Government, by it’s very nature, is incredibly dangerous. Whenever a definite (or amorphous) group of men are given not only the tools of warfare, but more importantly, the illusory “legitimate authority” to use them on whomever they arbitrarily please, then tyranny is the inevitable product. Only by recognizing one’s true relationship with the State can anyone begin to even deal with it.
The author postulates the following dichotomy:
“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 primitive exercise of the political means was, as we have seen, by conquest, confiscation, expropriation, and the introduction of the slave-economy. The conqueror parcelled out the conquered territory among the beneficiaries, who thenceforth satisfied their needs and desires by exploiting the labour of the enslaved inhabitants. The feudal State, and the merchant-State, wherever found, merely took over and developed successively the heritage of character, intention and apparatus of exploitation which the primitive State transmitted to them; they are in essence merely higher integrations of the primitive State.”
This is rather interesting, for what he is suggesting is that those who use the “economic means” are producers, creating wealth by mixing their physical labor and/or creative genius with the natural resources of this wonderfully abundant planet, and those who use the “political means” are nothing more than parasites, criminally infringing upon the property and liberty of the producers. These classes are not just a pragmatic distinction, but also one of principle, for political and economic means are not simply various courses available to you as some sort of a all-you-can-eat buffet, but are more accurately described as completely polarized ways of living. What this also implies is that those who claim to want to secure their Liberty should necessarily opt for the economic means, not the political means that their opponents use all too frequently.
Nock goes on to describe the relationship between mankind and the State:
“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 exploitation; the apparatus of tariffs, concessions, rent-monopoly, and the like. It is a matter of the commonest observation that this is his first instinct. So long, therefore, as the organization of the political means is available – so long as the highly-centralized bureaucratic State stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation, so long will that instinct effectively declare itself.”
Is it really true that, “Government…. is but a necessary evil,” as Thomas Paine said? Or would it be more accurate to say that government is but an unnecessary evil, given that Nock considers it to be a homing beacon to every wayward inclination within the heart of man? Governments do tend to attract those who seek power for its own sake, and like moths attracted to a flame, it concentrates all the most horrid and immoral of men into positions to better wield its machinery of confiscatory taxation, rampant bureaucracy, and militarized police. If his analysis is indeed accurate, then Nock has quite likely provided his readers with a key justification for permanent abolition of the State.
After detailing at length the history of the American colonies both before and after independence, Nock writes:
“After conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land. The State assumes the right of eminent domain over its territorial basis, whereby every landholder becomes in theory a tenant of the State. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms.”
In other words, Manifest Destiny was nothing more than propaganda for what was really a massive land grab and long-term forcible domestication project. Even if you were to completely disregard the wholesale treatment of the native peoples (of which some were innocent, and some were not), the alleged beneficiaries of this imperialistic expansion got their comeuppance when the State expected them to pay tax on land they thought they held allodial title to; ironically, those who falsely think of themselves as “homeowners” because they managed to pay off a 30 year mortgage completely disregard the significance of property tax, all the while snobbishly denigrating those who choose to rent instead. Such a situation continues to this day, right here, in the “land of the free.”
Albert Nock’s Our Enemy, the State is a rather tedious read. While I appreciate the level of detail, I did not find it either particularly enlightening or even frankly necessary. The best utility of this work is for those who are still statists and still don’t grasp what exactly it is that they are supporting; but even then, I would prefer they read Murray Rothbard’s Anatomy for the State instead for what is essentially the exact same content. They will benefit from it just as much with much less cost of wading through Nock’s gross verbiage that makes Randolph Bourne a joy to read by comparison.