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Guidelines for the movement:
Jugular strategy against the State
Those who stand against the State must understand only serious engagement of its raison d'Ítre can stop it
article by Phoenix published March 30, 2008
I will briefly justify here an overall strategy for the demise of the State itself, a realignment of campaigns against State power and degrees of Statism. We might call the strategy I espouse "going for the jugular." It is not burdensomely complicated. Neither is the logic which I believe clearly recommends this as the wisest strategy, not only for the Promethean movement for which I write this, but for all dissidents and activists laboring against the State, in the cause of living free. It follows from available information, if we consider that information unsentimentally, as I will show. I believe the rationale I outline here deserves to be definitive in the reformation of strategy against the State.
Yet the logic behind this plan of attack has escaped most of those opposing the State, to our misfortune. This is partly because the fearsome clarity of purpose it requires eludes those with detail-oriented attentions. The daring radicalism of the premise may also remain beyond those who can't quite see beyond politics (at least not beyond the need for anti-State politics), to envision the freer, unpolitical life we can only enjoy after Statism passes away.
Still, in some approximation it has surely occurred to others who still have not followed it. None of the steps of the necessary logic are unknown among anti-Statists; it is only connecting them which is rare. But stubbornly thinking toward conclusions in this way repulses those who lack courage for it. The implicit strategy also appears too stark to fit the tastes of those with more effete and less substantive interests in ending the business of politics—those who have no stomach for seriously attacking establishment politics, and instead end up playing that game from within, despite the cause with which they identify. And if so, they deny an irresistible argument because it fails to appeal to them aesthetically, because they lack imagination for the future, and prefer succor within an industry of perpetual antagonism 'against' the State, yet always with it.
Instead of "going for the jugular" as I would suggest, they have allowed factions within the State to set their agenda; they have opposed particular "policy decisions"; they have spent their energies on furthering awareness of issues peripheral to the roots of power; they have attempted reformation of the State through its own systems; and they have delayed reckoning with the brunt of the State, typically not out of any guerilla cunning or Fabian preparations, but a simpler avoidance of serious confrontation. Those who have avoided serious confrontation might just have been instinctively risk-averse, or may have become timid over years of accommodation and accumulating things to lose. Others may have reconsidered habitual avoidance as a strategy, but could not think past the fear that if they confronted authority, they would lose (although they would not win either, as I explain below).
It is not necessary for me to name those who fit such descriptions, because the vast majority involved in movements for freedom have, at one time or another, matched at least one, if not every one. In most cases, these "strategies" are not even unwise strategies, so much as they express an abdication of strategy, which must be animated by knowledge, imagination, decisiveness and resolve.
If we, however, actually wish to put an end to the monstrous manmade leviathan known technically as the State, we should proceed with daring, and the implacable logic of a strategy to win, not play; to destroy the adversary institutionally and ideologically, not accept it as a fait accompli—which inevitably means it will never pass away by human initiative. (Almost certainly it will not just happen to dissolve for some reason, as long as it remains the only well-known model of recourse in social organization, and strong incentives remain to preserve it.)
Four supporting points:
Note: Importantly, here I define the State in the general sense of a centralized system attached to political power monopolized within a territory, which power is ultimately supported by recourse to coercion, but otherwise functions by the distribution of incentives among its supporters. I do not exclusively mean the particularly onerous modern nation-states.
Point 1: The State relies on relatively few essential institutions and principles for its dominant political power, its popularity as a social recourse, its stature as the central sociopolitical model of human society, and ultimately even its survival as such.
The State is a phenomenon impressed within the psychology of culture. However, there are institutional pins holding it down in the manifest social world. The question for all those who want to remove the State should be: which pins are the lynchpins—what does the State require to keep it firmly in place? This would indicate which reversals are necessary to unseat the State.
I have written that the State institutionalizes the triadic, compounded ills of orthodoxy, collectivism, and force, which I have identified as the gravest plagues infecting human society, holding our potential in check. It is true that these identify the dangerous trends of the State, and categorize its nature. They explain what is inherently troublesome and ruinous about the State. But they are not unique to the State they describe—the State encompasses a subset of them. They are far too general and widespread to be named as institutional and ideological targets of priority. Here, we must identify specific and unique essentials, in order to identify vulnerable points.
