The following, being the first of reviews of libertarian books, was written by Michael Gyekye
Anatomy of the State is an approximately 35-page essay on the idea of the state, written by the eminent libertarian scholar, Murray Newton Rothbard. It was published into a single book with the same title, by the Mises Institute, in 2009. The essay originally appeared as part of a collection of essays by the author, titled Egalitarianism as A Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, first published in 1974, and republished by the Mises Institute in 2000.
Anatomy of the State is a captivating tour de force that performs a surgical incision into the concept of the state, as popularly understood. Comprising just seven chapters of roughly 5 pages each, it busts common myths about the state, exposes its true nature, and reveals some of the stratagems it invariably employs for self-perpetuation. The book further discusses how the state exceeds its conceived limits, and presents some of its fears, along with an explanation of the nature of its relations with other states. The final chapter of the work briefly pictures history as a contest between voluntary creative production and cooperation (termed social power) and coercive systematic predation (termed state power).
A thoroughly fascinating work, it opens with a lamentation of how the ‘miasma of myth has lain so long over the state’, that its true nature as ‘that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area,’ and which ‘…obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion,’ has been cleverly masked by its false portrait as that rather indispensable though not infrequently inefficient social institution, best suited for accomplishing some societal ends, deemed outside the competence of the private sphere of production.
With remarkable emphasis, the irrepressible Rothbard chides the popular saying ‘we are the government’, describing it together with allied expressions as ‘organicist metaphors’, that seem to cast the government as an embodiment of citizens’ will and intent, on the basis of warped views of popular legitimacy engendered by democratic representation. Rothbard offers an insightful list of scenarios that highlight the absurd self-contradictions of such sentiments, when juxtaposed with the true nature of the state.
After rebutting such noxious misconceptions of the state, Rothbard directly confronts the question, ‘What is the state?’ His answer is a combination of views from the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, fellow libertarian traveler Albert Jay Nock, and Bertrand de Jouvenel, into a revisionist definition of the state. This recasts the state’s origin in unapologetically contrarian terms. The state is explained by him as classically a social construct produced by ‘a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the timespan of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.’ This contrarian conception of the state denies its foundation on any form of social contract, as posited by some political philosophers, and regards it as a unique parasitic entity, engaged in systematic use of the political means, that is, violent appropriation of peacefully and privately produced wealth, rather than the economic means: production of wealth via peaceful private production and exchange, to obtain wealth.
The survival of such a state, we are led to realize, must necessarily hinge on a diverse array of lasting wiles. The state thus typically utilizes cunning devices to procure mass support and insure self-sustenance. These include the creation of vested economic interests, formation of alliance with intellectuals, spread of fear about alternatives to state rule, appeal to tradition, and a belated resort to scientism.
Landmark attempts that have punctuated centuries and generations of state rule, with the intent of bringing the state’s power under limits, are noted by Rothbard. These have straddled the circumscription of the state’s actions under divine law, institutional checks and constitutional restraints. Their collective futility is however not lost to him. Most eruditely, he ushers us into a discovery of how such measures are ultimately exploited by the state to finagle more power.
Closing his wonderfully captivating work, Rothbard soberly explores what counts as the state’s worst nightmares, the common deficiencies that most influence the nature of inter-state relations, and the chances and channels for social power to triumph over state power.
The work is such a precious gem liberty-lovers would dearly treasure!