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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nock: The Criminal Exploiter State

Via Adam Ricketson on Eternal Vigilance. A killer quoe from Albert Nock, on the criminality of the state and its central purpose of class exploitation. From "The Criminality of the State," America Mercury Magazine, March 1939

[T]he State's criminality is nothing new and nothing to be wondered at. It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal. The idea that the State originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation -- that is to say, in crime. It originated for the purpose of maintaining the division of society into an owning-and-exploiting class and a propertyless dependent class -- that is, for a criminal purpose. No State known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose. Like all predatory or parasitic institutions, its first instinct is that of self-preservation. All its enterprises are directed first towards preserving its own life, and, second, towards increasing its own power and enlarging the scope of its own activity. For the sake of this it will, and regularly does, commit any crime which circumstances make expedient.


Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Sadly, Nock had no idea of what really happened in this area. His description of mature states is accurate, but their origins were usually nothing like that. Counrexamples include the development of the Kingdom of Israel, or the formation of England from the earlier Heptarchy.

By and large, things follow a typical pattern, driven by the fear of what Nock outlined. People accepted one particular protector against would be conquerors from outside. Most feudal relationships originated in this way - accepting a lesser evil, when the underlying evil was the presence of outside oppressors.

Typically, when outside oppressors arrive, either local institutions collapse (as in Africa faced by slaving), or some local group consolidates power on the Nixonian principle of "he may be a crook but at least he's our crook". Many polynesian kingdoms like Hawaii, and also Madagascar, matured in the face of outside contact.

Of course, Madagascar and Hawaii prove the reality of those outside threats; they were overthrown by France and the USA respectively. (See also Tahiti and France.)

The Heptarchy changed in the face of a real Danish threat, but wasn't built on emptiness - it was itself a collection of kingdoms of the Nockian sort. And many states simply replaced or stole from earl;ier states, rather than simply building up a power structure where there had been none; they were often welcomed as an improvement over what had been there before.

The story of Sarawak under the Rajahs is also illuminating. The Rajahs were welcomed by local Chinese immigrants for stabilising their position, and by natives for stopping the repression of Muslim warlords with less of a long term interest in keeping the cash cow healthy.

There's far more to be said on the area, but I will stop here. I suggest reading the end of the Book of Judges as well as the actual creation of a Kingdom of Israel - it gives context.

July 31, 2006 3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it's my understanding that there are two rival theories for the formation of the State - internal formation due to perceived threats, and external formation (i.e. conquering warlords). It's not clear to me which of these is the dominant one throughout history, but at least examples of the Nockian theory are easy to find. Might not Israel be an exception?

July 31, 2006 7:20 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Is there any supporting evidence for this version of the first Israeli state's history - outside the holy scriptures?

July 31, 2006 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is meant by "internal formation" vs. "external formation"? I'm assuming this means state formation among a people with a shared language and culture vs. conquest by foreigners.

From a methodological individualist perspective there may be nary a difference between the two, though the former would go SOMEWHAT toward refuting Nock's claim, as it would seem to approach a more democratic ideal in the provision of collective security.


July 31, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the comments, all.

I agree with PML that Oppenheimer's outside conquest model of the state is too one-sided to be accepted exclusively. I recently saw an article by Hoppe (referred by Keith Preston) speculating on the internal formation of the state from pre-state social elites. Another theor of internal formation is the "hydraulic theory" of the riverine civilizations.

What all of these theories (including Oppenheimer's) have in common, though, is they could only come about when the economic means produced a surplus to be exploited; and after its formation, the state quickly became a tool of class exploitation.

July 31, 2006 11:52 AM  
Blogger Laurent GUERBY said...

What is your definition of state? Of crime? What's a non-state?

July 31, 2006 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A state is an institution that mostly succeeds in claiming a monopoly in a certain area of dispute resolution, law-making, and the use of force. Since the use of force is the most important aspect, the definition can be shortened to "a group or institution that claims and mostly succeeds at having a monopoly on the use of force in a certain area". Theoretically you could have a minimalist-state that did not tax and supported itself through donations, but historically states tend to tax and further economically exploit their subjects.

July 31, 2006 12:40 PM  
Blogger Laurent GUERBY said...

No one, not even the state, can have a monopoly on the use of force in the current world (otherwise terrorism wouldn't exist). You can buy deadly weapons in most (if not all) countries, and use them.

Of course using violence you won't win against bigger than you, but then how do you prevent a group of person to outperform you violence-wise in any social system?

Is there any coherent proposal out there to do away/better than "modern" state systems?

August 01, 2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one, not even the state, can have a monopoly on the use of force in the current world (otherwise terrorism wouldn't exist).

That's why I included the phrase "mostly succeeds". If terrorists managed to mostly attain a monopoly on force then they would simply become the new state in a given area. Many contemporary terrorist groups such as Hezbollah have establishing their own government as an explicit goal.

Of course using violence you won't win against bigger than you, but then how do you prevent a group of person to outperform you violence-wise in any social system?

Is that English?

August 02, 2006 8:11 AM  
Blogger Laurent GUERBY said...

Sorry about my bad english, I'm French :).

I can rephrase: how do you prevent a large enough group to use violence to become what you call a "state" over a certain area ?

August 02, 2006 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laurent Guerby and Anon,

I'd say a state is the agency that claims the right to define legitimate use of force in an area, and claims a monopoly on the legitimate right to initiate force in the name of the community.

--Kevin Carson

August 02, 2006 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


that issue has been discussed quite a bit. Here are a couple of initial sources on the debate:


Suffice it to say there are a variety of opinions on what exactly the state should be replaced with, and how exactly to go about maintaining a stateless society once established.

August 02, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger Laurent GUERBY said...

Kevin, ok so state = violence is the axiom. No one has to prove axioms, that's easy :).

Anon, it looks like those very long documents authors are working very hard to avoid answering my simple question.

To me, there will always be people that want to use violence, these people through history tend to join together and oppress a larger population not so inclined.

If one propose a way to organize society, one has to cope with this, not to ignore it...

August 04, 2006 1:41 PM  

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