The State rests upon a system of monopolies, all ultimately enabled by, and issuing from two monopolies, one lesser and one greater. The lesser actually followed from the greater, in the ancient history of the State's development. But the lesser enables the State to have the size and centralization of power we characteristically expect from it, and the dependency and psychological habituation common today. The greater, even more so, is so essential to the State you could almost call it the State's definition.
The lesser monopoly: Control and manipulation of money. Without control over money used by the economy, it would become impossible to maintain a vast system of rewards and incentives for playing along with, collaborating with, or actively promoting the State. It is instrumental in the psychology of dependence upon the State.
In modern States this monopoly on currency is established both through monopoly on the printing of fiat currency pronounced "legal tender for all debts," and—more subtly—by a) borrowing to finance debt, e.g. issuing treasury bonds, and b) manipulating money's commodity value by regulatory dispensation under a socialized central bank, e.g. the Federal Reserve. This allows not only extortion through taxes, but the hidden tax of inflation, debasing the effective worth of currency in the long-term to enrich select interests in the short-term.
The greater monopoly: Control of war and the industry of warfare, including not only combat troops, but special forces, contracted logistical support and infrastructure industries, intel-gathering, R&D, spying, propaganda, etc., down to any agents who enforce political demands of rulers at a local level (e.g. in the "war on drugs"), and any personnel who make their activities possible. This exclusive command upon unmatched force is the primary monopoly of the State.
Not only does the ability to initiate and direct war directly supply the dominating force the State requires to impose itself and attempt to impose the will of its rulers, but war strengthens the State's hold over citizens in numerous ways, from regimentation, to financial exploitation, to suppression of dissent, to distraction from the State's predations. These predations of the State also demonstrably extend during "time of war." Even losing a war tends to force dependence upon the State as the de facto, though failed, means of so-called "self-defense." The clannish, mutual aggressiveness promoted by a war mentality makes skeptical individuals into the willing adherents of the State. War is also the chief profitable activity for the State's ruling elite and their dependents, especially as a great number of other industries may be commanded and manipulated all in the name of war. Modern fiat money which the government can create from nothing (imposing latent, but real costs in inflation) was instituted to finance expensive wars, which have proven to be a major incentive and excuse to inflate the currency and borrow massively, enriching the State or its attached interests.
Even further, it should be recognized that the State's form throughout the ages has primarily reflected the supposed demands of the military first (exceptional liberal institutions notwithstanding)—and furthermore, that an army can and often has "founded"—i.e., imposed—a State. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say that we have the State today because of war in the past. The relationship is intrinsic.
Civil dilutions of State force (police, courts, prisons) have ultimately derived from more naked military customs which imposed and developed States in the past—as Franz Oppenheimer pointed out in The State, first from invasion, and then subjugation of a conquered people, and then by socialization of both invader and conquered under a common hierarchy with varying degrees of elitism intact. (Thus, those who lament the "militarization of police" somewhat miss the point!) This process was not recorded for pre-historical States, but in cases of a recently-created State (Israel, or the stillborn State in post-occupation Iraq) one can actually detail the nakedness of civil institutions evolving from direct service to the military State.
War and money—without faith in these exclusive monopolies over economy and force, the State would collapse, regardless of anything else. They are for our intents and purposes the main veins of the State's lifeblood. Where and when the State lacks opportunity for tapping either vein pumping its lifeblood—when it cannot be fed by a rich vein of production or a rich vein of domination—it cannot impose as much tyranny and imperialism upon its citizens and neighbors, and seems comparatively tolerable, even "civil" to those who do not understand its greedy nature. Cut both of these, and the State will perish—the age of central government ends, and the way opens to forge a Promethean society of free individuals.
Point 2: No other collapse of an institutional principle associated with the State today, no matter how objectionable and seemingly deserving of attention and opposition, will uproot the State as long as its principal, ancient "veins" remain. Nothing else is essential to the State's existence, but is rather a byproduct of its existence, or a detail within the larger phenomena above. Because this point has escaped many people, it is necessary to explain this for a few subjects of consternation, so that the pattern of peripheral Statism becomes clear:
• Violations of civil liberties: these are always excused as necessary expedients during war. Otherwise individuals refuse to yield their liberties. Without the powerful compulsion of a centralized military, measures such as martial law would be impossible. Domestic surveillance also requires a massive centralized intelligence-gathering industry, with a mandate only the State at war could furnish (and what once was furnished, the State need never dissolve).
