclear deterrent so that other states will be afraid to destroy us.
Now that I have accepted the argument, let's see what it really proves and what it does not prove. It proves that a state is needed because of certain conditions that exist now. These conditions have not always existed, and they may not exist in the future.

The argument is not relevant to conditions prior to the nuclear age. So it cannot justify any states prior to the nuclear age.

The argument would not apply if all governments destroyed their nuclear weapons, because that would negate premise 3.

The argument would not apply if we could destroy nuclear weapons with laser guns or by some other, as yet unknown, technology, because that would negate premise 4. If weapons could be manufactured that could destroy incoming nuclear-armed missiles and those anti-missile weapons could be used without killing innocent people, then private individuals or groups would have the right to own and use them, and this argument for the state would have to be revised.

One of the special conditions that this argument assumes is that states with nuclear weapons already exist (premise 3). So the argument cannot be used to justify the establishment of the first state. Nor can this argument be used to justify the existence of any particular state. It only proves that one state is needed to provide a threat of retaliation so that another state with nuclear weapons will be afraid to use them. The argument cannot be used to justify any state that does not have nuclear weapons. Nor can it be used to justify any particular state that does have nuclear weapons, because any particular state could be overthrown safely, as long as there is another one that has enough nuclear weapons to deter nuclear war.

Another point to remember about this argument is that it doesn't prove that the state can guarantee our survival. It only proves that, under the existing conditions, a state that can make other states afraid to use nuclear weapons is our only defense. We have been fortunate, so far, that the leaders of the states with nuclear weapons have not been insane enough to start a nuclear war. However, if these weapons continue to exist, it is very likely that somebody will eventually be mad enough to use them and that their rival will be criminal enough to retaliate. All of our lives are threatened by the people who control these weapons. We are all hostages.

Finally, remember that this is a utilitarian argument for the state rather than a moral argument. In so far as it justifies the existence of the state under particular circumstances, the justification is a practical one rather than a moral one. There is no moral justification for the use of nuclear weapons. The argument amounts to a defense of the state on the grounds that the state can threaten mass murder.

The Moral Status of the State

Is there any reason we should not resent the state taxing away a large percentage of our earnings and threatening us with imprisonment if we refuse to obey its commands?
  1. The state could have legitimate authority over people who voluntarily sign an explicit contract that grants it such authority. Did you ever freely sign such a contract? I never did, and there is no evidence that this was ever done. If it has ever been done, the people who did it are no longer living and the contract in now null and void. No state now is justified by such a contract.
  2. Do people tacitly, but freely, consent to be ruled by the state? John Locke's argument that people consent to be governed by the state when they live within its borders is not sound. It assumes that each state owns all the property within its borders, which cannot be true, because homesteaders must have owned the land before the state was created, and there is no evidence that they voluntarily gave their land to any state.

    The fact that the ruling class is outnumbered by their subjects does not prove that the subjects have freely agreed to obey the rulers. The state is better organized and better armed than its subjects. The state threatens them with fines, imprisonment, and worse if they refuse to obey.

    Jean Jacques Rousseau's claim that the general will is embodied in the state and is morally superior to the will of each and every individual is false. The general will, whatever else it may be, is not the will of a living, thinking, and acting moral agent. So it cannot have any authority or rights, and it cannot justify the state.

  3. Immanuel Kant's argument that the state is logically required by the concept of justice is wrong. It is based on the assumption that it is alright to coerce anyone who has not guaranteed that he will not commit any crimes. Such a guarantee would require giving up one's ability to be a moral agent. The concept of justice implies the existence of moral agents who are able to choose between right and wrong. This is the opposite of what Kant's argument implies.
  4. 1.Robert Nozick's argument that a minimal state can arise through a process that does not violate anyone's rights depends on a fanciful scenario and a controversial compensation principle, which he pulls out of the air. Even if his argument is sound, it does not justify any existing state.
  5. 1.After rejecting the major attempts to prove the state gets its authority from the consent of the governed, I considered the aristocratic theory that it doesn't matter whether the common people consent, because they have no rights anyway. I rejected this on the grounds that (1) there is no scientific evidence to support the belief in a class of people who are superior by birth and (2) even if superior beings do exist, we have minds of our own and can make moral choices, which is all that any being needs to qualify as a moral agent with rights. Even an organization controlled by superior beings would be morally obligated to respect our basic rights.
  6. Next I considered democratic theories, which are based on the anti-aristocratic belief that all citizens are entitled to an equal voice in the government. I found that pure democracy is amoral and impossible to apply consistently. Representative government does not work as advertised either, because only an individual can represent himself on every issue, and even this is impossible when issues are lumped together in package deals. So representative government becomes government by special-interest groups.

