Front Page Titles (by Subject) Government Contra State - Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov
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Government Contra State - Frank Chodorov, Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov 
Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov, Compiled, Edited, and with an Introduction by Charles H. Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
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Government Contra State
This piece first appeared in analysis (February 1946).
This necessarily brief summary of the distinction between these political institutions will serve, it is hoped, to interest the reader in further investigation. The distinction is based on historical evidence and is supported by the principles of political economy. The best argument for this distinction is in Our Enemy the State, by Albert Jay Nock. The interested reader will also find the following helpful: The State, by Franz Oppenheimer; The Man Versus the State, by Herbert Spencer; The Perplexed Philosopher, by Henry George.
Over his fireplace, even before there were vigilantes or sheriffs, the frontiersman kept a ready musket. It was standard equipment for the protection of life and property. It was his government.
That is to say, government arises from the innate sense of the right to life and the related right to property. The right to life is an indisputable axiom; it inheres in the individual by the necessity of existence. But the right to life is a meaningless abstraction until it is translated into the possession and enjoyment of things which make life possible, beginning with food, raiment, and shelter. The undisturbed possession and enjoyment of things which give existence substance and reality are called the right of property.
When I say that I have a right to life I mean that all the elements which center in my person—body, soul, faculties and acquired characteristics—are an integral to which no other person can show a natural title. When I labor to produce anything, I contribute part of “me” to the thing produced; it came into being because of “me.” The sense of attachment to that thing may arise from the necessity of existence; I feel that it is mine not only because I made it but because I need it. At any rate, the relationship between things and persons which we call property rights is rooted in the indisputable right of the person in himself.
Labor, therefore, is the moral basis of property rights. Labor, however, involves exertion, and exertion brings on a feeling of weariness and irksomeness. We seek to avoid it; we try to satisfy our desires with the least expenditure of labor. We are not interested in working per se; we are interested in enjoyment. Therefore, the getting of something “for free “—that is, without giving up any labor in return—is appealing to our instinct. This conflict between desire and the aversion to labor goes on in all of us; in that sense there is a thief in every one of us. That is why the frontiersman keeps a government—a musket—over his fireplace.
However, the more time the frontiersman puts into protecting his life and property, the less time he has for enjoying life and producing property. Protection is a necessary nuisance. His neighbors are of like mind, and as soon as there are enough of them to make it possible they hire a policeman, a specialist with the musket, to relieve them of the nuisance end of their business. They vest in him the authority necessary to maintain that peace and tranquillity which are conducive to the production of property.
There is a threat to life and property also in the hazard of fire; to ward against this danger a volunteer fire department arises. And again, as this business of putting out fires interferes with the prime business of producing goods and services, a specialist in firefighting is hired by the group. Other overall jobs come up as the community grows, jobs which would be done on a volunteer basis by each of the producers where the population is sparse. Every one of these overall, community jobs arises from the concern of the individual in his life and property, and is a job well done to the extent that his private enterprise is thereby promoted.
Government, then, is a specialized service arising out of community life. It owes its existence to the individual's interest in himself. Its specific job is to maintain the peace necessary to productive enterprise. Its related job is that of providing such services as may enable each of the specialists in the community to carry on more efficiently. And that's all. It is a negative specialty, operating only as occasion for its services arises. Whether as policeman, judge or street cleaner, government adds nothing to the general fund of wealth directly. It is negative and neutral; it is an agent, not a principal; it is a servant, not a master.
The distinctive characteristic of government is that in performing its functions it may have recourse to the use of coercive authority. Its particular attribute is power, vested in it by the producing specialists for the specific purpose of maintaining a condition necessary to their production. But that very protective measure is a danger to all the producing specialists, because it can be used against them. The firearm which the frontiersman turns over to the constable may be used to rob him of his property. When it is so used, when the government becomes predatory rather than protective, it ceases to be a service; it is the state.
Going back a bit, the moral basis of political authority is the right of life and the related right of property. But when that political authority is so exercised as to deny these basic rights, it divests itself of all ethical validity; and that is so even if those who so exercise the political authority surround themselves with law, custom, and a desire to do good. Just as a surgeon's scalpel becomes in fact a dagger when it is used with the intent to kill, so when the exercise of political authority deprives the individual of his rights it ceases to be a service and becomes a disservice.
The state—those in whom the political authority is vested and who use it for other than protective purposes—justifies its action by invoking a “higher law.” That is, it substitutes for the rights of the individual the rights of the clan, the community, the nation. But whence come the rights of these collective fictions? We are told that God made man, but nowhere is it asserted He also fathered an empire, or a village. That which we call “soul” is a private affair and no way of transferring it to another person or group of persons has been discovered. Hence the idea that a number of people, acting together, have a right which supersedes the rights of the individual is pure fantasy, and one which, as experience shows, has been invented to no good purpose.
This is not to say that those who advance this idea are inherently wicked, or are more wicked than the rest of us. They may be motivated by the noblest of intentions, their hearts overflowing with the milk of human kindness. Nevertheless, when they speak of “my country, right or wrong,” or “Deutschland über alles,” or the abolition of private property for the furtherance of the general good, they advance the false notion of a “personal” state. There is no such thing; only individuals exist. And the idea is decidedly at variance with the concept of rights, for it assumes that the individual is subservient to the collectivity, as to both life and property.
Far from being a person, the state is a group of persons who have acquired the power vested in government and make use of it in such a manner as to deprive the individual of his right to life and property. The state is historically grounded in conquest. The purpose of conquest is exploitation. Exploitation is any means of getting goods and services without rendering an equivalent in exchange—that is, any method of “getting something for nothing.” The state by virtue of the power of government which it acquires, perpetuates the purpose of conquest; by legal methods it regularizes the exploitation of the producer, in favor of the nonproducer, and by an elaborate system of education it obfuscates the immoral relationship and even covers the exploiters with an aura of respectability.
The state is divided into two groups, those who wield political power and those who benefit by it. That is what we mean by the phrase “the state within the state.” The keystone of this predatory structure is the power of taxation. Taxation is the regularized method of extracting property from producers for the benefit of the political arm of the state; the revenue enables it to maintain its administrative and executive machinery, particularly the military, and to induce acquiescence through its system of indoctrination. The more it taxes the stronger it becomes and, as a consequence, the weaker the power of resistance that may be brought to bear against it.
The beneficiaries of state power are the privileged classes. The greatest privilege which the state can confer is that of collecting rent from users of the earth. As all production consists of the application of labor to land, the owners of mines, franchises, and other choice spots are in a position to demand a permission-to-live price. Since nobody would of his own free will pay this price, which is in reality akin to tribute, force must underlie its payment; this the state supplies. Although this fact has been lost in the limbo of land laws, it shows up clearly when we trace title deeds to their source: force or fraud. Nobody can put to property in land the moral title test of “I made it.”
Whenever necessary to maintain or strengthen its position, the political arm of the state will hand out other privileges, and each group which thus secures for itself a means of enjoyment without labor becomes a supporter of its benefactor. In recent times we have seen how the state will shore itself up by handing out the dole privilege to the “underprivileged” who have been taxed and rack-rented out of the opportunity of earning a living for themselves. As political power is incapable of producing a thing, the privileges handed out amount to the taking of production from some and giving it to others; this is the essence of exploitation, the object of conquest.
The distinction between government and state, then, is in the use to which political coercion is put. When it is used negatively, for the protection of life and property, with which must be included the adjudicating of disputes among citizens, it is a service; when it is used positively, in the interests of one group of citizens, including politicians, against the interests of other groups, it is a disservice. In the one case it makes for harmony, in the other it is the cause of discord.