Where's the State?


Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

Any phone book has a long list of government offices. So isn't this a silly question?

Not really. All those listed items are departments of government, or representatives of the State, or Town etc. Where and what exactly is the state itself? Like the famous Wendy's ad from 1984, we're interested in the core of the matter: Where's the Beef?
If you want to know where or what is IBM, or any other company or club or church, it's not hard to find out. The phone book may show its head office, or if not any search engine probably will. There will be a place (presently, a government office--but in the coming free society, any physical or on-line service could do it) where shareholders are named and listed. Its annual meeting gives a chance to meet all or some of them. They are real, and they associated in a businesslike way, with a contract stating what are their purposes, what is the limit of its liability, etc.
But the state, or government? Not so easy. It's gray and ephemeral, hidden from plain view. How exactly can we even define it? Louis XIV of France supposedly said "I am the state" because he had centralized control of the country so fully, but that bon mot is remarkable mainly because it's so unusual, less than credible; the state is something separate from any one person, however powerful. More authentic is Louis' deathbed remark: "I depart, but the State shall always remain." So he did really know that the state isn't identical with those who run it.
The best attempt I know is that the state is "the forced absence of a market." But that defines it by a negative! Curiouser and curiouser. Other attempts say government, or the state, is "that which claims a monopoly on initiated force in a specified area" or domain. This is a pretty strange entity, despite its numerous listings in the phone book. And for sure, it has no registered owners or shareholders, though some cynics might point to K Street.
The identity of the state's chief is well known: President, Governor, Mayor, Selectman, etc. But Mayor, etc. of what? What is, precisely, a city? It might be a geographic area, or a set of people living inside its borders, or . . . what? It's no use saying that government is what people elect to perform certain useful tasks, because sometimes government isn't elected at all. In any case, notoriously government does things that ordinary folk cannot do, like forcing A to pay for things desired or needed by B. Election is all very well, but it cannot be a delegation of power, because nemo dat quod non habet -- nobody can give (delegate) what he does not in the first place possess.
Frederic Bastiat, the French politician and economist (an unusual combination) was prominent in the mid-1800s, and (much more unusual) he figured out what government is. He said it is "that great fiction, by which everybody tries to live at the expense of everybody else." We may recognize the second half of that, but notice the first: it's a great fiction. Fictions are works of imagination. They are not real.
So the truth emerges: the state, or government, is fictional. Mythological. Sometimes myths and fairy tales are useful; the myth of Santa Claus generates fun and excitement and generosity each December, for example. Sometimes they are a deadly hindrance to human progress. But none of them are objectively real. They are all figments of imagination. They exist only in the minds of believers.
Voltaire famously said, "If god did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him," but the late Christopher Hitchens countered "Voltaire was simply ludicrous . . . the human invention of god is the problem to begin with.” Hitchens failed, alas, to extend that accurate perception to government; some say it's "necessary," but the fact is that the invention of the government myth is the problem to begin with.
There's a range of corollaries from this discovery. "Government property" for example must be an oxymoron; a fiction cannot own stuff. A company can, because a company is an association of real people who have agreed to act as one, and who have contributed capital to be used in its purchase; but a myth obviously cannot. Similarly, a fiction cannot enter or enforce a contract, yet in any morally structured society, no obligations can exist absent specific, freely drawn contracts. This is a massive defect of the state which was "rectified" by Robert Alexander in 1989, as shown here. Its first clause begins: "I will surrender a percentage of my property to the Government. The actual percentage will be determined by the Government and will be subject to change at any time . . . ."
What, though, about the "Pledge of Allegiance" that children are often taught to chant? Is not that a form of contract? They say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
A flag is a piece of cloth, supposedly a symbol for a "republic" or a "nation." Someone pledging allegiance to a cloth is several cards short of a full deck, and "republic" and "nation" are alternative words for a state, which as we just saw is a myth; so the kiddies are being drilled to hand control of their lives to a symbol for a fairy tale. If any are unable to grasp the utter absurdity of that, they must themselves be victims of such drilling. For good measure come "liberty and justice for all," but there is no possibility of liberty being delivered by an entity whose whole design and structure is to control people, nor any of justice, at any rate in disputes involving government itself, which is often the case, for the first requirement of justice is that it be impartial. That teachers can carry out such drills with straight faces only exposes either the malevolence in their hearts or the sawdust between their ears.
Well and good, some may say, but the state is solid enough when it comes visiting with its armed and padded police and its choppers and drones and prisons, for all that it's supposed to be as intangible as a ghost. True enough, but the unfortunately frequent application of government force tells us something else about its nature: that while it truly doesn't exist, armed and uniformed thugs calling themselves agents of the state do very much exist. Place the two together and what do we have? A section of society imposing itself on everyone else, under an authority which is pure invention. They say they represent the state, but there exists no state for them to represent, so we can see clearly what they truly are: individual thugs and parasites, and nothing more whatever.
What's the remedy? Obviously, that rationality replace such superstition, and everyone now doing so stops working for a fiction. The means are provided; each person must do his or her very lightweight part, but doing nothing at all is not an option that will produce the needed fix. And in the meantime, while the state survives for its final few years? I suggest referring to, and thinking clearly of, the thugs who exercise its force as individuals with names. Not "Sheriff Kelly Janke," for that includes a title granted by a mythical entity; just Kelly Janke, of 123 Main Street in town. Not "Officer Smith" or "Chief Jones" but Tim Smith who failed to graduate from high school, and Bubba Jones who was in his distant youth in trouble for DUI and is now the father of two overweight kids. Identify the creeps as peoples' neighbors, and then gradually, the culprits will find they are excluded from civilized company. A handy motive for finding alternative, honest work.
In fact, during the interval prior to Evaporation Day, it would be really neat if someone could create an online index of government employees, all 20 million of them--which is of course a database far smaller than Facebook's. A bit like Wikipedia biographies, with input from those who encounter them, complete with as much detail as available and with proper standards of civility and factuality. Then when someone else hears from a "public servant," he can quickly look up his bio to find out who he's dealing with, and later add a few words about his experience. Those who think they have nothing to hide can hardly object, while those who have crawled out from under a rock will be known for what they are, and better encouraged to seek alternative employment.


