There’s No Such Thing as a Statist

Column by Paul Bonneau.
 
Exclusive to STR
 
Nor are there any minarchists or anarchists.
 
In this brouhaha stirred up by Per Bylund, some strange lines of argument have appeared. Here is an example:
 
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"There are a huge number who would reject abolishing the state while consenting to leave us alone." [quoted from previous comment]
That is redundant. Consenting to leave us alone IS abolishing the state. A "government" with only jurisdiction over those who consent is not a state. If you can convince people to "leave you alone" (without requiring you forfeit your property--love it or leave it), you have convinced them to be voluntaryists.
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There comes a time when labels fail. This is one of them. The author of that comment has simply eliminated from existence the largest population in the country, because they do not fit his neat classes with labels attached to them.
 
Let’s put together a little thought experiment. Imagine you are a perfect anarchist. You have three neighbors, Aaron, Betty and Connie, who would be perfect anarchists too, but Aaron thinks guns should be illegal, Betty thinks marijuana should be illegal, and Connie thinks poor people should be fed.
 
Now, if I’m not mistaken, that makes all three minarchists (and statists). So, you’re outnumbered, three “statists" to one real anarchist. Does that mean you inevitably lose?
 
Have an election, with three local (to you four) measures on the ballot. The first measure makes guns illegal, the second makes marijuana illegal, and the third establishes a welfare system (assume for our thought experiment that these are not already in place).
 
Guess what happens? What is the election outcome?
 
Even if you do not vote, guns are still legal, marijuana is still legal, and there is no welfare system! This is true even if you did not besmirch your anarchist virtues by “allying” with any of them, and even if you did not bother to persuade them. That is, three statists could not impose the state on you, even though you did nothing at all!
 
That’s what is wrong with labels, and with fashioning your arguments around clean-cut categories that do not exist in real life. We are dealing with people here, not things, not interchangeable cogs in a big machine.
 
Not only do real people have a mess of often conflicting and inconsistent tendencies of statism and anarchism in different varieties, they also change over time, sometimes drastically when outside events rattle their cages (witness the growing crowds of protesters in Egypt).
 
Yes, there are in fact “statists” who can let you be in some respects, maybe the respects you care about, and that does not automatically turn them into “voluntaryists,” or make your arguments crash into logical inconsistency. Such arguments only fail if you have a weird view of what people are. They are not cogs. They don’t fit into neat, perfect categories.
 
Yeah, guess what, we can’t just go out and find people with the word “statist” tattooed on their heads, and shoot them. We have to deal with them, some way or another; and the best way to deal with them is persuasively, and through example, and through friendly trade. That can only be done if we haven’t turned them into “enemies.”
 
People (not all, but most) can be persuaded to leave us alone, or will do it in some respects without any persuasion, even if they are still statists. Maybe they don’t like us smoking pot, but their dislike does not rise to the level of violence. Maybe they just don’t care about it if we are in the next town rather than in their town. Maybe they are afraid to stop us smoking because we will physically attack them. There are all sorts of reasons for them not messing with us. Turning them into enemies only eliminates any possibility of reasoning with them or dealing peacefully with them, leaving us only avoidance, submission or war.
 
Well, what about the statists who can’t be persuaded to leave us alone? Avoidance, submission or war...
 
We definitely need to stop thinking of “statists” as enemies (and other disrespectful terms such as “sheeple”), and start thinking of them as people, imperfect just like we are--and victims of the state, just like we are. Stop collectively throwing everybody into some category, and deal with them as individuals. When we finally have our “Egyptian moment,” we will need them out there on the streets along with us.
 

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 75
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Comments

mingo's picture

"Yeah, guess what, we can’t just go out and find people with the word “statist” tattooed on their heads, and shoot them."

You guys are still using that straw man? Please.

Gwardion's picture

No, it is logic.

Point 1) We live on a world we share with a lot of people, whether you like it or not.

Point 2) Those people have opinions, whether you like it or not.

Point 3) A lot of those people with opinions are willing to use force to make them happen.

If there is a large segment of that population which you feel are not worth talking to (and identify as an enemy), but still have the power to trespass against you, and you refuse to be trespassed against without response, where does that leave us in light of the first three conditions?

