Libertarian Jackass

"Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak truth." -- Schopenhauer

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Our Enemy, Yale: Daniel McCarthy on "the State"

I passed along my friend's comments about 'the State' because I thought they
were rather ironic, given that Libertarian Jackass himself has been known to
criticize libertarians who obsess over 'the state' in the abstract and never
bring the discussion down to the level of particulars. LJ noted that
while truly libertarian (i.e. Austrian) economics is methodolically
individualist and concerned with human action, we still keep talking about
the non-human State as if it had an independent reality of its own.

Of course, I'm as guilty of that as anyone. What's more, I do think
there's an important sense in which the State, and other social institutions
like the family or corporations, does merit being treated as an entity in
its own right, even apart from its components. But it's undeniably true
that all this talk about 'the State' gets very stale very quickly and can
make us all sound like jargon-spouting cultists.

Lately I've been thinking about the implications of treating 'statists' as a
class rather than 'the State' as an entity. There's good precedent for
this: before Karl Marx developed his theory of class there had been other
theories of class that used the possession of political power, rather than
control of the means of production, to mark out the different strata of
society. John C. Calhoun developed one such theory, several of the better
French classical economists, Bastiat for example, had developed similar
theories. And going back further, Etienne de la Boetie is also working
along parallel lines in "The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude."

My own theory of class, assuming I ever dream one up, is probably going to
be quite a bit different from these, but they give me something to work
with. I mean, isn't Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, every bit as much a part
of 'the State' -- if not more so -- than some clerk at the DMV? Certainly
if you want to understand how 'the State' operates you need to understand
Ellison and Oracle at least as well as the DMV. And what about, say, Yale
University? It's Yale, really, the State? The guy who started the Free
State Project, Jason Sorens, is probably ok -- he actually seems to have his
head screwed on straight, even though the FSP sounds like the kind of
hare-brained scheme libertarians are always hatching -- but Sorens aside,
how many anti-statist Yalies are there?

Nock wrote the classic, "Our Enemy, the State." We need a few more great
books to be written, with titles like, "Our Enemy, Yale."

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