… is from the 1977 J. Huston McCulloch translation of Gustave de Molinari’s 1849 essay “The Production of Security” – an essay in which Molinari argues that security of person and property be supplied, not by the state, but instead competitively by entrepreneurial organizations:
When they saw the situation of the monopolizers of security [those in command of the state], the producers of other commodities could not help but notice that nothing in the world is more advantageous than monopoly. They, in turn, were consequently tempted to add to the gains from their own industry by the same process. But what did they require in order to monopolize, to the detriment of the consumers, the commodity they produced? They required force. However, they did not possess the force necessary to constrain the consumers in question. What did they do? They borrowed it, for a consideration, from those who had it. They petitioned and obtained, at the price of an agreed upon fee, the exclusive privilege of carrying on their industry within certain determined boundaries. Since the fees for these privileges brought the producers of security a goodly sum of money, the world was soon covered with monopolies. Labor and trade were everywhere shackled, enchained, and the condition of the masses remained as miserable as possible.
It is not too much of a simplification to describe the state as a merchant that jealously guards its monopoly over the use of force and then sells its expertise at deploying force to the highest bidders (bidders such as the northeastern textile-mill owners who lobbied in the 1930s for national minimum-wage legislation, and those many U.S. producers who are forever seeking higher taxes on Americans who buy imports).
In democratic countries the only real constraint upon this monopoly force agent is that it must, in order to retain its monopoly, put on a good show for the public – a show that, today, features some audience participation in order to strengthen the misimpression that the show is reality. It does have to stage performances that The People want to see, a show that makes The People smile and applaud and feel their hearts swell. The state must costume and title its functionaries (e.g., “the Hon.”) – it must erect awe-inspiring props (e.g., the dome of the Capitol building in Washington) – it must stage a 24/7/365 show such that its functionaries, thespians that they are, are always seen in public as magnanimous and wise and unusually powerful heroes fighting the good fight against cardboard villains.
If the show is sufficiently entertaining, the thespians can go on indefinitely deceiving the populace that their stage performances are reality – and the populace remains blind to the behind-the-stage dealings that are the entire point of the production.