No speaking, but we have an inherent conflict that wont go way means eventual violence, one way or the other. Either initiated by them or by us in response to what we would consider aggression or trespass.

So, you can call it a strawman, but most people consider it straight forward completely reasonable logic.
Different sides of a life and death conflict that refuse to talk to each other will result in violence, and will more then likely lead to exactly the opposite of what we want.

BrianDrake's picture

Can you please provide a quote or name a name of someone here who has said they will not speak with statists? Otherwise, that does indeed appear to be a strawman argument.

Paul's picture

Generally, when one calls someone an enemy, all discussion with him ceases. That's what it means to be an enemy. At best, there still is a bit of fruitless discussion, such as that between the North and South Koreans, or between the Israelis and Palestinians.

You may not agree. If so, that makes this a semantic discussion. Merriam webster defines "enemy" as a military adversary, or as "one that is antagonistic to another; especially : one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent". Most statists do not intend to harm us. That they do so is certainly true, via their support of the ruling class. But they do not intend to do so. "Mistaken" is a word that describes them, a lot better than "enemy".

Suverans2's picture

"It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences." ~ Harry S. Truman

Well, it's raining here, so you are stuck with me.

Before saying "there is no such thing as a statist", or before we start accusing others of being "statists", mini-, midi-, maxi-, or anywhere in between, perhaps we should heed Voltaire's warning. "Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another..."

Definition of STATIST
: an advocate of statism ~ Merriam-Webster's 2011 Online Dictionary, 11th Edition

Definition of ADVOCATE
1 : one that pleads the cause of [statism]; specifically : one that pleads the cause of [statism] before [strike-the-rooters]
2 : one that defends or maintains [statism]
3 : one that supports or promotes the interests of [statism] ~ Ibid.
[Definition adapted for this particular topic.]

Definition of STATISM
: concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government often extending to government ownership of industry ~ Ibid.

Now that we know there is such a thing a "statist", let's look around to see if there are any of these dad-blamed "statists" here at Strike-the-Root, and proceed from there.

Show of hands, please, are there any here who "advocate...concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government". Now, we just have to sit back and wait for the hands to go up. [Whistling "Dixie"[1] whilst I wait for the hands to start flyin' up and wavin'.]

[1] "Whistling 'Dixie'" is a slang expression meaning "[engaging] in unrealistically rosy fantasizing".

Paul's picture

Actually, most people are simultaneously statists and anarchists. They both advocate the state, and advocate against it. It's been noted over and over again that the average Joe, in his daily life, acts as an anarchist.

This problem exists not only for terms like "anarchist" and "statist", but also "conservative", "liberal", "libertarian", etc. All almost meaningless. A pencil is a pencil, a car is a car, a rifle is a rifle. But a "conservative"? Good luck!

J3rBear's picture

Well said Paul. There are few things human beings like less than being labeled, pigeon-holed, and stereotyped. There are many people out there that incorrectly see the state as necessary. This does not automatically make them an "enemy". I was a statist once, as were most of you at one point as well I assume. I would never have come around to the ideas of voluntaryism if some one got up in my face pointing fingers telling me how evil my statist beliefs were. The art of persuasion is often a delicate thing. Also one that considers coercion to be immoral should consider how the way they speak reflects on their stated beliefs. Do you try to guilt, shame, and bludgeon statists with your words? If so, do you see how that could be seen as hypocritical?

BrianDrake's picture

"Do you try to guilt, shame, and bludgeon statists with your words? If so, do you see how that could be seen as hypocritical?"

If it is seen as hypocritical, it is done so in error. "Bludgeoning" with your words is not an act of aggression (in the context we're speaking of). Physical bludgeoning (not done in defense) is.

Not arguing that an abrasive conversation style won't probably be received poorly, obscuring the message. But anyone who confuses physical violence with being "rude" (especially when the "rudeness" is in response to the advocacy of aggression) is not logical. Anyone who persists in such a perception (meaning they reject correction, even when given gently), seems to be a lost cause.

Gwardion's picture

Wow, great insight, I will stop trying to raise my kids by repeatedly correcting them, as they are a lost cause.

