The State, our false enemy

Merlin

 

Note: this post will be, to a degree, an iteration of my The Evolution towards Freedom post on the LvMI Community Forums, making roughly the same points, while discarding what is disposable for a later post. Of course, the opinions expressed here are not necessarily shared by the other contributors.

The main idea: far from being the antithesis of libertarianism, the concept (though no current incarnation) of the State is the embryo of a Free Society, and the extrapolation of the secular trend that gave rise to such an institution will bring us closer and closer to a world of free property holders.

1. Opening shots

1.1 Libertarians of anarcho-capitalist persuasions insist that the State is the evil institution par excellence, the chief violator of individual rights all over the world. Metaphors like Murray Rothbard’s “red button” posit that if somehow one could, in one fell swoop, destroy the whole statist structure overnight, say by some magic button, then by all means one should be happy to push it, and see society promptly reorganize itself along libertarian lines.

Kinda-sorta...

Kinda-sorta…

1.2 I will try to argue that the State’s reputation is unwarranted. And lest my fellow libertarians start to think that Merl has jumped the river across to Nazi land, let me assure the reader that I consider a Free Society based on the full respect for the NAP as a very desirable and achievable goal. What I will be arguing is that the State is not the bête noire of libertarianism, but just a step in the right direction, leading from an imperfect world to a less imperfect one.

Too busy drug running to keep reading Rothbard past his ’60 phase, eh Raul?

Too busy drug running to keep reading Rothbard past his ’60 phase, eh Raul?

2. An innocent definition

2.1 The generally agreed upon definition of the State is that of the institution that is widely seen as the legitimate monopolist of violence within a given territory. And, as I’ve discussed in several instances before, what does this define if not a legitimate property holder? Wouldn’t a legitimate property-holder in a Free Society be seen as rightly exercising a monopoly of violence within the bounds of its property?

2.2 This is not a passing similarity, but a full-on, conceptual identity. Every single one of the elements of the definition is necessary to define both a State and a just property holder. First, both the State and a just property holder are either monopolists of violence within their respective territories, or else can scarcely be considered either a State, or a free property holder.

2.3 Though I’ve found (to my surprise) that the idea of a free property holder being a monopolist of violence is not self-evident to all libertarians, I still find this claim hard to dispute without throwing the whole concept of Free Society away. What would, I ask, stop a landowner from posting at the gates of his property a sign along the lines of “Trespassers will be shot”? Is this illegitimate? If not, what is this landholder exercising if not his (and his alone, let us mind) absolute monopoly of violence within his property?

2.4 Second, both the state and a just property holder must confine this monopoly of theirs to a specific territory, or otherwise bounded entity. A violent organization without a specified territory to which it confines its jurisdiction is not a State (but may be a criminal organization, terrorist cell, some US SpecOps unit or any other such entity), and a property holder claiming anything but a specific, confined entity (be it a farm, a PC, an electro-magnetic frequency) owns nothing at all (or, at worst, is a thief).

2.5 Third, without a general agreement that the monopoly on such a bounded entity is valid, a State would not be considered established, and a property holder would know he’s not living in Free Society (or else, if living in a Free Society, he’d not be the just owner).

2.6 All in all, I see no way to make a conceptually valid distinction between the State and a just property holder. Whoever holds the State itself to be an unjust institution in principle, must either explain how its definition differs from that of a free property holder, or else shun private property as also unjust. Simply changing this definition of the State (perhaps trading it for Oppenheimer’s one) won’t do much good either: one is still left with the need to name the organization that emerged in Europe possessing generally recognized, spatially limited confined Sovereignty (seep paragraph 3.7 below).

2.7 Preemptively, I say that this should not be taken to mean that the states we have today are legitimate property holders (far from it indeed), as I am only speaking of the concepts involved, not the current practice (I be damned if more than 0.1% of all current heads of state know what the concept of the State, other than a convenient system of enrichment, is supposed to be). But more on this latter.

3. The evolution of the State

3.1 Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State (here the author condenses his book for the benefit of LvMI audiences) gives a concise account of the historical evolution of the institutions we nowadays call states. Though van Creveld’s definition of the State differs from ours, I will insist that his historical perspective still serves our ends.  I will spare the reader an exhaustive summary (which would, in any case, be beyond my capabilities) and use Creveld’s work to paint a broad picture of the pre-statal society.

