The State

pyramid_of_capitalist_system

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s begin by clarifying that “the state” in my blog context is not the state in terms of geographical boundaries (I had to clarify that with Dr. Adelman), so remove that ideology from your mind as you read on.

To fully understand the definition of the state in terms of a political entity, one must comprehend what it is not in conjunction with what it is: “A state is a form of political association or polity that is distinguished by the fact that it is not itself incorporated into any other political associations, though it may incorporate other such associations. The state is thus a supreme corporate entity because it is not incorporated into any other entity, even though it might be subordinate to other powers (such as another state or an empire). One state is distinguished from another by its having its own independent structure of political authority, and an attachment to separate physical territories. The state is itself a political community, though not all political communities are states. A state is not a nation, or a people, though it may contain a single nation, parts of different nations, or a number of entire nations. A state arises out of society, but it does not contain or subsume society. A state will have a government, but the state is not simply a government, for there exist many more governments than there are states. The state is a modern political construction that emerged in early modern Europe, but has been replicated in all other parts of the world. The most important aspect of the state that makes it a distinctive and new form of political association is its most abstract quality: it is a corporate entity.”

In the image at the top right of this page, entitled Pyramid of the Capitalist System, we can see a money bag representative of capitalism on the top tier and the state, represented by monarchy and other ruling lords positioned right underneath. Economics writer, Jeffrey Tucker, gave an excellent example of how the state is a separate, corporate entity during a lecture at the 2013 Australian Mises Seminar (How’s that for research?!). He paraphrased the misconceptions about what the state is and what it does by using German sociologist, Franz Oppenheimer’s book The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically. Tucker stated that: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a monarchy or a democracy or a republican form of government or any other state…the state uses different means to control society…any state of any sort always lives a parasitical existence off the rest of the social order. It has no money of its own, everything it has it must get from society itself. It has only one real tool that distinguishes itself form the rest of society, and that is the use of force. Coercion is the key mark of the state.” According to Tucker, the state can commit atrocities like murder and kidnapping, which would land the average citizen in jail. However, the state operates with immunity when it deems these acts necessary.

Oppenheimer stated in his book there are essentially two ways an individual can become wealthy in society: by economic means or political means. Oppenheimer wrote: “There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation!”[1] Oppenheimer clearly distinguished between the two when he wrote: “I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”[2] The political means are what Tucker alluded to in his lecture and situated under the military are the parasites he spoke of, in the Pyramid of Capitalist System image: the bourgeoisie class the state uses to siphon off of society. Underneath, at the base of the pyramid, are the myriad laborers who form the proletariat—or working class—who produce the goods and services that spark the capitalist engine.

To put it all together, Oppenheimer referred to this leaching of wealth as the “political means,” and thus the state is simply “an organization of the political means.” He added: “No state, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which objects may be taken away or appropriated by warlike robbery.” [3] However, while the proletariat produces these objects, the state, not the proletariat, controls the means of production, and therefore can take—by force if necessary—what it needs or wants.

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[1] Franz Oppenheimer, The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically (London: FB & C Ltd, 2015), 24.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 27.

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4 thoughts on “The State

  1. David,
    I really liked this post, especially the point at which you acknowledged that the state is separated by its ability to use force and to operate in an extralegal manner when it is deemed necessary. This has always been a high area of interest for me, what measures taken by the state (in times of emergency) exceed and invade public rights and just how far can “the state” go in order to “protect” the people within its social order? I also liked the point you made about the state being a parasitic entity that has to live off of society in order to thrive; it really harks to the democratic idea that a state is nothing without the people that make it up.
    Well Done,
    Matt Woodward

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    • Thanks, Matt. I actually enjoyed watching Jeffrey Tucker’s lecture. It was intriguing listening to him speak on all the things the state can do that are illegal if you or I attempt them. I cannot kidnap you, and you cannot kidnap me, but the state can kidnap both of us during times of war with no problem whatsoever. His statement that the use of force is the one real tool that distinguishes the state form the rest of society is so powerful in its truthfulness. He has some other really interesting video lectures. Another one I watched dealt with his view that the nation-state isn’t relevant in the digital age because citizens have digital “cloud” servers “where we can migrate…a zone of freedom that unleashes creativity.” Check him out when you get a chance because he is a captivating speaker. Thanks again for the reply.

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  2. David, an intriguing post. Two points:

    1. You may learn some interesting things about the perspective of the Mises Institute if you do a little more research on them.

    2. Most scholars attribute the idea that the state claims a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force” to German theorist Max Weber. See here for an example.

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    • Oh, Dr. Adelman, I learned some very interesting things about their perspectives. Allow me to share some of the more juicy ones:

      The head of the Institute, Lew Rockwell, wrote some rather interesting things about black people in the wake of the L.A. riots. In addition, it has a rather interesting interpretation of the American Civil War, viewing President Abraham Lincoln as the statist villain who sought to drastically expand the power of central government at the expense of states’ rights, rather than keep the Union intact in the face of a secession motivated by slave ownership. On that last, they feel that compensation for slave owners (as some had proposed back then) would have been better, preserving “states’ rights” and averting war, though Murray Rothbard has quipped that it was more the slaves who deserved compensation than their owners, at least. Some also point to various banking conspiracy theories as causes of the conflict. Ironically Lincoln himself feared the rising power of banks and industrial capitalism (as Thomas Jefferson did) while conspiracy theories of his own assassination often name international bankers as suspects. The Southern Poverty Law Center has condemned Rockwell and Rothbard’s racially-tinged rhetoric and endorsement of questionable candidates. Mises himself sidestepped the issue of whether some races are superior to others by stating that even if that is the case, the law of comparative advantage (referred to by Mises as “Ricardo’s law of association”) still enables members of different races to cooperate in mutually beneficial ways: “It may be admitted that the races differ in talent and character and that there is no hope of ever seeing those differences resolved. Still, free trade theory shows that even the more capable races derive an advantage from associating with the less capable and that social co-operation brings them the advantage of higher productivity in the total labour process.” Mises believed that due to that economic law, there need not be irreconcilable conflict between the races, or enslavement of any race by another, although he also noted, “It is nonsensical to fight the racial hypothesis by negating obvious facts. It is vain to deny that up to now certain races have contributed nothing or very little to the development of civilization and can, in this sense, be called inferior.” Not very nice, not very nice at all!

      In response to your other point, I read an interesting article regarding the U.S. NOT having a monopoly on the legitimate use of force because it is a state made up of states. Check it out: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-the-us-who-has-the-monopoly-on-force/2016/07/13/fbcd45da-490d-11e6-90a8-fb84201e0645_story.html?utm_term=.119ae7539178

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