Anatomy of the State

By Murray N. Rothbard

Synopsis: This is a short booklet adapted from an essay by Murray Rothbard. It lays out in crassly accurate terms the true nature of the State and its relation to individuals over whom it exercises power.

Strong Points: This book is good for expressing in rather incontrovertible terms the parasitic nature of the State. It takes a hammer to the notion that the State is a benefactor, a caretaker, or a benign, benevolent guardian. Leftists will not like this book, and lovers of freedom will feel a deep sympathy for its concepts.

Weak Points: This book is too expensive to have an appreciable cache of give-away copies. ($5 for a book less than 60 pages long.) Also, the incredibly worthy and able author was actually an anarchist politically, and I just can't go with him that far, since “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man … for the good and safety of society” (D&C 134:1). Nevertheless, much can be gleaned from this book about the evils of the State, and libertarians should consider adding this book to their library.

Interesting: 4.4/5

Must Read: 3/5

Overall: 3.8/5

Pages: 58

Selected Quotes: “Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a territorial area; in particular it is the only organization in society that obtains revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet. Having used force and violence to obtain its revenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate the other actions of its individual subjects.” (p. 11-12).

“Therefore, the King alone cannot rule; he must have a sizeable group of followers who enjoy the prerequisites of rule, for example, the members of the State apparatus, such as the full-time bureaucracy or the established nobility. But this still secures only a minority of eager supporters, and even the essential purchasing of support by subsidies and other grants of privilege still does not obtain the consent of the majority. For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the ‘opinion-molders’ in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.” (p. 19-20).

“The greatest danger to the State is independent intellectual criticism; there is no better way to stifle that criticism than to attack any isolated voice, any raiser of new doubts, as a profane violator of the wisdom of his ancestors. Another potent ideological force is to deprecate the individual and exalt the collectivity of society.” (p. 25).

“For while individual persons tend to indulge in ‘selfish greed,’ the failure of the State’s rulers to engage in exchanges is supposed to signify their devotion to higher and nobler causes – parasitic predation being apparently morally and esthetically lofty as compared to peaceful and productive work.” (p. 27-28).

“Thus, the State has invariably shown a striking talent for the expansion of its powers beyond any limits that might be imposed upon it. Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise, we must assert that the State is profoundly and inherently anticapitalist.” (p. 42).

“We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely – those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax.” (p. 45-46).

“On the one hand, there is creative productivity, peaceful exchange and cooperation; on the other, coercive dictation and predation over those social relations. Albert Jay Nock happily termed these contesting forces: ‘social power’ and ‘State power.’ Social power is man’s power over nature, his cooperative transformation of nature’s resources and insight into nature’s laws, for the benefit of all participating individuals. Social power is the power over nature, the living standards achieved by men in mutual exchange. State power, as we have seen, is the coercive and parasitic seizure of this production – a draining of the fruits of society for the benefit of nonproductive (actually antiproductive) rulers. While social power is over nature, State power is power over man.” (p. 53-54).


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