Your rating: None Average: 8.8 (4 votes)
Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


WhiteIndian's picture

The State wields the sword that enforces the business of the Farmer's plowshares, and all the subsequent division of labor and production and concentration of wealth of agricultural city-Statism (civilization.)

There is no use beating plowshares (a Mass-Death Culture technique to dominate Nature's Flora) into swords (a mass-Death Culture technique to dominate Nature's Fauna) until we decide that one specie of the family dominating the rest of Mother Evolution's Tree of Life family* is, eventually, suicidal.
* The Great Tree of Life http://evogeneao.com/tree.html

Mark Davis's picture

Jim, I like your idea for starting a database of bios for state agents.

Scott Lazarowitz's picture

The State is not fictional. It really exists. The State is the biggest, most well-organized criminal enterprise anywhere. That really is all it is, a criminal organization, consisting of people whose daily existence is to criminally interfere with, intrude upon, commit violence against and murder innocent human beings. And that's it.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Scott Lazaowitz,

Hope this helps.

    FIC'TION, n. [L. fictio, from fingo, to feign.] ...2. That which is feigned, invented or imagined. ~ Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language

Ask yourself, was the STATE "feigned, invented or imagined"[1], and the obvious answer is YES; it therefore can be easily seen that it is, indeed, a fiction. It was first "imagined", then it was "invented", by the use of "feigned" words.

Now, when we put that together with this concept...

...we see that it can be a very dangerous fiction. gfywi

[1] The same holds true, by the way, for "IBM, or any other company or club or church" or "a crew on a ship", a "hunting party", a "married couple" or a "family"; the only thing non-fiction about any them are their individual human members. A good litmus test, to determine if something is fiction, or non-fiction, is to imagine what would happen if every human being on Earth developed amnesia simultaneously. Would a STATE exist (except on paper)? Would a "family" exist? The honest answer is NO; only the individual human beings that once made up these fictions, would exist. gfywi

Now, on the other hand, "if every human being on Earth developed amnesia simultaneously", would the Earth stills exist; would the trees still exist; would the sun still exist; would silver still exist? Then these are non-fiction.

WhiteIndian's picture

Just because you develop amnesia with your incantations of word-magic, doesn't make human relationships — like crews, families, clubs, churches, or even the sociopolitical typology of the state — magically disappear.

Your body's physical phenotype exhibits something biologists call low sexual dimorphism. One of the biological measurements in mammals is canine tooth size. This is because "social behavior," "hierarchy" and "egalitarianism" "sexual selection" are NOT fictions. Your short canine teeth are an evolutionary result of social concepts and relationships. Yes, they're quite real.

The level of evasion here is enormous. While Ayn Rand did plenty of it herself, she describes evasion well via John Galt's speech:

"...they believe that reality can be altered by the power of the words they do not utter—and their magic tool is the blank-out, the pretense that nothing can come into existence past the voodoo of their refusal to identify it."

That describes you and the "state doesn't exist" flakes to a tee.

P.S. If everybody developed amnesia, would amnesia exist? It doesn't according to your "litmus test."

Jim Davies's picture

It really does not, Scott, for the reasons I stated. It consists of a bunch of individual criminals (though that term won't actually do, for a "crime" is the fracture of a government law) who ought to be held individually accountable.

