The State: A Reductio ad Absurdum

The state is a contradiction. Or, more precisely, a state that protects individual rights is an absurdity.

A state is an agency that maintains a monopoly on the use of legal force in a given geographical area. The idea that such an institution can, on balance, protect individual rights, is fallacious.

Let us think about it. In order for a state to exist, it must monopolize the 'service' it provides, forbidding other agencies from entering the business of rights protection.

But anything that the state should be allowed to do ' under the libertarian credo ' so should any other institution be allowed to do. Protecting life, liberty and property is a victimless act. Using force to maintain a monopoly on this protection violates the rights of those who wish to establish and patronize competitors in the business of protecting rights.

States also must be financed, and they all use theft ' taxation, central bank inflation, and/or eminent domain ' to maintain themselves. If they didn't use theft, and if they didn't forcibly prevent competition, they wouldn't be states; they'd be private institutions.

So again, we see that a libertarian state is a self-contradiction. States must violate rights, even for the limited task of protecting them. If their purpose is to protect rights, but by their very nature they violate rights, what we have is a reductio ad absurdum ' the state reduces down to an absurdity.

It is no wonder, then, that states do such a horrible job at producing anything of value, and such a good job of destroying such things.

A friend of mine told me we need government to protect us from bands of terrorists breaking into our homes, looting and killing us. But what commits such acts most frequently? Governments, both here and abroad.

We often hear that government must fight the unfair consolidation of economic power. But what types of institutions typify the centralized consolidation of wealth through unfair means? Governments, both here and abroad.

But do we not need government to ensure that the water, air and land are clean? Well, what is responsible for most pollution? Governments, both here and abroad.

Some people want government to teach proper moral values, to protect the fabric of tradition. But where do we see the most lying, irresponsible decadence, and an outright hostility toward families and traditional social arrangements that compete with them for the allegiance of society? Governments, both here and abroad.

Government, some people believe, can promote diversity, tolerance, racial harmony and equality. But what types of institutions have carried out, by far, the greatest attacks on these values, dividing people into artificial sub-groups of humanity, treating some people as second-class citizens, and even, at times, displacing or outright exterminating large groups of human beings based on their race or ethnicity? Governments, both here and abroad.

Government must keep the peace! Well, what is constantly waging war? Government.

Government must stabilize the economy! Well, what is always creating recession, depression and famine? Government.

Government must curb Big Business! Well, what props up undeserving big companies and destroys small ones? Government.

Government must protect us from common criminals! Well, what disarms victims and fosters violent crime waves? Government.

Government must teach the children! What is it that dumbs them down? Government.

Government is an unnecessary evil. The only reason most people think it is necessary or good at all is because they have been bamboozled ' by government schools, government-regulated media, and government court intellectuals.

It is no wonder that so many people think that bombing cities filled with people in US wars were acts of liberation, peacekeeping and defense; that price supports and controls will help the economy grow; that breaking up companies will foster competition; that paying farmers not to grow is good agricultural policy; that military conscription is a necessary price for freedom and that taxes are necessary to maintain civilization; that government affirmative action is a good program for racial equality; that disarming victims will protect them from criminals; that government can be trusted to tell us what we can do with our bodies and our money and what kids should learn in school ' because, supposedly, the alternative of letting people make their own choices would lead to disaster. It is no wonder that people believe such absurdities, because they were taught to believe them by the embodiment of absurdity called the government.

The minimal rights-protecting government envisioned by most libertarians is an absurdity. If a government can't manage the economy, build good roads, or feed the poor, how can it protect rights? Its very nature is to violate rights and steal property. It doesn't do a good job at engineering a healthy society, so why would it do a good job defending liberty? Why can't the market and voluntary human action protect rights, if they can do a better job than the government at everything else? Why should we believe in a minimal state that protects rights more than it violates them, when we have never seen such a state, and when we have seen that human cooperation and the market currently protect people's rights far better than the government, just as they do a better job at producing all other goods and services?

Government is an absurdity, whether we look at the particulars of its policies or its very definition.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
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Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is