    The argument that ballots are better than bullets does not give moral authority to the state. It doesn't even prove that the voting process reduces the overall injustice within a country. Voting may make theft more widespread by making it less dangerous.

    If a democratic organization respected natural rights, it could not levy taxes as we know them, it would have no more right to regulate other organizations than those organizations would have to regulate it, and it is unlikely that it could compete effectively in the market and attract many members. The right to vote in state elections, like the right to make a telephone call when you are arrested, is not a basic right, and it cannot be used to justify the state's encroachment on our natural rights.

  7. Karl Marx's theory that the state is a tool for one class to oppress another is basically correct, but it is not a moral justification of the state. Marx believed that the goal of history is a society with no classes and no state. How history can have a goal, I do not know, but I wish it luck.
  8. The state has less authority to tell us what to do than our parents do. Since our parents treat us as moral agents when we become adults, the state should too.
  9. Central planners cannot manage a large economy as well as the free market can, because, without market prices, central planners have no way of knowing whether they are allocating resources efficiently.
  10. The conservative defense of the state is based on prudence and respect for tradition. If we lived in a society without the state and had a long tradition of freedom, the same conservative disposition would oppose the establishment of the state. The conservative disposition is not a moral argument, it is fear of responsibility. It cannot provide a moral justification of the state or of anything else.
  11. Some people make a religion out of the state or say the state gets its authority from God. These claims are outside the realm of rational discourse.
  12. One of the strongest arguments for the state is that it is needed if we are to have a fair and uniform system for punishing criminals. This is true, but as I explained earlier, punishment itself is not legitimate, so punishment cannot be the basis for a moral justification of the state or anything else. If a system of fair and uniform punishments could be justified, the justification of it would have to include a definition and proof of what that system is, and if we had that, there would be no justification for the state to impose a different system or to monopolize the administration of the legitimate system.
  13. A state with nuclear weapons is the only defense against another state with nuclear weapons. This is a strong practical argument for such a state under current circumstances, but it is not an argument for any other kind of state nor is it an argument for establishing the first state. In any case, it is not a moral argument, so it does not provide a moral justification of anything.
None of the attempts to justify the state have succeeded. The state cannot be morally justified, because the state relies on the political means, and the political means is simply the criminal means on a grand scale.

The state is a tool for imposing your will on others by brute force. Generally, the state has been used to gain economic advantages, but it has also been used to get people to behave in ways that the rulers (those who control the state's apparatus) consider to be (1) correct, proper, and morally fit to be done, (2) socially beneficial, or (3) in the national interest (good for the well-being of the state itself).

The Path from Selfishness to Socialism

People act to get what they want or to avoid getting what they don't want. Sometimes their plans fail. They have better chances for success when they act in areas where they have the most relevant knowledge such as when they work to gratify their short-term desires.

When people interact within their rights to pursue their own goals, the phenomena of competition, cooperation, trade, money, supply and demand, and division of labor produce prices for capital, labor, and consumer goods. These prices are important information that people can use in planning their actions—allocating their time and other resources. When everyone, using knowledge of prices, tries to improve his own welfare by trading things of lesser personal value for things of greater personal value, an unplanned order occurs in the society. This free, possibly selfish, interaction, as if guided by an invisible hand, dynamically produces an efficient allocation of resources to satisfy the expressed demands of the participants in the market. Production of knowledge, technology, and other economic goods and services increases, and society as a whole becomes more and more prosperous.

It may be true that nobody in the society wants the state to regulate all aspects of the economy. Maybe everybody understands and appreciates the advantages of an increasingly productive free-market system. Nonetheless, as long as the political means is available, it is rational for each individual to use the political means to limit or prohibit competition in his own field, to demand subsidies for his business, to seek a guaranteed market for his products, and, ideally, to receive payments for not working at all.

Each individual is better off if he can get the state to enforce his own special privileges. Each is worse off if the state enforces special privileges for any of the others. The worst situation for you is when everybody else has special privileges and you have none. The best situation is when only you have special privileges. In general, you have more to gain by getting the state to enforce special privileges for your business than to lose by allowing the state to enforce special privileges for someone else's unrelated business. So, if you are willing to use the political means, the most rational plan for you is to concentrate all of your political efforts to obtain and preserve special privileges for your business. The same is true of everybody else. The result can be ever-increasing intervention by the state into the economy, ever-diminishing scope for individual freedom, and overall retardation or even decline in productivity, wealth, and well-being in the society.

