Monday, February 15, 2010

The Left, The Right, & The State

By Lew Rockwell, Jr.

[Note: This is the introduction to the book, which has the same title as this post, written by the same author.]

In American political culture, and world political culture too,the divide concerns in what way the state’s power should beexpanded. The left has a laundry list and the right does too.Both represent a grave threat to the only political position thatis truly beneficial to the world and its inhabitants: liberty.

What is the state? It is the group within society that claimsfor itself the exclusive right to rule everyone under a special setof laws that permit it to do to others what everyone else isrightly prohibited from doing, namely aggressing against personand property.

Why would any society permit such a gang to enjoy anunchallenged legal privilege? Here is where ideology comesinto play. The reality of the state is that it is a looting and killingmachine. So why do so many people cheer for its expansion? Indeed, why do we tolerate its existence at all?

The very idea of the state is so implausible on its face that thestate must wear an ideological garb as means of compelling popularsupport. Ancient states had one or two: they would protectyou from enemies and/or they were ordained by the gods.

To greater and lesser extents, all modern states still employthese rationales, but the democratic state in the developed worldis more complex. It uses a huge range of ideological rationales—parsed out between left and right—that reflect social and culturalpriorities of niche groups, even when many of these rationalesare contradictory.

The left wants the state to distribute wealth, to bring aboutequality, to rein in businesses, to give workers a boost, to provide for the poor, to protect the environment. I address many ofthese rationales in this book, with an eye toward particular topicsin the news.

The right, on the other hand, wants the state to punish evildoers,to boost the family, to subsidize upright ways of living,to create security against foreign enemies, to make the culturecohere, and to go to war to give ourselves a sense of nationalidentity. I also address these rationales.

So how are these competing interests resolved? They logrolland call it democracy. The left and right agree to let each otherhave their way, provided nothing is done to injure the interestsof one or the other. The trick is to keep the balance. Who is inpower is really about which way the log is rolling. And thereyou have the modern state in a nutshell.

Although it has ancestors in such regimes as Lincoln’s andWilson’s, the genesis of the modern state is in the interwarperiod, when the idea of the laissez-faire society fell into disrepute—the result of the mistaken view that the free marketbrought us economic depression. So we had the New Deal,which was a democratic hybrid of socialism and fascism. Theold liberals were nearly extinct.

The US then fought a war against the totalitarian state, alliedto a totalitarian state, and the winner was leviathan itself. Ourleviathan doesn’t always have a chief executive who strutsaround in a military costume, but he enjoys powers that Caesarsof old would have envied. The total state today is moresoothing and slick than it was in its interwar infancy, but it is noless opposed to the ideals advanced in these pages.

How much further would the state have advanced hadMises and Rothbard and many others not dedicated their livesto freedom? We must become the intellectual dissidents of ourtime, rejecting the demands for statism that come from the leftand right. And we must advance a positive program of liberty,which is radical, fresh, and true as it ever was.

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