In this chapter, Casey divulges into the great myth: The legitimacy and – most importantly – the necessity of the State.
In a true Socratic fashion, Casey first offers a definition of what a State is.
That group of people or that organization which wields a monopoly on allegedly legitimate force over the inhabitants of a determined territory financed by a compulsory levy imposed on those inhabitants.
He also includes Max Weber’s statement that the State is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”
The necessity and legitimacy of the State is described as a myth, yet Casey is not claiming they do not exist, merely that the purpose for their existence does not fit within the actual historical record. Rather than people creating governments to maintain their freedoms and security, governments arose in the same manner the Mafia takes control over a neighborhood and extorts the residents through the Black Hand.
Casey also differentiates between the modern state and the highly decentralized governments which existed prior to 1000 AD. The modern state essentially came about, he writes, “by means of what we would now call a protection racket.”
“While it may be worthwhile to to pay someone to protect you from real threats or imminent dangers, there is something delightfully quixotic, almost Gilbertian, when the danger or threat from which your protector is protecting you originates primarily or solely from your would-be protector.”
In other words, since states justify their existence and monopoly on legitimate violence through claims of protecting their citizens, they actually have an incentive to fabricate threats and dangers, which allows them to extort even more money from citizens. This fits the classic definition of a protection racket.
In fact, Casey points out, there is something inherently insidious about it when a person is taxed to pay for their protection from the very person who is taxing them, as they can hide behind a pretentious claim of “keeping them safe,” much in the same way a kidnapper might tell his victim he’s doing it to protect them from someone who might harm them.
“Your friendly local mugger does not pretend to be doing you a service when he relieves you of your wallet,” he writes.
Of course, the legitimacy of the State is the crux of the whole argument. Anything it does is irrelevant if it is considered illegitimate. But how does a state become legitimatized? What makes a state legitimate, as opposed to illegitimate?
Therein lies the rub.
According to Casey, if it not permissible by a private citizen, then it cannot be permissible by another just because they belong to a specific group or organization. But that is exactly what the State claims, and Casey insists it the duty of its proponents to prove why this is morally acceptable.
I find this to be an excellent point. Libertarians sometimes take it upon themselves to prove things which they do not need to prove. It is not our job to explain why we shouldn’t have to pay taxes, or why laws are immoral. Someone has to justify their actions, not the actions of others.
He also brings up another essential point to understanding the State. It is not an organism or single entity. It is simply a collection of people who consider themselves to be above the rules of moral conduct which all others in society must abide by at the risk of violence.
“We can see that there is, properly speaking, no such thing as a state if by that we mean an entity ontologically distinct from and superior to ordinary people,” he writes. “The state is simply a name for a particular group of people acting at a particular time in particular ways..”
If then follows that if we cannot do X, we cannot do X through the State. X is still X. Just because we call it another name does not change the morality of the act.
This is why the perceived legitimacy is so fiercely defended and taught, hence the purpose of state-run education systems.
Too often people confuse natural authority with state authority, something Casey effectively demolishes. Natural authority is the instinctive habit of creating leaders in entities, whether they be churches, fraternities, social clubs, ect.
These leaders, however, do not exercise any authority beyond that which is granted to them by the members, and members who do not wish to submit to their leadership are free to leave the organization without giving up any of their rights.
Government authority, on the hand, is not consensual under any definition we would accept other circumstances. We would not, for example, accept consensual a city taking a vote to decide who shall marry whom, or who should be allowed to have how many children.
This leads to the common retort against libertarian anarchist that “without the State, there’d be chaos!” or the State provides for water, security, education, utilities, roads, and so on.
None of these, Casey points out, require the State. What they happen to be are services in which the State maintains an unnatural monopoly through coercion and theft. In fact, the State does a far worse job of providing for these than a private entity would.
Take security for example. Governments are responsible for far more deaths of their citizens via wars than private citizens murdering one another – in the 20th Century, private citizens comprised .5% of the total deaths caused by violence.
Yet the State claims to keep its citizens safe, when it is far more likely to cause harm.
Marine Major General Smedley Butler opened his book War is a Racket with this comment that applies equally to the State:
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.