• Moralistic crusades such as "the war on drugs": the concept and industry of war comes first—its specific excuse (to maintain "security," "defense," "order," "safety") does not matter. If there is no other State to fight, and such an Enemy cannot be manufactured, a demonized substance like cocaine or marijuana, or an abstract boogeyman like crime or terrorism will be drafted for the purpose. Thereby, budgets will flow, the 'troops' will be paid, whether they are napalming drug traffickers, killing Iraqis or delivering sacks of grain "to eradicate African poverty," and the common consciousness of the State will be strengthened. Thus there is always another crisis, another excuse to say that in wartime the State must set the rules.
• Specific forms or degrees of taxes or other revenue-gathering: objections to these are but tangential, for as long as the State controls money nothing can stop it from feeding its own.
It might seem as though one might undermine the psychology of the State among its supporters by attacking it on other issues besides war and money. But it is not only the functionality of the State, but the psychology of the State which depends intrinsically on war and money, and requires nothing else to maintain psychological dependency.
To illustrate, let us consider a fourth example of peripheral Statism, which actually cuts closer to the bone of the State than typical endeavors of most freedom activists, but nonetheless indicates the point: so-called public "education." It might seem as though public education might be diminished or dissolved, and this State indoctrination of the youth abandoned, thereby undermining the religion of state-faith among future generations. After all, this would attack the orthodoxical aspect of the State, which joins its collectivism and force in undoing us. However, such a plan forgets that State control of education is highly useful to the State in cementing itself, but not essential to its existence, and more importantly it puts a result before the cause. The accustomed right to indoctrinate is an accrued byproduct of a power-hungry system with so much centrality in any society, and with so massive an ability to sponsor dependents such as teachers and academics; it once seemed proper for the Church to do the same. The State did not occur because of indoctrinating the youth in public education; rather it could eventually accrue the ability to do so, and help solidify itself further, because it was already so significant in the psychology of the people. Moreover, as the earned byproduct of State centrality and accompanying resources, it would likely be impossible to wrest such a useful institution as youthful indoctrination away from the State until the State weakens, when this institution will surely migrate due to lack of trust anyway.
In summary, whatever else is done in the name of the State aside from war and money may very well help the State to remain powerful, yet a catalyst should not be mistaken for the basic reaction we must halt.
Point 3: The numbers of those devoted to opposing the State are few, and their resources highly limited. This is particularly true because of the inconsistency of commitment to some issues and not others; of all those who oppose the State, few really oppose the State in a basic sense rather than select institutions of it. With so few, it is simply not possible to study, monitor and agitate against everything the State does, in every form. Energies, funds, and our ability to gather intelligence and persuade others to help are all drastically inadequate compared to the totality of what we face. Our time is also limited, not only by the duration of our own lives but also by the looming disasters the State threatens to wreak upon all of us. We simply have little ammunition to waste, and a giant to destroy before it destroys us.
It would certainly be desirable if we had more options, if we had more time, if we had more resources. It would be preferable to have the luxury of challenging everything contributing to the State. I would certainly like to know everything about our adversary, and mount every possible campaign against every offense. But what we would like must not be confused with the circumstances we actually face. The reality is that spreading the resources of anti-Statism thin is tantamount to an already meager army splitting into squads to pursue a thousand different objectives. Such groups will tend to be ineffectual, scattered, and easily picked-off.
Point 4: As the above points suggest, the State, since it holds power over money and war (to speak synecdochically), cannot be restrained from excess in feeding upon prosperity and fear, nor reformed to a reliable condition of public service, but only banished from society. No State will hew to minimal imposition which retains its essential, unchecked means of aggrandizement; no State without these powers remains a State. The State as an institution, which inherently includes the recourse to naked, forceful compulsion, can only be eradicated completely, not accommodated or pacified, not redeemed to civility.
There can be no means to restrain compulsion itself. And how could one reform its principle, which is, "do as we say, or else"?
Without possessing the industries of violence and its extensions (and secondarily, money) the State cannot exist; but with them, the State both can and does metastasize, either faster or slower, depending on the vigilance of those trying to prevent the ratcheting of State power (who, as I have said, are not a popular front today, which only makes prospects all the more hopeless). That inexorable spread has proven itself as much a law of human behavior as there can be—as reliable as supply-and-demand, or any economic principle which adheres to self-interested incentives. For the State imposes the ultimate monopoly which can secure any other, and encompasses the ultimate reward system for the corruption of society, in which some may aggrandize themselves at the expense of others to the degree to which they are prepared to impose on others—a recipe for abuse without compare.