3.2 Creveld discusses city-states and empires under the rubric of pre-statal organizations (tribes, being confined to societies with an ill-developed division of labor, are of no interest to us), and both these antipodal forms of organization had something in common which will not allow us to consider them states:  they recognized no peers, i.e. no other legitimate organizations.

3.3 To the Byzantine Emperor, all other Kings where his serfs, and to the Holy Roman Kaiser the King of France was but a vassal (the poor King of France seem to have been much maligned, since the Ottoman Sultan too,  expressly stated that he considered him his vassal). From the point of view of any Emperor of old, the existence of other entities not recognizing his supremacy was a lamentable development which could, for the moment, not be addressed by brute force. To the point that these organizations where not on a state of perpetual war, the best they could achieve was a ceasefire, the default stance being hostile. The general understanding appeared to be that the only thing holding back conquest was expediency, not any moral qualms.

Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe

3.4 We cannot consider such organizations states, because Frenchmen probably did not agree that the Sultan in Constantinople was their legitimate ruler, yet the Sultan himself (and, perchance, his armies too) recognized no other such legitimate ruler. Thus, no single organization which was generally considered the legitimate monopolist of violence in a specific territory existed. The predictable result of this setup was endemic organized (if, perhaps, small scale) violence.

3.5 Further, when the tribal mode of organization evolved into feudalism – itself a massive improvement over the universalistic pretenses of Emperors of old – the claims of several organizations and individuals where superimposed on single pieces of land, giving way to the much celebrated (among libertarians, at least) tradition of mediaeval polylegalism (as I’ve noted in my previous post, I find such non-territorial polylegalism less than satisfying). If tradition dictated that, on feudal property, the Church could impose spiritual law, the King or Emperor could raise troops, the Lord could manage the land, and the peasant could not be evicted, then no one at all was in clear and absolute control. A modern parallel can be found in what Clayton describes (and perhaps will do so again in the comments below) as the Golden Rule that applies to public, as opposed to private property (incidentally, furnishing another definition of the State).

3.6 Now, if we assume that the legal regime has some sort of impact on the well-being of the people living under it as well as on their productivity, stacking several legal authorities on the same area will create a sort of legal tragedy of the commons: every single rule-setter (the King, the Pope, the Lord) will have an incentive to maximize his own income by enacting confiscatory rules, while hoping that the others provide sensible rules to keep the productivity of the area form dying. The opposite practice, allowing for a moderate management, would just leave the other rule-setters most of the added productivity. Indeed it will be contested with some difficulty that, outside of Free Cities (by their nature, run by one authority alone) the outlook of the average medieval European was less than rosy.

3.7 The proper State evolved in Europe in the XVII century as a result of the religious wars that had ravaged the continent, yet without providing any discernible gains. Again taking a leaf from Creveld (this time his Technology and War), the state of military technology in the era was such that the fortifications needed to withstand modern (for the day) cannons where far too expensive for feudal lords, yet once provided by Kings would assure that the possibility of fully conquering a fortified country was now remote. Thus, willy-nilly, the Kings of the era agreed that the map of Europe had become ‘sticky’, and the former days of perpetual war on a small scale where over. The concept of a multiplicity of just (by the standard of the day) monopolists of violence, mutually recognized by all, followed.

3.8 On libertarian grounds, this change was truly epoch-making. In that small speck of land that was Western Europe, the idea that there may be such things as mutually recognized (and mutually inclusive) Sovereigns living in (relative) peace had finally evolved. If, before the State, the modern idea of a free property holder would have been hard to grasp for a population used to property rights limited by tradition, now the idea that someone (be it only a few Kings) could absolutely own property with no added fetters had come to be accepted. Whence before there was either perpetual conflict brought about by mutually exclusive claims, or else such a bewildering number of actors providing superimposing laws of the land, now Europe had both confined the benefits of proper management to a single person/institution (per Hoppe, giving him/it some incentive to behave), and made sure that many such individuals/institutions where competing in a roughly decent way. That all of this continued in a time of relative peace (or quasi-civilized war) was an astounding achievement that, in time, allowed the whole globe to be colonized by this new meme born in the West: the State.