Heck, everyone that doesn't see things the same way I do about something after I spent years studying a subject (or I just made up my mind in my head), I will just toss them out on their heads.

Wow, you just took a huge load off my life of responsibility.

See how I did that? This is the issue, we have a lot of militant anarchist morons that seem to think all human beings are stuck in a stasis thought field and that even talking to them about it seems to be a worthless exercise.

I find most of these idiots are new converts, and as usual no fanatic like a new convert. Once a child molesting alcoholic becomes a born again Christian, all the sudden everyone else is completely retarded for not seeing the truth of Christ as clearly as they do.

It seems as if all these Guy Fawkes wanna bes forget they weren't the origination of anarchist thought or action, but by god they can tell who has to be tossed out and who is worth talking to.

Self-centered little narcissist does not equal enlightened anarchist.

We either decide it IS worth the attempt to correct those we find are in error, or we just take it. That's it, and if your in the "not worth talking to them crowd" you are part of the problem not part of the solution.

BrianDrake's picture

My fault for not communicating more clearly.

I used the less-committal term "seems to be" (a lost cause) because it appears that way to me, but I wouldn't claim that definitively.

What I meant, was that you can only have a discussion/argument with a mind that is capable of communicating with you. Lecturing a rock, or your dog on the virtues of liberty is not going to get you anywhere.

Likewise, if, after repeated attempts to communicate the very simple difference between hitting someone, and saying "don't hit me you jerk", the other person refuses or is incapable of understanding... it seems to be futile to continue. Is it really wise to continue on to the more nuanced principles of property theory with someone who thinks it is "hypocritical" to use a tone they don't prefer to denounce initiated violence?

By lost cause, I don't mean (though it could be legitimately read this way, so I take the blame for poor communication) for the rest of eternity. Maybe just for the time being. Just like your kids. Trying to explain morality to your infant is.... a lost cause. Give him a few years to develop and then revisit the subject.

Why waste time arguing (discussing ideas; argue doesn't have to imply anger or unpleasant tone) with someone who cannot, or will not grasp simple concepts? That was my only point. Certainly not a dogma. Tried to imply that by saying "seems to be", as that's at each individual's discretion.

"if your in the 'not worth talking to them crowd'"

Now that I've explained my poor wording in the comment you replied to, I can definitely say I'm not in that crowd. Nor have I seen anyone commenting here take that position. The debate on whether minarchists are "enemies" has nothing to do with whether we talk to them or not. There are many reasons why people would still see value in talking to their enemies (such as the desire to convert them to friends).

Michael Kleen's picture

Also, even though this is apparently easy to forget on the Internet, 99.9% of us live in a "state". We support the state by paying taxes, whether voluntarily or not. We pay taxes to the state every time we buy something at the store. Most of our friends and relatives are "statists." Most of us probably got an education thanks to the state. All anarchists, unless they live in the woods somewhere, are anarchists in theory, but "statists" in fact. It's important to understand that there is a difference between rhetoric and reality - and in reality, calling everyone who you rely on "evil" and an "enemy" isn't going to get you very far. It was very gracious of Per to qualify his argument with a second article, but I really think we should take a much more pragmatic approach.

BrianDrake's picture

On the principle of how to actually deal with people, I don't think there's really the disagreement that you accuse. I have never started a conversation with someone by calling them an "enemy" or "evil", and I have very rarely concluded a conversation in that manner. We (you and I) completely agree that such a tactic would immediately close the minds of most people.

There is, however, a difference between "calling" someone an enemy, and simply recognizing them as such.

It's EXACTLY like "The Matrix" (damn, I love that movie even though I've outgrown my kung fu phase). Morpheus tells Neo that even though they're trying to rescue the humans, as long as the humans are part of the system, they are also the enemy because they will fight to preserve the system (and are potential "possession-targets" for agents).

I've yet to read a good attempt, in these discussions, at refuting the accuracy of the statement that minarchy, and those who promote it, are the enemy. Rather, the dispute seems to be over the usefulness or effectiveness of the statement. Example: "calling everyone who you rely on "evil" and an "enemy" isn't going to get you very far." If the debate is on how to "get very far", you may have a point. But that's irrelevant to the discussion on whether the statement itself is true.