These are the results of rational political action, but not of rational design. As this process goes on to create serious inefficiencies in the economy, the market system is often blamed for the lack of a coherent central plan, and the case for socialism as a way to rationalize the economy can become politically popular.

The democratic state is a power-distributing machine that all classes try to use for their own advantage. It is hard to predict where it will end. Predictions can be based on trends, but they are inconclusive. For example, I could be pessimistic and say that each intervention in the economy introduces inefficiencies and causes new problems, and the new problems create a demand for more state intervention, which causes more problems, and so on. And I could predict that a mixed economy is unstable and it will lead to socialist central planning. However, this assumes that people don't learn from experience and that they will continually demand more state intervention despite the increasing evidence of its failure. This assumption is not true of everybody. It is possible enough people will change their minds, join the opponents of big government, and begin a process of deregulation.

History has proven socialism to be a failure. The soviet empire has disintegrated. I could be optimistic and say that socialism is dead, and the free market and prosperity are inevitable, because no one will ever be so foolish as to try central planning again.

Unfortunately, this prediction gives people more credit for intelligence than is warranted by history. If socialism becomes a bad word, a new word will be coined for basically the same idea, and people will fall for it. Environmentalism is a likely candidate.

Freedom is unstable.

The means available to defend a free society are limited by justice, but the means available to defend the state are not. The state can prohibit the expression of views that are not in its interest. But in a society where there is no state, people are free to proclaim that the state is needed. A free society always allows people to express views that tend to undermine it. In a free society, people are allowed to advocate any political philosophy, and they may campaign for a change from an open society to a closed one.

Freedom may actually foster values that undermine freedom. Assertiveness is an asset in a free economy. Assertive people tend to gain control of the communications media, and then drown out other, softer voices, and disseminate their own values. Assertiveness and ambition can lead to wealth and influence. Material wealth, which is the mark of economic success, is often taken as the mark of success as a person by those who dominate the capitalist communications media. When the public has been exposed to enough alluring advertisements and other forms of persuasion, they too admire the ambitious, assertive people who have achieved positions of wealth and power. People can become so absorbed in the pursuit of material success that they lose sight of the moral principles that a free society is built on. Then they are ill equipped to answer the arguments of those who seek political power, and they are ripe for demagogues and exploiters.

It isn't fair that freedom is unstable. It isn't fair that people are stupid and fickle and can easily be duped by religious and political demagogues into giving up their money and their freedom.

Why do people condone the state?

Why do people condone actions of their government that they would condemn if done by any other group or individual? Some people condone state activities because they believe the government rules with the consent of the governed. To prove it they point to written constitutions, free elections, and the right to communicate our views to our representatives.

Many people believe the government acts for the good of the country rather than for private interests. The government has a sacred trust and special obligation to act in behalf of the general welfare. Government service has a spiritual quality that ennobles office holders and gives them the ability to see beyond personal interest and greed. Many people believe that governments are ordained by God. Some fundamentalists for instance, believe the United States Constitution was divinely inspired. In many countries the king or queen is the leader of the church.

In short, people condone the state because they believe in myths.

Social democrats believe the state can solve social problems. For solutions, they look to the central government first, local government second, and voluntary actions only as a last resort. They are always ready to believe that voluntary actions, especially actions by businessmen, are motivated by greed and are causing social problems to get worse. So they think voluntary actions, which are selfish, need to be regulated by the government, which is altruistic.

Some conservatives have a more realistic idea of the state. They regard the state as essentially a war machine. They seem to know instinctively that the state is destructive and antisocial. They expect government to be inefficient and corrupt. Its only value is to protect us from being taken over by an even worse state. So they want taxes to be spent on soldiers and weapons rather than on social programs.

Conservatives are at a disadvantage in political campaigns, because they can't say the state is inherently corrupt. If they say this, they are open to questions that back them into a corner such as: If politics is corrupt, why are you running for office? So they suppress their skepticism and compromise with the social democrats to slow down the growth of the parts of the government that are not related to nation defense and law enforcement. If they are appointed to run a government regulatory agency, they tend to ease up on enforcement, because they don't believe in many of the regulations. They are very susceptible to corruption in this direction.