The State itself, by the essentials of its nature, comes to dominate those who would be free of it. It gradually incorporates and systematizes formerly-resistant people, in intellect (by orthodoxy), body (by force), and emotions (by collective spirit)—a system of punishment or reward one must join or suffer. Reform or restraint of such an invasive, insidious parasite cannot serve as practical, sustainable strategy.
I have indicated objections sufficient to break the theory of limited government espoused by libertarian minarchists, in which a government "properly" handles "basic functions" like defense (war) and issues (monopolizes) currency, and frequently the term "the State" is reserved only for disparagement of an especially excessive rule—thus, a typical State today which far exceeds this minimum. Even if a minarchist transformation of the State from within were possible, this would be like cutting a cancer back to its original tumor. For the State cannot be reigned in securely if one already allows its "basic," intrinsic engines of growth initially; there is no mechanism to reign in the State except refusing the State its right to exist, by way of denying those same functions which also provide its fearsome and insidious means of takeover.
Constitutionalism proposed that words and principles given the force of law could restrain the State and serve as that mechanism. This plan failed in America as soon as leaders who did not voluntarily revere the Constitution took power. No Constitution can restrain the metastasizing power structure for long, in that the State officiates the laws.
Even Ron Paul and the other Misesians' plans for free money (probably under the gold standard) would not stop the State in the long run; we know this because ancient States began long before fiat money or monopolized money, with war, which provided for an economic reward system through pillage, then taxes, and eventually the force monopoly set the stage for the imposition of monopolized money once it was invented. The first of the two powers can provide the other, because force can demand anything.
A greater degree of popular democracy also does nothing to restrain the State from amassing and concentrating power. In fact, it provides dangerous leverage. If the State can claim popular support, all are supposed to believe "we are the State," and how could they question, stop or destroy themselves? Unfortunately, only the minority have been able to see through the nature of a "majority rule" the government interprets and oversees—as though real self-rule needed overseeing! The masses of people have been easy to buy off, and deceive, since the State's inner supporters keep the real power. Arrogant officials allow only those choices they must, or choices that do not matter to the State and its ruling interests. Otherwise, they disallow important choices which fail to produce a result they want.
Democracy has accompanied the most massive dictatorial, bureaucratic and financial growth of the State since the absolute god-kings of the ancient world. Modern politicians and bureaucrats appropriate from citizens as the State never has before in history, and distribute to reward powerful interests and adherents, giving pittances to unaffiliated dependents. They now, after the influence of popular government in the world, take it upon themselves to decide everything large and small, from what light bulbs people may buy to how much money the State will steal from the dead, from how high a fence may be to whether an unpopular minority will be allowed to speak out, or be exterminated. They only have to claim to orchestrate control on behalf of "the people," rather mystically. The popular State wants to encompass everything for all the people.
In summary, recognizing the need for statelessness is necessary to any effective strategy for liberty; even granting the concept of a "proper" State ensures losing to the State, because the essential foothold it needs to grow has already been granted, and there is no way to stop it. The minimal State is simply impossible outside of idealistic theory, or a transitional moment.
If the above points are accurate, and I believe them to be proven manifestly and certainly by the full experience of practice and theory, then our conclusions must be twofold:
First: The only sensible strategy is to attack the economic and militant jugulars of the State, and stop diverting attention to other strategies of attack, squandering resources and scattering ourselves. As long as the State can make war and money, it can manufacture its own power, and aggregate all else. The State is a behemoth standing on the pillars of War and Money. Stop yielding the empowerment to command force, and liberate money for decentralized and voluntary service, and the State will crumble like Nebuchadnezzar's statue with feet of clay. Otherwise, we remain merely pygmies excitedly hopping about in its footsteps, telling the giant what not to crush.
Second: The analysts and critics opposing particular depredations or injustices by any particular State, who seek remedy or reform for particular issues are sincerely wasting time, effort and other resources. It is most unfortunate how many liberty advocates expend themselves drawing attention to relative minutiae, as is shown by the ignorance of war and money issues among those who may be far more aware of many other kinds of issues, such as drug legalization or civil liberties. To legalize marijuana, or to lower taxes will never end the State's impositions, and the State cannot presently be compelled to yield on such terms while it holds the power. Furthermore the State has no obstacle to simply finding replacements for the roles these serve—even if (like alcoholic prohibition), it should for one reason or another give up one avenue of control it can always make another. Again, if the State can make war and money, it can make up its own powers. It cannot be limited by arguments against one or another detail.
