Children of the State

When a Kucinich supporter recently hacked the website to gain more attention for the Democratic presidential candidate, Kucinich's official campaign denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the incident. According to CBS, campaign spokesman David Swanson said, 'Our campaign would never do such a thing or condone such a thing. We are not interested in taking over someone else's Web site, I can assure you.' He may well be telling the truth. But it is equally true that no Kucinich supporter can consistently condemn the anonymous hacker's actions. Kucinich is a vocal proponent of political violence against private property owners, and is loudly promoting the idea that corporations have no right to exist except as lackeys of Kucinich's political agenda. If Kucinich's political ideals are the right ones, what did the hacker do wrong? All he or she did was divert corporate resources to a noble political end ' which is what the Kucinich campaign is all about anway. It would be the height of hypocrisy for Kucinich's campaign staff to condemn the hacker for acting on the principles they so vigorously uphold. (And, truth be told, they haven't condemned him or her in particularly strong terms.) There is a broader moral here. Statists like Dennis Kucinich, George W. Bush, and their ilk celebrate the violence of the State (though not in so many words ' Kucinich calls it 'nonviolence,' Bush calls it 'freedom' and 'peacekeeping') but they generally do not call for private individuals to imitate the state in this regard. This is partly because it is generally advantageous for the State to retain its monopoly control over political violence, and partly because the mystique of the State depends on veiling its violent character in a sacramental guise, which requires de-emphasising the similarity between private and State violence. But logically, if the State is justified in employing violence to achieve political goals, private violence for the same ends must be justified as well. Statism thus contributes to a culture of political violence that breeds not only the CBS hacker but political terrorists generally, whether of the environmentalist-left variety (the Earth Liberation Front, the Unabomber) or the religious-right variety (the folks who bomb abortion clinics, Osama bin Laden). These terrorists are the disowned children of the State coming home to roost. Nor are they, from the State's point of view, entirely unwelcome children. Too much private terrorism is a threat to the stability and authority of the State, of course; but a bit of it around tends to reinforce the perceived need for the State; politicians can call such terrorism 'anarchy' (when of course it's just freelance 'archy') and get away with higher taxes and more infringements of civil liberties in order to combat the threat. But however welcomes these terrorists may be, the State can never afford to acknowledge them as its offspring. The modern State is based on a fundamental contradiction: it upholds equality as the basis of its authority, but practises a monopoly of violence. (The premodern State faced no such contradiction, since it made no pretense of upholding equality.) Private terrorists resolve the contradiction of the State by extending the use of violence from the public to the private sphere; libertarians resolve the contradiction in the opposite direction, by extending the ban on (initiatory) violence from the private sphere to the public sphere. In the end, statism turns out to be an unstable compromise between the only two consistent, diametrically opposed positions (both of which the statists, ever sowing linguistic confusion, label 'anarchy'): a terroristic Hobbesian free-for-all on the one hand, versus libertarian peace and order on the other.

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Roderick Long's picture
Columns on STR: 22

Roderick T. Long is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation newsletter Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992.  His last book was Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; his next book will be Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action.  He maintains a blog on his website,