The Importance of Language
“Political chaos is connected with the decay of language,” said George Orwell. He was right, of course. Language is the tool the mind uses to understand its interactions with the physical world. With an effective language, one identifies things for what they are. As politics relies heavily on mass deception, an obfuscation of language is always integral to the advancement of the state. With this in mind, I’d like to propose a new conception of statism.
The Free Dictionary defines “statism” as the practice or doctrine of giving a centralized government control over economic planning and policy. That’s not a worthless definition, to be sure, but it leaves a bit to be desired. How much economic planning is enough to count as statism? Exactly how centralized is “centralized,” really? Is it not also statism to advocate a coercive theocracy, even one which leaves the market comparatively unhindered?
With this in mind I propose to define “statism” as quite simply the belief that the state exists. This fits conveniently with other “-isms” such as theism and polylogism, and it suggests its own antonym, “astatism.” Here I take “the state” to mean the legitimate monopoly on coercive governance in a geographic region. Statists, then, are those people who recognize a notion of such a monopoly. Most statists in America view the U.S. federal government as the state, though some prefer other organizations such as the North Carolina government.
Statism and Astatism
Statists exist in contrast with astatists, who view the institutions referring to themselves as states as “false prophets.” Astatists do not accept the legitimacy claims of the state. Instead, astatists see many competing coercive institutions such as governments, the mafia, certain force-based labor unions, and a wide variety of criminal corporations that escape justice due to their riches and coercive power. Astatists view all of these institutions as inherently violent yet vying for legitimacy.
To be sure, not every statist recognizes the same coercive institution as the one legitimate state. There are several types of statists, which each deserve their own proper conceptualization.
Republicanism is one kind of statism. It consists of the belief that the state exists, and it is a republic. Republicans imagine an institution of statesmen who carry out governmental proceedings in accordance with certained predetermined laws. Republicans accomplish the goal of disguising the ugly nature of coercive institutions by supposing that “the law is king” – in other words, that statesmen don’t make the rules, but rather simply enforce them. “Rule by law, not by men,” is the motto of the good republic. Republicans place high value on constitutions and formal proceedings, and they like to study up on the specifics of how laws are determined. This lets them view the institution of the state as a manly and proper system.
Republicanism fails on a number of counts. Most fundamentally, laws are made by men and women. Ergo, there is no validity to the idea that governments aren’t simply some individuals using force to control other individuals. Furthermore, laws are enforced by men, and not with even the remotest degree of uniformity. Police officers and district attorneys and judges play a crucial role in determining when a person will be subjected to the violence of government. The uniform and precise system imagined by Republicans does not exist and never has. Therefore, a Republican conception of the state is invalid — it does not constitute a legitimate monopoly on force.
Another kind of statism is Democratism, which is the belief that the state exists, and it is a democracy. Democrats pretend that everyone contributes equally to governance, and therefore no one is victimized by it. They imagine an institution in which people vote on laws, and somehow that makes the laws fair. Whether the laws are enforced with uniformity rarely enters into Democratic thinking. Democratism is a happy and inclusive kind of statism in which the state is legitimized by its equal treatment of all people.
Democratism fails on even more counts than Republicanism. First off, no large nation-state has ever had every member vote on any law. Instead, an elite group of officials vote on the laws and pretend like their votes are “representative” of the people, or something. Secondly, even if everyone did vote on laws, the way the vote itself is framed makes a huge difference. Voting between legalizing marijuana and making it a felony is not the same as voting between legalizing it, making it a felony, and making it a misdemeanor. Ergo voting as a means of determining laws still leaves tremendous power in the hands of those who write and present the bills.
Furthermore, including everyone in the government process, even if it were possible, does not change the reality that some people will be victimized. Laws affect different people differently depending upon their circumstances, beliefs, and experiences. While it may be in the interests of a majority of people to outlaw marijuana, it will still be deeply hurtful to those who require it for medical reasons. Democrats do not know how to address issues like this; their concept of the state is nonsensical.
The last highly prevalent form of statism in America is socialism. Socialism is the belief that the state exists, and it is society. Socialists suppose that every action taken by their preferred state is really an action by society, and therefore legitimate by default. When a person proposes that the government should not pay for medical care, socialists take this to mean that no one at all should pay for medical care, and therefore that anyone seeking care should be left to die. When a businessman commands the flow of billions of dollars, socialists see this as an imbalance to be rectified, because the rich have “too much power.” However when a president commands the flow of trillions of dollars, the socialists encourage him, because they view the government as society, and any actions taken by the government to be actions taken by society. Government cannot be greedy and government can never have too much money, because government is everyone.
Socialism fails for ontological reasons, namely, that it is inconsistent with methodological individualism. It is a point of objective fact that the actions of a president are not the actions of other members of a society – they are simply the actions of a president. Thus governments are simply institutions of people which use force to control other people. Government officials do not represent anyone but themselves, in just the same way as I do not represent anyone but myself as I write these words. When the president orders men and women to their deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, it is he alone who issues these orders – neither Tom nor Dick nor Harry is giving the orders. When Congressmen decide how to spend trillions of dollars, they are doing exactly that. Whatever might be said of the businessman who commands billions, so it must be said a thousand times more of the Congressman who commands trillions.
This post is not intended to alienate any members of the YAL blog’s readership community, but merely to start a friendly debate.Published in