3.9 Lest the point be missed, let me bore the reader by reiterating what I consider the vital importance of the idea of the State: one can have several sovereigns, each exercising absolute control over his territorially limited area, each free to enjoy the fruits of his property, and a generally accepted protocol of property-transfer was all that was needed to retain a stable-ish society. Let the number of such sovereigns increase to its logical limit, and let that protocol keep pace (these steps are probably inverted in actuality), and what we have is the embryo of the idea of a Free Society! In comparison, the pre-statal ideas that one could have peace only if everything was ultimately owned by a single person (the Emperor) or indeed by no one at all (but general use be regulated by tradition) appear naïve.

3.10 I shall go out on a limb here and speculate that, had the idea of the State not emerged, the best that freedom-lovers could have hoped for would have been for tradition rigidly defining the rights of different rule-setters (at least some of whom would have been universal), thus curtailing the room for abuse (and innovation too, by the way). In short, constitutionalism would have been the pinnacle of libertarianism, an ironic result indeed, considering that it purportedly stems from the State never having evolved. The ideas associated with anarcho-capitalism can only evolve in a society possessing the concept of the State (and not because of the linguistic truism that one cannot conceive of anarchy without first conceiving of archy).

4. Unjust government

4.1 Those patient enough to bear with me until now, have probably been screaming atop of their lungs that my identification of the State with a just property holder ignores the crucial difference that the land presided over by the State never was acquired justly, invalidating any and all claims by the state of being a just property holder. I cannot, and never imagined to deny such claims.

4.2 But I will deny that the issue here is with the State in principle, whose definition has nothing in itself to mandate an illegitimate organization a priori.  Rather, I will claim that the culprits are the norms regulating state-creation and border setting, the generally-accepted protocol of paragraph 3.9. If the renaissance combination of regal legitimism and the motto ultima ratio regum which Louis XIV had incised on French artillery pieces…

4

…. came to be considered an unsatisfactory way of setting borders, the modern preference (almost obsession, really) with the status quo is perhaps an even worse norm, probably already putting an uneasy lid on the cauldron of civil violence in many countries.

4.3 But to repeat the oft-remarked libertarian position on the desirability of secession and the multiplication of states is not the same as turning the concept of the State into the foremost evil. There is a difference between pulling the plug (if one could do it, of course) on this great invention we stumbled upon, and calling for the multiplication of states to the point where the spontaneous norms of international law will begin to approach those cherished by libertarians, and the devilish states will tend more and more towards individual property owners. But that such a result can be imposed today with the hope of achieving anything better than civil violence and the re-emergence of much ‘harder’ governments is, to my mind, not credible.

Writing from experience here

Writing from experience here

4.4. Aprioristic anti-statism among libertarians could be compared, if one had to provide some metaphor, to XIX century engineers abandoning the very concept of an internal-combustion engine because all such engines to that point where necessarily impractical. Or, more to the point, I think most readers will agree that there may be not a single current landed property holder who can trace his title to a just origin: somewhere along the line, someone stole the land form a homesteader, or just appropriated it by fiat. But few libertarians indeed would, form this point, jump to the conclusion that private property in land itself is thus unjust, or even that a general redistribution is in order. We trust the market to right the wrongs of the past. The same standard should, I daresay, be applied to the State.

5. Objections

5.1 I can imagine that some (most?) readers may not have been convinced by my protestations of libertarian purity. Surely, extolling the State in principle, even while decrying its unjust borders, is not much better that moderate statism, at best minarchism.  Though tactically the protestation of minarchism (properly defined) may make sense, I insist on my innocence and reiterate again that I believe that a fully functional Free Society can and should be achieved. This post merely tries to show that evolutionism presents a credible alternative to immediate revolution.

5.2 Else, some readers may imagine that the whole post rests on word-mincing, and that pretending to redeem the State but not its unjust borders is just the standard an-cap position, stated differently. I would reply that seeing the State as a great invention in principle leads to radically different views on the road to liberty, views dotted by the breakdown of nation-states and the evolution of international norms, rather than of libertarian revolutions preceded by education. To this degree, I think that the post engages is something more than mere word-mincing.

