The State According to Nock

The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation.  No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner.  On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origin.  Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another.

And that is exploitation of people with wealth by those with envy, for only in that way can the State sustain itself.  -DAW-

There are two methods or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied.  One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means.  The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.

The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means.  Now, since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can — exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economic means.  He will, at the present time, that is, have recourse to the State’s modern apparatus of tariffs, concessions, rent monopoly, and the like.

Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impractical or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never.

Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go.  The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely antisocial.  It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.

“…justice costly and difficult of access.”  A court run by a benevolent government would deal with laws in plain text and would not need lawyers to persuade the court what mysteries are hidden in the law, which, in America and under the State, is not law but regulations promulgated by the un-elected fourth branch of government, the regulatory branch, which branch finds no support in the Constitution.  -DAW-

[This is] the great truth which apparently must forever remain unlearned, that if a regime of complete economic freedom be established, social and political freedom will follow automatically; and until it is established neither social nor political freedom can exist.  Here one comes in sight of the reason why the State will never tolerate the establishment of economic freedom.  In a spirit of sheer conscious fraud, the State will at any time offer its people “four freedoms,” or six, or any number; but it will never let them have economic freedom.  If it did, it would be signing its death warrant, for as Lenin pointed out, “it is nonsense to make any pretense of reconciling the State and liberty.”  Our economic system being what it is, and the State being what it is, all the mass of verbiage about “the free peoples” and “the free democracies” is merely so much obscene buffoonery.

All of the foregoing is taken chiefly from Our Enemy the State, with pieces from Memoirs of a Superfluous Man and Nock’s letters.

It is worth making clear that the State sets out to enhance the privileged class, the ruling class, by exploiting the less-privileged, who become the envious class.  But in the case of a State having a representative government, the envious class eventually realizes that its members can vote themselves support at public expense.  Then it degenerates into exploitation of the privileged class by the envious class, which then topples the democracy.  A Scottish professor alive around the time of the American Revolution, Alexander Fraser Tytler, gave voice to this reversal: A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.  The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years.  These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.

The Reverend Edmund A. Opitz wrote this in a 1996 review of Robert M. Thornton’s book, The Disadvantages of Being Educated:

Our Enemy, the State appeared in 1935 and has been the subject of some controversy ever since concerning the distinction Nock makes between Government and The State; essentially it is the same distinction made by Bastiat between The Law, whose purpose is justice between persons, and The Law perverted to advantage some at the expense of others.  This arrangement is clear in the case of the Norman Conquest of England.  The Normans parceled out the land — 20 percent to the king, 25 percent to The Church, and the rest to 170 Norman noblemen.  Such a regime is The State, and may have been the kind of thing that Ludwig von Mises had in mind when he pointed out that All ownership derives from occupation and violence.  (Socialism, p. 32 and Human Action, p. 679) Nock’s words clarify the issue:… when society deprives The State of the power to make positive interventions on the individual — power to exercise positive coercion on him in his economic and social life — then at once the State goes out of existence, and what remains is government… government as contemplated by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration, by Paine, by Franklin, and the 18th century British Whigs and Liberals.  That’s all.  But, as Nock pointed out in another context, most people do not want a government that will let them alone; they want a government they can use to their own advantage, and at the expense of everyone else, i.e., they want The State.


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