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.