Thanks Mark, the database idea was an afterthought but it could be useful. I wonder if it could be done. Mark Zuckerberg, are you there?

WhiteIndian's picture

Does a "crew" on a ship exist? Does a "hunting party" exist? Does a "married couple" exist? Does a "family" exist?

Yes; humans are social animals, and behave as such.

The "city-State" exists too. However, it's not one of the gratifying social groupings of humans, because The city-State:

• Forces hierarchy on human beings who are evolved to be egalitarian
• Forces people into Mass Society beyond their evolved neurobiological capacity (Dunbar's Number)
• Forces people to abandon evolutionarily stable lifeways.

Scott Lazarowitz's picture

Jim, if the State doesn't really exist, then by whom are all those reckless and murderous CIA drone operators employed? On whose behalf are all those cop-thugs enforcing "laws," and what is it that is making those "laws"?

Well, if the State doesn't really exist, then neither do Goldman Sachs, Raytheon, BP, and Halliburton.

Suverans2's picture

That is correct, Scott Lazarowitz, as was written to you earlier, "The same holds true, by the way, for "IBM, or any other company or club or church" or "a crew on a ship", a "hunting party", a "married couple" or a "family"; the only thing non-fiction about any them are their individual human members." Add to that list, "Goldman Sachs, Raytheon, BP, and Halliburton"; they are corporations and corporations are artificial persons, i.e. fictions.

WhiteIndian's picture

Corporations, crews, families, marriages: they don't exist; that is, they don't exist to those who evade reality.

Jim Davies's picture

Scott, I tried to answer those very questions in the first few paragraphs of the article. Can't improve on them. Worth a re-read?

AtlasAikido's picture


The idea that "somehow" we MUST chose the lesser of two evils--institutionalized evil Vs chaos. One can see thru that false alternative and grasp that the Most Dangerous Superstition as Larken Rose wrote in his book, is the implied or explicit belief in the need for such nightmares in order to provide law and order. It is a myth, superstition, made up, unreal...and the reason why ideas are more powerful than a bullet or a standing army. It is the wrong ideas that supports the whole apparatus of sociopaths. and the right ideas that remove the sanction/complicity of the victim. John Galt's Oath in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.


In a prior thread discussion the purpose of such things as the Covenant is not to CONTROL the government and those who still think and act on "We"-isms (much like statists and sociopaths), but to provide a form of self-governance.

But I have no doubt Jim and Suverans2 will have some good points to make.

WhiteIndian's picture

As you declare your antisocial ideology, are you aware that "sociopathy" is defined as Antisocial personality disorder?

And can you explain how "'we'-ism" is somehow "antisocial?" Do you even know what "we" means?

AtlasAikido's picture

The Covenant of Unanimous Consent confirms to me that I should stay away from some and trade with others. This is hardly anti-social; and what and who I choose to talk to makes a difference (last time I looked). I do not talk to sociopaths (who are antithetical to the Covenant of Unanimous Consent)....

Follow the links and come to your own decisions Dear Reader, Clearly for some *I* nor anyone else on this site of individuals has a clue about *anything* regarding living personal freedom nor agoras or market places including Browne, Thoreau, Smith, Rand, Davidson...

This discussion which some here ARE continuing to sidetrack is that the purpose of such things as the Covenant is NOT to CONTROL the government and those who still think and act on "We"-isms (*much like statists and sociopaths*), but to provide a form of SELF-governance.

And the young Neil Smith (1985) used this distinction of *I* governance vs *We* government when writing the Covenant ( http://tinyurl.com/Galts-Oath-and-the-Covenant ).

Last time I looked the folks who speak of "We"-isms have no authentic self. In-fact they have no respect for boundaries as they speak for what is good others; they impose on others AND they try to control others using We-ism 's and by definition are primary and secondary sociopaths who want to rule/control/tear down others and the world.

WhiteIndian's picture

So Atlas and Niel are farmers in this glorious new 2 minute old utopia without a State.

A neighboring farmer Bill fills in the ditch that runs across his property that drains your farms. Hey, it'll give him more land to farm!

Unfortunately, even though he benefits from what he has done to his property, your farms will become saturated with water and will become unsuitable to planting agricultural crops.

Remember, that neighbor farmer owns the land through which the ditch runs, and the State government (and county government) rules stated only that he must allow other water from other properties to drain through, and to also allow equipment to sometimes clear the muck out of the bottom.

But such State "law and order" is all gone now.

What do you do?

What do you think the other 23 "property" owners are going to do when their farms' drainage has been blocked?

Farmers won't stand for somebody plugging the drainage system. Seems your "covenant" lasted, oh, about 5 minutes before word got around at the coffee shop beside the feed mill.

I heard they elected a Sheriff, and several farmers with rifles formed a posse to protect Frank running the backhoe digging out that drainage ditch Bill filled in on his "property."