5.3 Attentive readers may have spotted a seeming contradiction: I stated that the issue stands with the norms of state-creation and border setting, that these norms will be evolving in the right direction, and yet that a very tiny minority (if that) of heads of state can tell the difference between the concept of the state and a personal piggy bank. Who, than, is supposed to ‘evolve’ the norms of state-creation and retain the concept of the state intact? The contradiction is promptly resolved once we see that norms are not herded to evolve by anyone, that they are the product of human action, yet not human design: no one needs to understand any of this for the process to carry on.

5.4 Then, others may still object that I have provided no strong argument on why international norms in a world of city-states should approach libertarian ideals. What is this supposed ‘secular trend’ that gave rise to the State, and that I presume will drive us towards a Free Society? Or again, the claim that the world is, factually, tending towards decentralization instead of collusion may be questioned.

5.5 I will try my best to address these doubts in my next post, where I’ll try to restate the concept of a minarchic state. Anyone familiar with the pertinent threads in the LvMI Community Forums already knows that the answer will be nukes.

Filthy commies!

Filthy commies!

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18 thoughts on “The State, our false enemy

  1. AristippusofCyrene 12/05/2012 at 23:47 Reply

    There are many things I disagree with here, but I’ll just cover the most important ones:

    2: The conceptual identification of the state with the private property owner is simply based on the particular (flawed) definition of the state that you are using, and perhaps an equivocation on the use of the word ‘legitimate’. A state is an institution of political means, which is therefore necessarily aggressive and unjust by libertarian standards. The private property owner has no necessary relation to political means: he does not necessarily rely on initiating force on anyone else in order to make use of his property. The state, per your definition, is only ‘legitimate’ in a tautological sense: if it were viewed as illegitimate overall, it would cease to function (as Etienne de la Boetie argues). It is, however, necessarily illegitimate according to libertarians, since it must rely on the use of force. The private propery owner who does so is also illegitimate and is not someone promoted by libertarianism.

    3.8-3.10: You really need much more substantiation for the claim that the rise of the sovereign state was the cause of more secure, truly private property. That is a massive argument to make and I really can’t believe it until I see some evidence. Explain what occurred there and how. When was this shift? What was property before and after? For example, was the property of the Domesday Book that different to property in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries? If so, in what ways? Since that claim is really the basis of your entire argument, it needs greater evidence or everything else you have said falls apart.

  2. Etjon Basha 12/06/2012 at 00:10 Reply

    First of all, thanks for showing such patience with this post (Aristippus and I had quite a discussion in a private forum too). Now, my attempt at a reply.

    We need not really discuss semantics to such a degree. If one finds the definition I use here for the State as incomplete, than by all means let us use another. But, as I note in the post, we must still find a name for the European invention of a widely recognized territorial sovereign, an institution that had, to the best of my knowledge, never before existed. Forerunners of the state (or whatever name we may prefer) either insisted on violently challenging other claimants to sovereignty (whenever practical), or else did not recognize anyone’s right to act as he pleased on his property, curtailing rights by tradition.

    As an example, the property of an ancient Athenian citizen (a purported beacon of liberty in those times) was not absolutely his: other citizens, properly assembled, could take it from him for no reason at all. For a medieval example, see how the landlord was not free to evict his tenants or change their rent. Neither where they free to leave his land. I mentioned some old traditions in my country which curtailed landowner’s rights in our previous discussion.

    Now, even today a property holder is not free to act as he wishes with his property. I did not mean that the emergence of the state ensured that, otherwise we’d be living in a Free Society right now. What I meant is that, with the rise of the State, at least Kings could be considered free (if, by our standards, unjust) property holders. And that the evolution of this new concept of property (unfettered by tradition or by fear of unjust conquest) was the tough part. All that is needed now it to increase the number of such sovereigns from a couple hundred (states today) to many tens of thousands.

    So, the hard part, to my mind, was coming up with a proper definition of property. The state did that, and now what is left for us is to see that the state breaks down into individual property holders.