Is Per recommending we go around calling those who advocate (or even just perceive as legitimate) monopoly government "enemy" to their face? I see no proof anyone is suggesting such a course (the threads got long, so it's possible someone said it, but certainly the majority did not).

But the assertion remains, while people advocate, or even passively accept aggression against others, they ARE the enemy of their fellow men. Are they all potentially redeemable? We certainly hope so, and many of us work towards that end. Through persuasion, relationship, compassion, example, etc... But until they are redeemed from that destructive philosophy, they are indeed the "enemy". Recognizing this requires no purpose for those who see truth as an end in itself. But many of us are also convinced it is highly beneficial for advocates of liberty to clearly see this distinction, to inform their tactics and strengthen their perception. Sun Tzu stuff.

One might argue that writing a publicly accessible article calling "minarchists the enemy" is the same as calling someone of that philosophic persuasion an "enemy" to their face. It is certainly possible that someone may read Per's article (or any number of others here on STR) and take immediate offense; retarding, or even halting their path towards embrace of liberty. But the same reasoning could, taken to conclusion, exclude writing ANYTHING critical or controversial. We can't say war is destructive because that might offend soldiers, who we want to ultimately persuade to lay down their weapons. We can't write that taxation is theft, because that would alienate IRS agents (and their families/friends). Even advocating "liberty" frankly in public is an offense to those who seek to dominate and control others.

STR has always appeared to me to be more "hardcore" than many other, well known libertarian (market anarchist/voluntaryis...blah blah blah) sites. It's a place where people speak their mind and present ideas without apology. This is useful for the building up of those already "in the club". But yeah, I don't think it's the best place to send someone unfamiliar with these ideas. In that regard, though it is not perfect, LewRockwell.com seems to be better suited for that. I think Lew fully understands the tactic of slowly winning over your enemies, so while there is the occasional "hardcore" article on his front page, there is usually a good mix of more "mainstream" articles to make the conservative (and even sometimes the liberal) visitor feel more comfortable while they're gradually introduced to new ideas.

Some of us see a need for a place of "pure" philosophy. No holds barred, no punches pulled. That's what I consider STR (to some degree). "Our team" (philosophically) needs a place to learn, grow, challenge ideas, engage. Is the solution to take such discussion exclusively private? I'm not convinced so (cuz I probably won't be invited ;P ).

Paul's picture

"Is Per recommending we go around calling those who advocate (or even just perceive as legitimate) monopoly government "enemy" to their face? I see no proof anyone is suggesting such a course"

Well, he did entitle his article with exactly that! You don't think minarchists come around here at all? It's not as if it was a quiet conversation, for private consumption only, between two anarchists.

"But the assertion remains, while people advocate, or even passively accept aggression against others, they ARE the enemy of their fellow men."

"Passively accept"? That's a pretty positivist view of anarchy if you ask me. No one has any obligation to protect me from aggression, but me. No one becomes my enemy if he refrains from that. I thought anachists believed that no one owes them anything.

"Advocate"? Yeah, if they understand what they are advocating. Note, the government takes great pains, through government schooling and propaganda, to ensure the average Joe does NOT understand what statism boils down to. Government could not exist without euphemism.

"We can't write that taxation is theft, because that would alienate IRS agents (and their families/friends)."

Oh, heaven forbid we should bother an IRS agent! I mean, here is a person who clearly IS an enemy, and you are suggesting I am saying we should not annoy even those who are enemies? Sorry if you got that impression, but I am not saying that at all.

"It's a place where people speak their mind and present ideas without apology."

I don't argue this because I think it unnecessarily hurts people's feelings (although it does that), or because it is a tactical mistake (although it is that too), but because it is wrong. Minarchists and even other statists are not per se our enemies. We can be free in a world, outnumbered by statists, as long as they see fit to leave us alone (which many are willing to do).

Suverans2's picture

G'day Michael Kleen,

If, as you claim, "...99.9% of us live in a "state"", where do the remaining .1% of us, who are not consenting members (citizens/subjects) of the fictional "state", live?