The typical American believes the state is needed to deliver mail, build highways, educate children, and perform many other important services. The noble desires of the social democrats to eradicate unfairness and of the environmentalists to save the planet and of the "moral majority" to keep everyone on the straight and narrow path lead these people to support politicians who claim to share their values. Social democrats actively support the state, because they believe it can solve almost any social problem. The environmentalists want the state to regulate industry to stop pollution. The "moral majority" would like to gain control of the state to force everyone to comply with their rules of right conduct.

Another reason people condone the state is that change scares them. To radically change the political system to a free society would entail great upheaval. Drastic changes to the political structure would involve drastic changes to many people's careers and life-styles. Some people would be worse off. Some might not be able to adjust.

Extremism is a scary name for consistency. It is used by people who are afraid of principles. The anti-extremists feel safer with an unprincipled president like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon than with men who appear to have convictions such as Barry Goldwater or George McGovern.

Nixon's lack of principles made him attractive compared to McGovern. McGovern got votes from people who agreed with his social-democrat ideology. Nixon got votes from those who oppose the social-democrat ideology plus the great unprincipled vote, resulting in a landslide.

In a world with nuclear weapons and international conflicts, we may be safer with a president who is willing to compromise than with one who has integrity. A president with convictions and the strength of character to act consistently on his convictions would be very dangerous. The reason Barry Goldwater could not be elected president was not that he believed in the myths of the cold war (lots of other people did too). It was because he was thought to be a man of character (an extremist) who would have staked his life and ours on those beliefs.

Free-market anarchism is a much more radical philosophy than that of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern. It is unacceptable to those who fear extremism.

Rather than staying on the defensive and trying to calm every anxiety that a person might have about abolishing the state, I would rather turn attention to another problem caused by the state. Up to now I have mentioned taxation several times, as though that were the main thing that free-market anarchists dislike about the state. If that were the case, those who say free-market anarchists put property rights above human rights might have a good point. But stealing is not the worst thing the state does. It is time to attack the statists for being apologists for the wholesale slaughter of millions of human beings. It is time to speak of war.


War is a furious succession of violent crimes. But the crimes committed by soldiers are not generally regarded as crimes, because people judge wars by different standards than the ones they apply during peace time.

In modern warfare, soldiers proceed on the assumption that they have the right, even the duty, to kill anyone their commanders tell them to. Armies demand such obedience and military life encourages brutality to such an extent that refusing to kill requires more justification against the charge or insubordination or cowardice than slaughter does.

For about 200 years, from the middle of the 18th century to 1940, the European states adopted a less barbaric policy in their wars with each other. Under this policy of "civilized warfare," the opposing armies would fight each other and leave civilians alone. This was much better than the modern policy or the previous war policies under which civilians were either slaughtered or enslaved.

Under the rules of "civilized warfare," even enemy soldiers had rights after they were captured and disarmed. In fact, the treatment of enemy soldiers, who from the point of view of their captors should have been regarded as murderers or at least as attempted murderers, was closer to being just than was the treatment of ordinary civilian criminals. Enemy soldiers who were captured were disarmed and imprisoned until the war was over, and then, when they were no longer a threat, prisoners were freed on both sides rather than tried for war crimes and hanged. This is essentially the same policy that should be applied to all criminals whether they are soldiers or civilians.

The proliferation of modern weapons of mass destruction and the advent of airplanes and missiles to deliver them brought about a proportional disregard for the rights of civilians in the logistics of war. Wars are now justified by the collectivist fallacy of lumping people into categories called nations and then making judgments about the criminality of the nations while overlooking justice for the individuals involved. As the destructive power of new weapons has increased, so has collectivist thinking.57

Modern weapons such as missiles with nuclear warheads, "conventional" bombs, and poisonous chemicals are very good for killing all forms of life over vast areas of land, but they are very impractical for singling out particular individuals. To justify the use of such weapons, it has become necessary for modern war makers to spread the philosophy of total war.

The philosophy of total war incorporates such notions as collective guilt, guilt by association, guilt by nationality, and guilt by virtue of geographic location. Whole populations of countries have to be considered responsible for the crimes of their rulers. How else can one see any justice in the concept of nuclear retaliation?

The modern philosophy of total war lumps soldiers and civilians together and holds everyone responsible for the crimes of their state. Modern war pits the collective "Us" (all of us) against "Them" (all of them). Individuals no longer merit much consideration. The only personalities are the personalities attributed to nations. The "national interest," "national pride," and "national self-determination" have become the supreme war-time values. The entire "enemy" nation becomes the scapegoat for war guilt. They are depicted as a threat to our society and as unfit to live. So, we can righteously use our modern weapons to vaporize the Nazis, gooks, Japs, reds, or whatever. Besides, life is cheap to them. They don't appreciate it like we do—everybody knows that.