Oh, the newly formed government levied taxes on the 23 farms to pay for the excavator to re-dig the drainage ditch.

What have anthropologists and archeologists observed all around the world with many different kinds of cultures?

"Agriculture creates government." ~Richard Manning, Against the Grain, p.73

AtlasAikido's picture

Apparently there are IS a "We"ist Utopia monger acting as if *his* drooling beast issues are my problem. Hopeless.

AtlasAikido's picture

What I have proposed is self-governance and how that occurs. This hardly requires me to be auto-sufficient nor to work out every application of "we"-st. In fact it has everything to do with my proposal, Jim Davidson's and Neil L Smiths of self-governance and nothing to do with controlling "We"ists.

I tend my garden. You tend yours. What needs to scale?

What I have been proposing and living: is being around lots and lots of people who know that you own yourself. They don't want you to be subjected to "limited" state aggression, or "constitutional" state aggression, or their own favorite flavor of state aggression or "We'-ism; they want you to have NO ONE committing aggression against you. How extreme! How often are you around more than three people at a time who want you to be truly free?.

If this is a problem for some it is a personal problem. Not mine. More specifically the issue regarding what are "we going to do":
Freedom Has No System--Challenge the premise. There is no “we.”

WhiteIndian's picture

"...how that occurs."

Where has such an occurrence been observed? Pray tell.

"...lots and lots of people who know..."

Lots and lots of people make city-STATES. Every. Single. Time.

AtlasAikido's picture

The word *I* would seem to be incomprehensible model. And *I* have observed and traded with compatible others...And I have even provided links to such "hows".

How hard is this for some to grasp?

As for the rest I am loosing interest rapidly.

WhiteIndian's picture

It's not hard to grasp "I." Egalitarian non-State society has people who are "autonomous and sovereign" individuals who "bow to no external political leaders." (Service, 1975)

But that only happens in group sizes under Dunbar's Number.

Larger groups of people for hierarchy. And when group size gets to around 5000+, they form city-States.

Every. Single. Time.

That's the way people work.

The best you can do is evade reality. I keep bringing reality into the debate, so I have no doubt that you're rapidly loosing interest.

AtlasAikido's picture

I am grasping that there are those who continue to think and act on the premises of "what are *we* going to do?" When clearly there are individuals who have challenged the premise of "We" and have found freedom in an unfree world and can even point to how they achieved that..

WhiteIndian's picture

You're grasping for straws while you evade the empirical data in volumes of scholarly literature that refutes your premises about how people work.

Samarami's picture

"We", when it's you attempting to induct me into a group in which I have not chosen to participate, is the most dangerous word in the world (watch the video at the end of the article unless your ears are tender to foul language).

My world.

Jim, this is another quotable classic of yours, alongside many dozens of others.

The term I hear ringing through your essay is "reification". To reify is to treat an abstract as though it were a living, breathing entity -- to create an image of something out of nothing. Conquerors and their admirers have used this tactic incessantly throughout the ages to maintain legitimacy of state in the minds of people. In early history, once the hordes came to see there was no enduring profit in "scorched earth" practices (raping the women, massacring the entire cities and leaving the corpses to rot in the desert and the cities in smoldering ruins), they would keep the inhabitants alive as slaves...er, producers ("taxpayers", "citizens"); and, led by the kahn, let them Join-the-Family-of-Nations. Have their own flag in which to pledge allegiance. To what? To the Khan, of course. "My country 'tis of thee..."

The genius of "democracy" (any party of two robbing any party on one) came much later in history. Thanks for the article! Sam

WhiteIndian's picture

One could just as easily say "individualism, when its you attempting to induct me into civilization which I have not chosen to participate..."

Apparently pronouns aren't the real problem.

Domestication and living in large groups beyond human neurobiological limits, whether collectivism or individualism is the political flavor of the day, are the problems.

Domestication is the beginning of human violence, as extremely well documented by anthropology and archeology.

Large groups require hierarchy, which is the beginning of the state.

If you like violence and the state, you'll just love domestication and large groups.

Suverans2's picture

Hey Sam,

Here's Doug Stanhope on Freedom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTOQhPd2Xh4

Samarami's picture

This guy needs a drink. Sounds as if he's trying to sober up. Can't have that. Sam

AtlasAikido's picture

I only need to find those who are compatible with me. This is not hard to do. There will always be those who will be attracted to what I stand for. The Covenant of Unanimous Consent makes it possible for all to know what I love and stand for.

WhiteIndian's picture

I look forward to studying your voluntary city, or "Free State," if it happens.

I predict it will not ever happen, because you're evading the reality of how large groups of people actually behave, no matter what religion, constitution, covenant, or magical incantations they sign, pray to, or swear allegiance to, or pretend to not do any of that.