All taxes are voluntary. If one voluntary chooses to be, or remain, a member (citizen/subject) of the “state”, one is a “taxpayer”, i.e. “one is subject to a tax on income”. If one voluntarily chooses to buy something at the store, which must pay a “sales tax”, because it and its owner(s) is/are voluntarily in bed (incorporated) with the “state”, then the store owner generally passes that cost on to the voluntary purchaser of his goods.

Most of our friends and relatives are members (citizens/subjects) of the “state”, which is why “most of us probably got an education[sic] thanks to the state[sic]”. (Actually, any thanks for our INDOCTRINATION should go to the MEN and WOMEN who are who are members (citizens/subjects) of “the state” who pay “property taxes”, if I understand your system correctly.) But, what does that have to do with being a “statist” or “mini-statist”?

Why, for goodness sakes, do you believe that an “anarchist”, which I define as, one who does not consent to be ruled by “the state”, has to “live in the woods somewhere” or he/she is a “statist”, which, according to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 11th Edition, is “an advocate of statism”? That is one heck of a stretch, in my opinion, Michael Kleen!

Your point in all of this, if I am not mistaken, is to satisfy, in your mind, that you just don't have any choice but to be a member (citizen/subject) of a “state”. That's all well and good for you, Michael Kleen, but, hopefully, you won't mind if those of us who DO NOT CONSENT to be members (citizens/subjects) of “the state”, strongly disagree with that premise.

BrianDrake's picture

Wow, my comment spawned an entire STR article! Woohoo! I'm flattered.

Edited to add: What's it take to getting full article writing creds here? Publishing an "Exclusive to STR" article carries so much more weight than simply replying in the comments.

Paul's picture

Rob has a page about submitting articles, just follow the directions there. I can't guarantee he'll take yours though. ;-)

BrianDrake's picture

"That is, three statists could not impose the state on you, even though you did nothing at all!"

Actually, yes they did. The existence of a ballot to decide those issues was the imposition.

4 property owners

3 want to join communally to democratically decide the rules.

4th property owner declines their offer, "I'll decide the rules for my own property, thank you."

The other 3 leave him alone, vote, and abide by the election results.

No state.

But the moment the 3 refuse to allow the 4th to decline their offer, and instead hold the election anyway, with the expressed intent to enforce the results on the 4th owner's property as well, they have, by their action, formed a state. They have extended jurisdiction of their monopoly of decision making by fiat. The fact that they can't "pass" any of their rules does not change the fact they fully intended to enforce any rules voted on; imposing them on the 4th, unwilling owner.

Of course, if the 4th agrees to the election, then there's no problem. It seemed unclear in your example, because even "real anarchists" can make voluntary arrangements with others that include the agreement to abide by democratic decisions.

Do you really find it convincing that their failure (to pass their own preferred rule) negates their intent? If I shoot at you, but miss, am I still "friendly" towards you? Or would you not be accurate in describing me as your enemy, just not a very effective one (thankfully for you)?

If I lunge at you with a sword, intent on severing your hand, am I not an "assailant" because I have no designs towards your feet? I'm perplexed by your assertion that those who advocate a state for a single-issue (but are ambivalent on all others) don't truly qualify. How many ideas must a person advocate imposed on me before they're accurately described as supporting a state (a "statist" in other words)? 4? 5? 15 and 3/5?

That people are ok with the idea (and many passionately advocate) that outside will be imposed on me by threat of violence makes them my enemy, whether that will is actually imposed on me or not. Also, let's be clear, THEY make themselves my enemy by advocating, or tolerating threats against me. It's not my fault for this enmity. If you piss on me and call it rain, don't expect me to call it that as well.

Recognizing a fact (people who seek to harm me, or support those who do, have set themselves against me) does not dictate the response. We can "love our enemies", for one. Or if you aren't of that persuasion, you can still seek to convert your enemies to friends simply out of self-interest (which is fine) since they outnumber you.

Identifying your enemies, and calling them that to their faces, are not necessarily the same. That we recognize advocates of the state as enemies is no proof that is how we interact with them.

Paul's picture

"But the moment the 3 refuse to allow the 4th to decline their offer, and instead hold the election anyway, with the expressed intent to enforce the results on the 4th owner's property as well, they have, by their action, formed a state. They have extended jurisdiction of their monopoly of decision making by fiat. The fact that they can't "pass" any of their rules does not change the fact they fully intended to enforce any rules voted on; imposing them on the 4th, unwilling owner."