  3. Etjon Basha 12/06/2012 at 00:25 Reply

    I think I found a shorter way to make my point: we should think of the state as the “limited release” version, available to but few Kings, of what we understand to be full property rights today. The future will see us ‘mass-producing’ this idea.

  4. AristippusofCyrene 12/06/2012 at 00:55 Reply

    I still don’t see an important distinction, since on the one hand (and as you recognise) property holders today are not absolute, and your claim that kings were wholly sovereign and did not face the same problems of maintaining their rule seems to me erroneous. What of the large-scale succession wars in the period (e.g. War of Spanish Succession, War of Austrian Succession, Jacobite Rebellions, War of the Bavarian Succession)? What of the deposition of kings (e.g. Glorious Revolution, French Revolution, Revolutionary Wars)? And what of various wars of conquests (e.g. Franco-Dutch War, War of the Quadruple Alliance, Seven Years’ War)? That is all in a century and a half!

    There were many challenges to the property of those states, both to the claims over particular territories (challenged in the wars of conquest), and to the particular person who claimed them (in the succession wars and revolutions). The key difference between that period and the earlier one was the centralization of power which resulted in states’ claims over larger territories as a consequence of their greater power. I don’t see a difference in the concepts of rule, merely that the rulers were more powerful within their territories and therefore were bound by less internal constraints. But beyond that they did not have any extra security, or means of enforcing their property claims than did the kings of old, and they still had many obligations they had to fulfill.

    Just as in your Athens example, a coalition of states, or even people within the territorial area claimed by the king, could decide to dispossess a king of his property. Certainly there was an incentive for kings to accept eachother’s positions in order to justify their own, but they could just as easily turn on eachother. And here we see another distinction between the state and the private property owner: where the latter does not necessarily seek to profit through political means, the former does, and so in an existence of anarchic relations with other states, conflict arises.

    Also, I’m not sure that your claims about Athens are correct. If you’re referring to ostracism, you should realise that the property of those exiled was not confiscated. If you’re referring to liturgies, there were means of avoiding them and of course only applied to the most wealthy. If you’re referring to taxes, they were very low and generally did not fall on land. What exactly are you talkikng about there?

  5. Etjon Basha 12/06/2012 at 20:33 Reply

    You may note that many of the wars you mention there were wars of Succession, and since legalism was back then the justifying factor of Kings, those wars actually came as a result of the legitimation system, not as a proof against its existence. Sure, if kings agreed all of the time on who had the right to succeed some dynasty, that would have been better.
    But note that we will expect differences of opinions about the legitimacy of some claims in a Free Society (that’s why we expend some time in predicting what structures would solve such conflicts), and still this will not mean that that society won’t be free on this count alone. Conflicts arising out of the legitimation system are to be expected wherever such a system exists.

    A few more of those conflicts originated in conflicting claims on the New World, again understandable since the legitimation norms has not evolved to cope with the discovery of such huge tracts of land.

    The difference with earlier periods is that Kings had to actually find a decent casus belli, one seen as legitimate, in order to wage war. Formerly finding the means to wage war was all that was needed to begin the conflict. I surely cannot prove it, but my understanding (based on the structure of militaries, the extent of fortifications, the huge resources expended to perfect navies relative to armies, etc.) is that these wars where waged on larger scale, but where fewer, non continuous, aimed at outmaneuvering the enemy instead of destroying him, and seen more as a game (some were serious business, of course) of the royalty that as means of policy. The medieval period had its jousts; the XVII-XVIII centuries had wars of maneuver. Prior to the revolutionary wars, I challenge anyone to find an European war remotely as destructive as the Thirty Years War, a total war if there ever was one.

    As for Athens, I where referring to ostracism. My understanding of it was that the victims property was also taken, but I may be wrong. In any case, forbidding one from enjoying his property based on, potentially, nothing but whim, is far from our concepts of liberty. That this was seen as wholly legitimate is an indicator that the ancients understood something much more limited by the term “property”.

  6. AristippusofCyrene 12/06/2012 at 22:31 Reply

    “those wars actually came as a result of the legitimation system”
    How? Succession wars existed for hundreds of years before that.