Nuclear weapons are crimes.

Modern war is particularly dreadful now that rulers have nuclear weapons at their disposal. It is insane to risk the destruction of mankind for any such reason as, "to preserve the balance of power," to fight the "communist conspiracy," or to "negotiate from a position of strength." None of these values can be worth the human race.

The worst crime that someone could actually commit would be to launch a first strike with nuclear bombs. The second worst crime would be to retaliate in kind.

It sounds strange to say that nuclear weapons are crimes, because a crime is an action performed by a moral agent, whereas a nuclear weapon is a physical object. Nuclear weapons, unfortunately, are man-made objects that exist and are owned. The creation and possession of weapons of mass destruction are crimes. These weapons have no legitimate use. They can only be used to slaughter people indiscriminately. Possessing them constitutes a criminal threat against millions of people. They must be abolished before someone decides to use them.

For war to be justified it must be waged only against people who are violating rights. The objective must be to preserve innocent lives. However, the bombs in the arsenals of modern states cannot be used without committing murder, because they kill indiscriminately. There is no justification for dropping a conventional bomb, much less a nuclear bomb. Those who threaten to use nuclear weapons are the most dangerous criminals in the history of the world.

The concentration of power in the executive branch of government and the secrecy required by the nuclear defense strategy of the United States resulted in a situation where the survival of life on earth at the time of the Cuban missile crisis was left to the judgment of the morally retarded Kennedy brothers. This shows how insane and intolerable nuclear defense is as a strategy for national security.

Soldiers are slaves.

The recruitment techniques used by the state are often criminal. Conscription is clearly a violation of the individual's right to his own body. It is a form of slavery. It cannot be justified, even for the purpose of fighting tyranny.

Nevertheless, some social democrats regard conscription as more fair than recruiting a volunteer army. One argument against the volunteer army is that it appeals to the poorest and least privileged class and that this is unfair, because all classes should share risks equally. This argument could be applied to many other occupations with just as much plausibility. Those who accept this argument for conscripting soldiers should advocate conscription of firemen and policemen too. Why stop there? Why not advocate conscripting people indiscriminately for all dangerous jobs?

Military discipline, even when the soldiers are volunteers, is also slavery. The coercion and threats of violence employed by the armed forces of all nations against their own soldiers are totally unjust. Desertion is not a capital crime, it is the exercising of a basic right: the right to do anything that is peaceful.

If someone is trying to shoot you, you have the right to shoot him to defend yourself, unless the reason he is trying to shoot you is to stop you from threatening to shoot him. How does this apply to battlefield situations? Any soldier on either side could shoot a soldier on the opposite side during a battle and claim that he was defending himself and his allies. If the soldier who gets shot was armed and engaged in battle, wouldn't the claim be legitimate? Does it make any difference which side the soldier who gets shot was fighting for? Call the two sides Blue and Gray. In a battle, any soldier from the Blue side could shoot any soldier from the Gray side and claim self-defense. Conversely, any soldier from the Gray side could shoot any soldier from the Blue side and claim self-defense.

Now consider the situation of troops from either side who are not yet engaged in the battle. If their commanding officer orders them to advance into the battle, wouldn't that order be a threat to their lives? Wouldn't the troops have the right to shoot the officer who makes such a threat? Some American soldiers in the Vietnam war thought so and acted accordingly.

Running with the Pack

People are not too stupid to figure out that the state lies to them about its war policies. Often, they are unwilling to know it, and they take steps to preserve their ignorance in the face of would-be informants. Patriotism motivates them to preserve their ignorance. Misplaced loyalty supports war atrocities.

Taken one at a time, people are usually well behaved. But they become much worse when they congregate. The bigger the crowd, the worse the people in it tend to behave. They suspend their individual judgments and become as bad as the rules that govern the group. This is usually a step or more down from their personal moral standards. For example, when an ordinary, peaceful, young man is taken into the army, he begins to act like a soldier rather than as a responsible individual. In his role as a soldier he pretends that he is no longer a unique personality but a robot trained to kill. He suspends his moral judgment and responsibility. The more blindly he obeys his commanding officers, the better soldier he becomes.

Some social theorists assert that we are naturally aggressive. They say that man is not only a hunter, but that he is instinctively and unalterably aggressive toward his own species. They conclude that it is futile to talk about ending warfare and other kinds of violent crimes. These theorists misinterpret human nature.

