Why does the State exist?

Social Memory Complex answers an interesting question that I think is pretty common, but in all sorts of forms:

If the state is as harmful to human society and reprehensible as anarchists usually say it is, why does it exist at all in the extent that it does today and have done throughout history?

First of all, we must notice the implicit false premise in this question. Because something is harmful and reprehensible exists in given society does not mean that it will disappear, as long as it it not harmful enough to destroy its host society. Because something is harmful and reprehensible does not mean that it will not be memetically favoured. Just look at Christianity: despite being a very harmful and immoral religion, it propagates because it is very memetically fit. Statism is definitely of the same mold.

So in essence, the question posits that being harmful to society and reprehensible makes it surprising that statism has survived and flourished, but in fact many memetic strategies rely on a certain level of harm and immorality in order to propagate. A meme that can get the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the meme’s propagation will survive better than a meme that cannot invoke such a level of self-harm: as long as people are too indoctrinated to realize that they are in fact harming themselves for no good reason except a meme’s propagation, which is a very futile reason to live indeed.

If we skip ahead to the main point: why does statism survive and flourish? Insofar as the post-propagation period is concerned, that’s easy to answer. States support each other, and if one falls, others crowd in to take its place, by trick or by force. Once most of the world was statist, it is easy to see how statism could survive indefinitely, when most of the weapons in the world are concentrated in the hands of the ruling classes of the world, and that they generally support each other and the subsistence of statism in general (I am not, of course, including imperialism in this category).

The other part of this point is, how did the State start? How did it “take”? Well, as we know from Franz Oppenheimer’s study of the beginning of the State, called simply The State, the State began, fittingly, as a consequence of war. It did not come about from voluntary choice: no one sane and not indoctrinated by a State would choose to be subject to a State. it came about because of the obvious need for invading armies to raise tribute without having to always take up arms and kill some more rebelling peasants. If you can convince people not to complain while they’re being fleeced, and promise them protection (because obviously the invaders want to keep their cash cow, and not have it handed over to another invader), then you can skip all the hard work and go right to the exploitation part. And that’s basically what was developed over the course of the centuries. The State is basically an ever-evolving way to fleece people without having to do any hard work about it.

Of course, nowadays States are not controlled by invaders any more, and were this way only at the beginning. Nowadays, States are a way for the ruling class in a given society to use fear, uncertainty and doubt to maintain its stranglehold on the wealth and power in that society. It is a self-sustaining system by which a class of people maintains its power when the reason for that power is long gone.

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3 thoughts on “Why does the State exist?

  1. stever0berts May 31 2008 at 3:06

    Nice statement. Are you aware of this post elsewhere http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2008/04/open-letter-to-open-minded-progressives.html
    which begins exposition of the means by which the meme defends and propagates itself ?

  2. Argus September 26 2011 at 1:39

    I sense a kindred spirit …

    • Francois Tremblay September 26 2011 at 1:41

      Have you been reading through my blog? I hope not, or you must be really exhausted. lol

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