• Projects to elucidate the functionality of the State should focus on the institutions of force and finances, in an effort to understand how to end war and free money, and should relate subordinate topics back to these goals. That is not to say, for example, that other issues of civil liberties should be ignored, but they should be connected with the bases of the State through common conceptual threads like property rights or wartime centralization, not isolated as topics in their own right (e.g. the amorphous "right to privacy").
• The persuasive power of specific issues which can be viewed separately from war and money may rightly be seen as advantageously contributing to agitation against the State. However, in order to really strike at the State as a fundamental institution, these must be linked in context to the basic framework whenever possible. For example: torture and other outrageous breaches of the State's supposedly-guaranteed civil liberties and legal protections when it is convenient to breach them could be isolated as judicial injustice, especially in domestic cases. However, torture can alternatively, and more accurately be connected to the security question of the State as a monopoly making its own rules—including its use of military war, and all the practices designed to support it, whether domestic or foreign, and other militant actions excused in the name of security.
• Activism should not be wasted on particular issues which do not contribute to the main objectives of State-starvation.
• Endeavoring to replace the social functions which the State has appropriated for itself with alternative, voluntary, organic replacements should focus on the substance of protection, and productive exchange.
Of course the tactics required to succeed against the State are still open for analysis and invention. The optimal course tactically remains another debate, and theory to inform more specific tactics is not indicated here. But the strategic plan of action following from the above points makes it plain: any self-styled opponent of the State who does not apply himself to following these conclusions, effectively does not act against the State, to limit its means and destroy its power, so much as he merely disapproves of it.
I would add finally that one objection might seem to be that undermining control over war and money is prohibitively difficult. If this is true, a Fabian strategy of some sort would seem preferable to ripping out the State by the roots. Indeed, this belief must have contributed to the choices of many who seek liberty to apply themselves to more modest goals, which seemed achievable. They have been proven wrong about modest goals, however. If, for example, decades of study, agitation and lobby, and a sympathetic public could not legalize marijuana or prevent the incarceration of hundreds of thousands for contact with the plant, the belief that bite-size pieces offered an easy way to push back the State must now be considered mistaken and naïve, a bit like guerillas raiding isolated patrols but never the supply lines of the whole army. Tax reform, education reform, and justice system reform have also been denied habitually by avaricious power, despite great effort at petitioning it. It now seems mad to continue such failed and demeaning strategies.
Still, it may be that it is also too difficult a task to mount a serious campaign against the true foundations of the State. It is undeniably daunting. Although I claim it can be made a more straightforward task than is usually supposed, this does not mean it can be made an easy task. Certainly, it is presently too difficult to engage in anything like a decisive battle, popularity versus popularity. Yet this does not imply that we cannot, like effective guerilla-dissidents, strike at vulnerabilities insofar as we do have the resources to aim at targets—instead of making mere mosquitoes of ourselves, and possibly useful ones who help the State to promote its own magnanimity for allowing opposition.
And it is precisely because we are dissidents who do not have a popular movement that gathers recruits with time, that we cannot bide our time as though we are rebels in the mountains building a peasant army, or Italy waiting for Hannibal to leave. Dissidents do not win by bowing to popular sentiment, and adopting a more tolerable agenda while they wait. Quite simply, the State must be challenged meaningfully, or we lose the fight in any case; our fortunes have only ebbed over decades of supposedly biding time.
But more importantly, there is this: in devising strategy, we assume success is possible. We start from that hopeful assumption and choose the likely course between our present condition, and the one we desire. So far, the less serious strategies of most anti-Statists have not been workable; therefore we must adopt a more serious strategy. The negative thinking promoted in cynicism and fear spoils strategy, which requires a positive assumption to have any chance of solving the problem of "how?" And at least, if we obstruct and undermine the powers of State money and war, we will have the satisfaction that we really have gone for the jugular, instead of vainly hoping that society's most dangerous monster would perish from ineffectual pinpricks, or allow itself to be tamed, or go away by itself.
Fighting the war of ideas in real battles at least gives us a chance to win that war. Let us set an example for future acceptance of our presently-marginalized principles, by setting an agenda of real change and not deviating from it. If we must lose battles anyway, let us lose them because we could not win them. Let it not be because we have given up battles like cowards, or believed, like fools, that victory in this war would simply fall into our laps somehow, despite our presenting no great challenge to the pillars beneath the powers that be.