    “The difference with earlier periods is that Kings had to actually find a decent casus belli, one seen as legitimate, in order to wage war.”
    That was the case in the Medieval period at least to the same extent, with the Pope having a much greater ability to prevent conflict within Christendom. Also, some of the wars of the period you’re discussing had a very dubious casus belli.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_1000%E2%80%931499
    Notice how few wars there were in Europe during that time, and how many revolved around the issue of a single battle.

    “Prior to the revolutionary wars, I challenge anyone to find an European war remotely as destructive as the Thirty Years War, a total war if there ever was one.”
    Well firstly the Thirty Years War has much more in common with the period you’re describing than it does with the Medieval period, since it stands at the beginning of that short, 140-year period. And it was the most destructive European war ever up to that point, we wouldn’t necessarily expect there to be another one within the next century. There was still, however, a continued round of destructive wars after it.

    “That this was seen as wholly legitimate is an indicator that the ancients understood something much more limited by the term “property”.”
    That’s simply not true. It had nothing to do with confiscating property and it wasn’t even that common a practice.

  7. Etjon Basha 12/06/2012 at 23:39 Reply

    That succession wars have not been invented by the state system, that is clear. But they seem to have displaced most other types of war, which we left behind in the medieval period. Again I think this is to be expected from a property transfer protocol centered around legitimism: people may disagree over who is the legitimate heir, and the conflict resolution system back than was war. The improvement was that we lost many other types of war which we had in prior ages, most notably personal vendettas, or religious wars. Could we even conceive the European monarchs duking it out because Paris raped Helen?

    I also would be careful with a list of formal wars in the period preceding the printed media. Do we really think that a continuous, bitter feud between adjoining lords would have been recorded? That the road system in medieval Europe was in shambles is, I think, well understood: why couldn’t the europeans who erected magnificent cathedrals build roads? Simply because continuous warfare impeded land (but not sea) trade. Also from the myriad of fortifications that dot Europe, we my guess that warfare was much, much more widespread and endemic in medieval Europe.

    Now, it is unfair to say that the Thirty years War was included in my short period of interest. I specifically stated that the Thirty Years War was the proximate cause of the emergence of the State System: I (or rather Creveld) explicitly stated that what came after that war is to be regarded as the state system. It’s not about dates, it’s about a shift in mentality.

    You have a point when saying that it not every 50 or 100 years that such destructive wars happen, and that the selection of my timeframe form the thirty years war to the French revolution is too short to make strong claims. But that is not the point. Will you disagree that such a total war would have been alien to monarchic Europe? That wars in those years where of a wholly different nature? It is not like there was a probability of a new total war erupting, but 140 years where to few for that to materialize: the very idea that such a war could erupt again was, I think you will agree, incredible. The French revolution changed that, but this is another story.

    Finally, you made another good point: some form of war legitimation began to evolve much before the state system, notably in the form of Papal approval. I would never imagine the state system, or any other system for that matter, to have sprung fully matured from the heads of a few war-weary kings. Knowing my Hayek, I say that the state system was a system of norms that took its time to evolve. In our other exchange, I mentioned how many of its elements were present in pre-renaissance Italy. Others where inherent to the mediaeval period (in the post, I specifically state that feudalism was an evolutionary improvement over ancient universalism). My understanding is just that these weaker forms of legitimism did not suffice to create mutually recognized sovereigns before the thirty years war.

  8. AristippusofCyrene 12/07/2012 at 01:54 Reply

    “Could we even conceive the European monarchs duking it out because Paris raped Helen? ”
    That is a legend, not a real conflict. Would the European monarchs go to war over the boarding of a ship? Yes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_Jenkins%27_Ear

    “why couldn’t the europeans who erected magnificent cathedrals build roads? Simply because continuous warfare impeded land (but not sea) trade.”
    Even with roads, sea trade was so superior to land trade that the cost of roads was simply not worth it when they had the marine alternative. The main purpose of the roads in the Roman Empire was the transport of troops, not of goods.

    “Also from the myriad of fortifications that dot Europe, we my guess that warfare was much, much more widespread and endemic in medieval Europe.”
    Gunpowder rendered such fortifications less important. Again, it’s cost vs. benefit.

