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Tom Palmer on the Origins of State and Government

Posted By Don Boudreaux On November 10, 2012 @ 7:30 pm In Civil Society,Complexity & Emergence,Myths and Fallacies | Comments Disabled

This new essay by Tom Palmer [1] might well be the single most clear and concise statement of the actual nature of the state – rather than of the state’s imaginary nature (a nature imagined by those who romance or anthropomorphize the collective) – ever published.  Two slices (but do read the whole thing):

Why do people have wealth?  Charles Dunoyer, an early libertarian sociologist, explained that “there exist in the world only two great parties; that of those who prefer to live from the produce of their labor or of their property, and that of those who prefer to live on the labor or the property of others.”  Simply put, makers produce wealth while takers appropriate it.

….

The evolution of freedom has involved a long process of bringing power under law. The imposition of force has nonetheless left a powerful imprint on our minds.  Alexander Rustow, a prominent sociologist and a father of the post-war revival of liberty in Germany, meditated on the origins of the state in violence and predation and its lingering imprint: “All of us, without exception, carry this inherited poison within us, in the most varied and unexpected places and in the most diverse forms, often defying perception.  All of us, collectively and individually, are accessories to this great sin of all time, this real original sin, a hereditary fault that can be excised and erased only with great difficulty and slowly, by an insight into pathology, by a will to recover, by the active remorse of it all.”  It takes work to free our minds from our dependence on the state.

When meditating on what it means to live as free people we should never forget that the state doesn’t grant to us our identities or our rights.  The American Declaration of Independence states, “That to secure these rights, Governments have been [sic] instituted among men.”  We secure what is already ours.  The state can add value when it helps us do that, but rights and society are prior to the state.  It’s critical to remember that the next time someone says, “You didn’t build that.”

Tom’s brilliant essay repays well a close reading.

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[1] This new essay by Tom Palmer: http://www.cato.org/pubs/catosletter/catosletterv10n4.pdf

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