Man's bloody history is not due to aggressive instincts. Most men are dragged into battle because they are too cowardly, foolish, and herd-like to resist. They are not impelled by blood lust. They are driven by fear of disobeying their rulers and by a misguided sense of duty. The leaders of the armies are, no doubt, aggressive types, but the great majority of the soldiers who do the killing and dying are not naturally aggressive. They simply follow orders blindly, stupidly, loyally, unselfishly, and, above all, fearfully.

If men were more self-assertive, they would not submit to the marching orders of their leaders. If the masses were aggressive, quick tempered, and anxious to defend their interests, they wouldn't submit to the will of any ruler. They would insist on ruling themselves. The fact that mankind has been led into war after war does not support the theory that man is aggressive. It shows that man's social instincts are stronger than his ability to reason.

If soldiers were assertive enough and smart enough to think for themselves, many of them wouldn't submit to the commands of dictators and generals. War is made possible by misplaced loyalties and misdirected social instincts. An army requires its soldiers to be obedient, to conform to military standards, to give up much of their individuality, and to be self-sacrificing. Except for its purpose, an army is a model of altruistic cooperation. If war depended on the aggressive instincts of the masses, there would be no wars.

The minority of men who are aggressive tend to become the leaders. Being aggressive, the leaders want to expand their control or, at least, defend what they already control. This causes conflicts between the ruling classes in different countries. They settle these conflicts by having their respective subordinates fight wars. The men who do the actual fighting are about as naturally aggressive as sheep. They simply do what their leaders order them to do. If the leaders did not tell them whom to fight, they wouldn't fight anybody.

Wars are not waged because people are cruel or because men have an aggressive instinct. Wars are made possible because men are so loyal, compliant, patriotic, and foolish that their government can easily dupe them into rallying around its battle flag whenever it wants them to.

A man who is decent and sees the world the way it is may love the culture, the landscape, the people, or the history of his homeland, but he cannot love the state that governs it. He does not confuse the state with his country. Unfortunately, such individuals are a small minority. Most people do confuse their government with their homeland. This misplaced patriotism is the state's greatest strength.

The state uses patriotism to increase its control over its subjects. Nothing brings out patriotism as much as a national emergency. If nature fails to provide a disaster, the state may manufacture one. The public is gullible enough to fall for almost any fabricated threat that their leaders choose to scare them with—from the yellow peril to the red menace, from cheap foreign imports to expensive imports from OPEC countries, from the dangers of private hand guns to the danger of a missile gap.

How to End War

The thinking that justifies war is the worst kind of collectivism because it supports the greatest criminals—the heads of state. The main beneficiaries of war are the ruling class and their cohorts who use the hysteria generated by their wars to gain more control over people's lives and wealth.

Soldiers do not fight for freedom. They fight for their state, either to help it preserve its control or to help it expand its control. The goals as well are the means of war are unjust. Fighting for the state is treason to society.

The basic reasons for starting wars are: (1) Conquest: So the state can expand its control to territories that are free or controlled by a rival state, (2) Diversion: To take the public's attention away from problems that the state has aggravated within its borders such as inflation, unemployment, or crime in the streets, (3) Special interests: Influential members of the ruling class sometimes cause wars to protect their foreign investments or other economic interests, (4) Foreign threats: Fear of being taken over by a foreign government is one of the strongest arguments used by the state to justify itself and its wars. It is hard to imagine any way to defend yourself and your country from being overrun by a foreign state that has a large army and modern weapons except to support a large army and arsenal controlled by your own state.

It is not possible to get rid of all peace-breakers. But it isn't necessary. If we could get rid of their organizations, then they would be reduced to isolated murderers, and war would be a thing of the past. Without the mechanism of the state, the peace-breakers' activities would be reduced to a manageable level.

Things that any man would be ashamed of doing and would condemn any other private citizen for doing, he allows agents of his government to do. The state thrives on coercion. It monopolizes crime under the guise of protecting society. It protects us from smaller bands of criminals and from other states. States provoke wars with each other, then they tax us and conscript us to fight their wars, then they claim the credit for the victories.

Too many people have come to accept the idea that taxes are inevitable and have ceased to question their legitimacy. Having accepted the state and taxes as inevitable, it is no wonder that perpetual war seems inevitable too. There can be no lasting peace until the source of war—the state—is abolished.

When people realize that the state is a criminal organization that brings war and that the alternative of a free society is possible, then, and only then, will we be able to live in peace. Liberty, justice, and peace go together.

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