    “the very idea that such a war could erupt again was, I think you will agree, incredible.”
    But that had more to do with the cost vs. benefits of such a war than Kings having a new-found recognition of the property of others. This came with a different balance of power between kings and greater internal power which meant that it was more profitable to simply concentrate on living off their subjects rather than gaining a lot more through war (though at times they did attempt the latter). It was a practical measure, not a recognition of property different to what existed before.

    “My understanding is just that these weaker forms of legitimism did not suffice to create mutually recognized sovereigns before the thirty years war.”
    I disagree. I think the major change was simply the centralization of power, which in fact increased the monarchs’ senses of entitlement. This power turned them inwards into the easier route of taking from their subjects instead of risking huge amounts of money against strong rival kingdoms.

    “The French revolution changed that, but this is another story.”
    This is an important point and I think we should shift the discussion to it. In what way did the French Revolution change it? The answer to that question is of upmost significance, since we are not living in the 18th century but in the 21st, with huge influence from the French Revolution and its aftermath. If, as you are arguing, the state is not to be considered such an enemy, it is the more modern forms of state which you must defend, not those of the 17th and 18th centuries. And don’t you see how the centralization of power in the early modern period led to even more detrimental centralization of power in the modern period?

  9. Etjon Basha 12/07/2012 at 20:38 Reply

    “Even with roads, sea trade was so superior to land trade that the cost of roads was simply not worth it when they had the marine alternative. The main purpose of the roads in the Roman Empire was the transport of troops, not of goods.”

    An interesting, and to me novel theory. It does make sense but I will also say that should it be the whole of the story, than we’d expect the bulk of the population in the medieval period to have been concentrated in navigable regions, and this is not the case. I’ll even say that most of the European population was tied to agriculture in hinterlands which traded little or not at all. So, this theory is not enough to completely clear our fear of enforced autarchy due to conflict.

    “I disagree. I think the major change was simply the centralization of power, which in fact increased the monarchs’ senses of entitlement. This power turned them inwards into the easier route of taking from their subjects instead of risking huge amounts of money against strong rival kingdoms.”

    You seem to agree with Friedman’s view of the matter (which I will discuss in the next post). First of all, this is a chicken-and-egg matter: did the practice of war change solely due to changed technological contains, or was there a memetic factor in play? I think that the latter can be argued, as had it been merely down to convenience, I think nothing would have stopped, say, the French for conquering the Rhineland back then, or Prussia’s enemies from overturning its territory with irregular raids of light cavalry, instead of offering proper, formal battles which they always lost. Though the mentality change was probably induced by technological changes, I insist that it did have and existence of its own.

    “This came with a different balance of power between kings and greater internal power which meant that it was more profitable to simply concentrate on living off their subjects rather than gaining a lot more through war (though at times they did attempt the latter).”

    This would mean that you believe that the average European in this period was more heavily exploited than in the medieval period. Do you really think so, because I will surely disagree with this. I think that both external wars and internal exploitation were improved form the medieval period, a result consistent with the theory I offer.

    “This is an important point and I think we should shift the discussion to it. In what way did the French Revolution change it?”

    You are right but this is my plan for the second part of the post, which I will post in the drafts during the weekend perhaps. Very shortly, my argument (over both posts) is such: the purest iteration of the state system existed between the thirty years war and the French Revolution, a period of tamer wars and great economic and cultural development. This was changed by the French armies being able to draft their population, which made it in any state’s interest to expand its territory. Yet, due to the mental make-up of Europe (you could not just conquer any land you liked) the actual return of total war took a century after the defeat of napoleon to materialize. From WW1 to the first nuclear devices, the state system was almost extinct, with technology and ideology favoring unification, not independent sovereign. Then, nukes changed the story again, giving a new lease on life on the idea of independent jurisdictions. I will try to show how nuclear technology will drive the state system to its logical conclusion: every property owner being his own state.

  10. AristippusofCyrene 12/07/2012 at 21:58 Reply

    “I’ll even say that most of the European population was tied to agriculture in hinterlands which traded little or not at all. So, this theory is not enough to completely clear our fear of enforced autarchy due to conflict.”
    The majority of the population of Europe before the Middle Ages were even poorer and more autarkic. The wealthiest areas were in fact on the coasts, of course.

