Civilization is the Absence of the State

I was reading Fred Reed’s most recent column, in which he reminisces of his high school days in a country that no longer exists, when something occurred to me. Why it hadn’t before, I’m not sure.

It’s this: Civilization is not the presence of government, but the absence of it. Neither is it technological progress. A barbarian who uses an iPhone is still a barbarian.

Civilization is anarchy, a system of rules without rulers.

For those whose eyebrows are already raised incredulously, consider the definition of a civilized man. He adheres to rules, not because he must, but because he chooses to comply of his own free will. When we say someone is civilized, we don’t mean someone obeys the law when there is a police officer standing by to arrest him. Criminals typically avoid committing devious acts in front of law enforcement. If they’re brighter than a broken light bulb, that is. Civilized men adhere to rules even when given the opportunity to do otherwise and profit from it.

Reed’s column reflects on how he and his peers in high school didn’t commit crimes common among high schoolers today, despite being poorer. Not because they had police there to stop them. They were just plain civilized. They didn’t steal, rob, rape, or murder because you simply didn’t do those things. Things were not perfect, obviously. Perfection is a myth. But the difference between a society in which you can leave doors unlocked and one where you lock up everything when taking out the garbage is not to be dismissed.

The passage that affected me the most was this bit:

We, largely rural kids of the small-town South, represented without knowing it a culture, an approach to existence, and a devastating principle: You can’t impose decency, honesty, good behavior, or responsibility. They are in the culture, or they are not. If they are, you don’t need laws, police, and supervision. If they are not, laws won’t much help. And this is why the US is over, at least as the country we knew.

The real definition of civilization is the degree of natural order without the necessity of an artificial construct like the State, which attempts to claim exclusive authority to impose rules. A civilized culture may be under the State, but it does not require one to function.

That is the real question to ask: If all modern states were removed, leaving only the culture and society, what would happen? The civilized societies would organize peacefully, aside from minor conflicts. The uncivilized tear themselves to pieces.

When a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami wrecked Japan’s coastline, there were no riots. People didn’t loot businesses and homes.

Why? Because the people were civilized. Their society decided those things were dishonorable and disgraceful, and so people didn’t do them because they weren’t tolerated.

Those historically inclined will recall the sinking of the H.M.S. Birkenhead near Gansbaai in 1852. Despite their inevitable doom, the British troops on board maintained order, getting all the women and children into life boats before they attempted to save themselves. Four hundred and forty of them drowned. Not one woman or child died. There was no government to prevent those soldiers from abandoning the ship and the passengers. They stayed because they were civilized.

Compare that to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. As soon as people were left to their own devices, everything fell apart. Police officers either abandoned their posts or joined in the looting. It ultimately required 15,000 National Guardsmen to restore order to New Orleans.

Going back to the topic of school, people get it backwards. We don’t have police officers in high schools because we are civilized. We have them because the students aren’t civilized (and, I might add, neither are the schools themselves). When you have a student body that obeys the law on their own initiative, you don’t need a man with a gun and a bullet-proof vest to maintain it.

Years ago I covered a school shooting/hostage situation drill at a middle school, where a SWAT team from a nearby sheriff’s office practiced going through the procedures in the event of a terrorist attack. At the time, I thought nothing of it. It seemed a necessity, considering the Virginia Tech massacre only few years before.

Now, I look back and cringe, noting the irony of the sign outside the school that read “Gun Free Zone.” Not once did they ever discuss with students what they might do to stop a shooter. The observant will note that at high school shootings, the police either arrived too late or remained outside until it was all over.

People look at the kids who comprise America’s youth and note the lack of restraint, but refuse to draw the obvious conclusions. Left to themselves, nothing is beyond the pale. Yes, some would insist on order and behave decently, but a few rocks in a river does not a dam make.

Others could point to the dropping crime rate, but they overlook one critical factor; an increasingly militarized police force that acts as a paramilitary. This makes any comparison unfair. We also have the largest prison population in the world. What does that say about us?

Yet, these miscreants are not the problem. They are the symptom of an even greater problem. The kids aren’t civilized because the parents aren’t civilized. The parents aren’t civilized because we have a system in place wherein people are expected to act uncivilized. Consequently, they don’t value it, don’t know what it means, and as a result don’t bother to impart any of it to their progeny.

The product of this is an education system where children no longer go to gain knowledge, but to be constantly supervised. A friend posted an article on Facebook written by a self-righteous teacher on how if she got paid per hour as much as regular babysitters she would make twice as much. I don’t think the teacher realized the underlying premise of her argument; she doesn’t teach kids. She babysits them.

Or, better yet, the teacher benefits from the incarceration of her students, which is all about power and control. Hence why schools will harass a 13-year-old piano prodigy and assign a truancy officer to her because she missed too many days. This is despite, as the article mentions, her parents creating “a portfolio of her musical achievements and academic record,” as well as “an independent study plan for the days she’d miss while touring the world as one of the star pianists selected by a prestigious Lang Lang Music Foundation. This was all to convince the school to let her go.

Only in an uncivilized culture does one label a young musical prodigy a “truant.”

I once remarked how children shouldn’t be forced to go to school, to which a person listed all the terrible things they would do if allowed to roam free.

I then replied, “And you want your children around these kids six hours a day so they can learn how to act just like them?”

I think a better reply would have been, “then our schools are just prisons and we should stop pretending otherwise.”

Why should we be surprised, then, when these kids graduate and wouldn’t even know when World War II took place if not for playing “Call of Duty: World at War” incessantly?

This all reminds me of several passages from Dove, a nonfiction book written in the early 1970’s by a 21-year-old who had sailed around the world in a 24-foot boat of the same name. On his journey throughout the South Pacific, he came across primitive cultures, some of which only a generation or two before had engaged in cannibalism.

Yet among them he felt safe. They were friendly and generous. He left his boat unlocked and nothing was stolen. On some islands, the natives could not recall the last time a murder or serious crime had occurred. These cultures also had a noticeable lack of any government to speak of.

It was only when he returned to Los Angeles, where his boat was promptly broken into, that the author actually felt afraid of other people.

Were these primitive cultures impoverished? Yes. Technologically backwards? Yes. Culturally naive? To an extent.

But uncivilized? No. They could learn a thing or two from the average American high schooler.

If you want to know how civilized a culture truly is, watch what happens when the rulers are removed. For the civilized, life goes on as it always has. For the uncivilized, you get chaos.

But here’s the thing; the State is naturally at odds with the civilization it rules over. It does not promote sufficiency, but dependency. It’s greatest threat is not a foreign power, but an internal society that doesn’t want it, and, most importantly, doesn’t need it. Because of this, it erodes at the civilization – hence the slow, rotting destruction of the family – and then claims it is necessary because the people they encourage to act uncivilized are, here comes a shocker, uncivilized.

It’s as simple as that.

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6 Responses to Civilization is the Absence of the State

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