"Formed a state"? Or at least recognized its existence? Yes.

Oh, you were thinking we could become free by convincing the three to give up the state. Good luck on that. Let me know when you've convinced everyone in a state to not have a state. I will be happy to move there.

Getting back to the planet Earth, though, I'm thinking there may have to be a few intermediate steps before we get to that happy condition. I'm less interested in theoretical objections such as you raise, and more in things like "How can I stay out of jail?" "How can I keep the money I make?" That sort of thing. That, and demonstrating to statists (many of whom will be interested) that a free community actually can exist, and prosper.

Oh, and I'm not only so easy-going as to accept a legislative or electoral recognition of my community's freedom. Hell, I'll even not mind it if the ruling class outlaws us completely - as long as they are too scared to actually come in and do a Waco on us, for fear we will retaliate in kind. In this world, it is good to keep one's standards low. Their leaving us alone may be grudging (and I'm certain it will be at first), but that's good enough for me.

BrianDrake's picture

About my comment that is quoted in the article; my claim was that if you could convince your neighbors to leave you alone, you would have convinced them to be voluntaryists. The condition is "convince them to leave you alone". Desiring to leave you alone in all areas except one does not satisfy this condition. Nor was the condition "if they reach electoral stalemate and are unable to do anything but leave you alone". So the examples in your article do not in any way address my statement. It may indeed be a "strange [line] of argument" and it may be incorrect. But you've done nothing to actually address it or attempt to correct it.

dhowlandjr's picture

Hello BrianDrake and other fellow freedom lovers. Brian I don't really disagree with any of the points you make, and certainly wouldn't want to prove them wrong. I also think Paul's points in the article are very valid. Should minarchists (or statists in general) be labelled as our enemies? Haven't they labelled anarchists as their enemies? Haven't they even gone so far as to make the idea of anarchy (or non-rule) seem ridiculous, impossible, and chaotic to the point that the dictionary defines it that way, and most of us grow up believing in it? The fact that most of us were statist to some degree for most of our lives has no effect on the principle. Once again the difference seems to devolve to the meaning of the words we use. And yes, to the degree that they give greater importance to the rules of the state than to the human beings affected by them, our children, parents, brothers, sisters and most of the people with whom we interact on a daily basis are our enemies (in the sense that at least theoretically, they wish to perpetuate what is harming us). On the other hand, enemy could be considered a statist term in itself. Are voluntaryists really "fighting" the state? Or does fighting over it convert it to a war between two states (or wannabe states)? A truly free perspective doesn't allow us to consider other human beings our enemies. They're just other self-interested beings who have been convinced through years of indoctrination and abuse that their abusers are their friends, protectors, benefactors, etc. If the term enemy implies conflict, then I think that those who have enemies are necessarily statist. Belligerent anarchism to me is an oxymoron. Patient questions that if gone unanswered reveal the hypocrisy of those who advocate authoritarian controls can be much more effective than direct attacks and accusations. It's simply impossible to impose a voluntaryist (or anarchistic, or simply correct) viewpoint on others. We all have it, it's a basic part of our nature and our survival mechanism, and the degree to which we suppress and ignore it is the degree to which we allow or cause our own enslavement. And I think we're all still doing it to some degree, but let's try to stop. We ourselves are the enemy, everytime we allow ourselves to do less than what's possible or more than what's effective in the achievement of our goals.

Samarami's picture

dhowlandjr, posted on February 21, 2011:

"...It's simply impossible to impose a voluntaryist (or anarchistic, or simply correct) viewpoint on others. We all have it, it's a basic part of our nature and our survival mechanism, and the degree to which we suppress and ignore it is the degree to which we allow or cause our own enslavement...."

Sam replies:

Your comment, as I see it, is the solution to the debate. Do you ever wonder, dhowlandjr, if anybody is listening???

The enormity of the truth is incredible.

Sam

Paul's picture

Don't forget that one of the ruling class's primary tools is "divide and conquer". Calling virtually everybody our enemy just plays into that fact, makes us easy to conquer.