    “I think that the latter can be argued, as had it been merely down to convenience, I think nothing would have stopped, say, the French for conquering the Rhineland back then, or Prussia’s enemies from overturning its territory with irregular raids of light cavalry, instead of offering proper, formal battles which they always lost.”
    Look up the Prisoner Dilemma strategy called ‘Tit for Tat’. Neither side wanted to submit to a total war due to the cost involved and the great uncertainty as to whether it would be their own territory that was devastated rather than the enemies’! That was even more in their minds due to the example of the Thirty Years’ War. In WWII there was nothing stopping the USA or Germany from simply executing all prisoners of war, but they didn’t because they knew that if they did, the other side could retaliate in the same way. As I said before, there was huge cost in total war and the possible (and uncertain) benefit was small compared to the already established households of the kings. So it was hardly worth waging such a war, and much more beneficial for both sides to decide the issue with a set battle. The big difference between then and the 20th century is, as Hoppe argues, that the politician caretakers now in charge of most European states do not consider such things since they do not own the state long-term.

    “This would mean that you believe that the average European in this period was more heavily exploited than in the medieval period. ”
    No, that is a non sequitur. What I mean is that the cost vs. benefit of war relative to their internal income was greater. But yes, in some areas people might have been more exploited than in the Medieval period.

    “From WW1 to the first nuclear devices, the state system was almost extinct, with technology and ideology favoring unification, not independent sovereign.”
    That’s only because you think the ‘state system’ cares for allowing other states to exist beyond Machiavellian motives. The 20th century shows us the real state and its quest for power at all costs.

    “I will try to show how nuclear technology will drive the state system to its logical conclusion: every property owner being his own state.”
    I’m sure Clayton will have something to say about the viability of nukes…

  11. Etjon Basha 12/07/2012 at 22:26 Reply

    Well, if you try to explain the peculiar nature of war or the internal regimes in this period by such strategies as ‘tit for tat’, you have simply restated my argument in Hayekian terms: monarchs acted in a certain way because those who didn’t ultimately lost their thrones, and where no longer around to pass their peculiar way of ruling. I fully agree with this statement, and will only add that not every monarch (indeed, I say very few indeed) was rationally aware of the benefit that following other rules of war conveyed but still followed them because that was what you did.

    Pinning the merits at the door of monarchy itself, as Hoppe does, would be yet another way to state the same argument. If monarchy happened to be a good way of running countries, we’d expect that the state system, with its increased drive for competition between states, to produce it. By contrast, on Hoppe’s own terms medieval Europe was, as I try to argue, a legal tragedy of the commons, not at all a regime “designed” to maximize the lord’s incentive to behave.

    As for my opinion on nukes, I will try to present a sound argument and I look forward to a lively discussion, perhaps even more extensive than this one.

  12. AristippusofCyrene 12/07/2012 at 23:53 Reply

    “will only add that not every monarch (indeed, I say very few indeed) was rationally aware of the benefit that following other rules of war conveyed but still followed them because that was what you did.”
    I agree.

    “If monarchy happened to be a good way of running countries, we’d expect that the state system, with its increased drive for competition between states, to produce it.”
    But not all states are monarchies, and there are many kinds of states with completely different incentives.

    “By contrast, on Hoppe’s own terms medieval Europe was, as I try to argue, a legal tragedy of the commons, not at all a regime “designed” to maximize the lord’s incentive to behave.”
    Well it might not have been optimum, but it still fared very well. The enormous population and economic growth of Europe during the Middle Ages illustrates that.

  13. Etjon Basha 12/08/2012 at 00:01 Reply

    Cool on all three.

    On the second point, I will doubly agree, since I plan a future post on why the Hoppean argument for monarchy appears incomplete to me. But anyways, the state system of old was not perfectly competitive, and discovering better government forms takes time and resources. As for today, I submit that the system is still recovering from the first half of the 20th century, where it nearly broke down for good. But again, to explain in the next post.

    On the third, again granted. Medieval Europe and Japan, though worse than the state
    system, where still a huge improvement over the universal, monolithic empires of old. Perhaps I did not emphasize this point enough in the post, since I was not interested in the medieval period, but I fully agree.

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