The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

While there are many books both in and out of print designed to proselytize for a voluntary society to a layman audience, none perhaps have done so while retaining the kind of populist feel present in this offering from author Gregory Sams.

Initially published in 1998 in a slightly less expansive form, earlier this year saw the latest edition of The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better hit both shelves and online outlets. A denizen of Britain, Sams provides an approach to the subject, and an accessible voice, that may well prove critical to garnering a more widespread acceptance of market anarchist ideas and philosophy. There are no Austrian economics here, no pontifications upon the merits of philosophers obscure to the general public, no appeals to the righteousness of libertarianism. There is instead a dissection of familiar everyday reality – both to Brits and Yanks – and a host of common-sense suggestions as to how these aspects of human endeavor and experience might function infinitely better in a zero-government environ.

In its various 32 chapters, Sams’s book, while intelligently written, makes few pretensions towards advanced academia. Credited by the author as influences are some of the early chaos theorists, such as Benoit Mandlebrot, Ralph Abraham, and Edward Lorenz (he of the “Butterfly Effect” theorem). Others range from ancient philosopher Lao Tzu, to the perfectly Coast to Coast AM-ish Charles Fort. Perhaps most significant among libertarian anarchists, professor Andrew J. Galambos – of whom the author was once a student – looms large. The stage set thusly, however, the author’s voice is his own, and he makes good use of it.

In fact, straight away at page 12, we find Sams making a salient point about the genesis of government – insofar as archeology can thus far inform us. In speaking about the Ancient Mesopotamia rooms at the British Museum – where the pieces stretch back to 6,500 BC, he writes, “I have scoured them twice and not been able to find a single artifact representing weapons, warriors, chariots, or conquest – prior to 2600 BCE. That time marked the first record of organized violence, when a few hundred armed men from Sumer vanquished the Elamites, inaugurating the coercive state.”

From this premise, Sams is quick to follow up with an indictment of various myths surrounding the alleged “necessity” of the government apparatus, wherein he issues forth this observation at page 49: “If you search through history for contributions to society that had their origins in state planning or state programs, you will find a frugal harvest – things like margarine, radar, and beet sugar. Do not give the state credit for the amazing progress and order that our society has created, often after having to overcome the resistance and regulations and predation of the state.”

Indeed, Sams’ extrapolations with regard to chaos theory run as a parallax with Austrian school economic thought in that they are relied upon to demonstrate the inadequacy of centralized government planning, in addition to the market’s superior ability to produce the equilibrium of natural order – or “order out of chaos.” And here he again recapitulates the state’s interference with society’s ability to otherwise solve critical problems through voluntary, non-coercive means.

Equally unapologetic is Sams’ consideration of typical objections government apologists raise. He is plain in his assertions at pages 55-56 that, “We do not have the freedom or finances to govern ourselves under the constant burden of the state. Without this burden, and with the consequent release of wealth back to society, it is neither naive nor idealistic to expect that those problems we rely upon the state to manage would be greatly reduced. Products and services would become cheaper, and we would have more funds to deal intelligently with our remaining problems. All that talent wasted on tax avoidance schemes and weapons-design could be put to good use. And we would all benefit from a massive boost in positive enterprise and employment as society rose to meet the challenge of providing those services that the state has been mismanaging for decades and in some cases centuries.”

Sams next addresses government coercion itself quite plainly at page 65: “Coercion disregards the feedback loop. The state cannot survive without coercion and we cannot sustainably evolve with it.” And, “We must recognize that coercion is not a viable mechanism for change. In the long term it always produces negative results.”

Sams continues in this vein with more specificity as the book progresses, delving further into the follies of central planning in economic matters; self-ownership and victimless “crimes”; crony-capitalist mercantilism (or the merger of state and state-enabled corporate entities); centralized banking and fiat currency creation (key to the hidden “tax” of inflation); the arms industry; the War on Drugs; socialized health care, and several other abominations that inherently derive from government’s existence. In each instance, the author provides extensive real-life examples of the state’s failure to live up to its hollow promises – all the while stifling alternatives. The evidence builds to become nothing short of damning.

As to how to ultimately go about getting the King Kong-sized monkey of the state off our backs forever, Sams presents no hard specifics. He does simultaneously advocate both non-voting and the One Less Party concept – wherein a vote for such a non-candidate would equal permanent elimination of that bureaucrat’s post – as viable concepts. He also goes the well-known libertarian route of advocating insurance companies as a mechanism capable of picking up much of the infrastructural duties currently monopolized by government. Beyond this, he is loathe to promote any one conceptual model – correctly, in my view, leaving such considerations to the ingenuity and initiative of market forces. He does leave readers, at page 256, with this kernel of wisdom, however (and this is a book full of useful quotations smathered throughout, from public figures both modern and ancient): “If we choose to attack the state and are successful, we then become the next state. Do not attack the state, nor depend on its tainted milk. Just live without it as a focus in your life and build to survive its inevitable decay.”

I here advance my own notion that this book, especially when presented to those who have yet to tread the anarchist path, may well serve to assist in doing just that.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.