Random thoughts on “state of nature” arguments for the state

We can find some pretty awful things in untechnological “primitive” societies.  (I remember vividly as a Christian youth being shown a Moody documentary showing that in many places in the world, the so-called “primitives” were actually the descendants of great advanced civilizations.  But let that go for now.)  But what you don’t find is a group of rational individualists.  Ever.

To read the usual suspects, people in nature are eating machines.  They are self-preservers.  The are unrelated by nature.  Society and the state (to all practical purposes identical in this theory) form by contractual negotiation.

But in the real nature, people are children and then parents.  Typically they are spouses of some sort.  They form tribes.  They speak a common language.  (In Liberia, West Africa, where I grew up there were many languages in an incredibly small area.  You spoke a completely different language from people who lived only five miles away.  Tribal identities are stronger than any Hitler Youth program.)  People have familial and gender identities.

Reading the Bible, or ancient Greek literature, one doesn’t find much evidence of any time of individualist anarchy.  People seem to come ready-made into families which then form larger units.  Conquest is a part of this “state-formation” from very early, but not from the beginning.

Today, laws about seditious speech are unique to the State.  But originally, the laws about the civil authorities were simply a version of the same principle that could be enforced for a family.  “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exodus 21.17).  Civil authority did not spring up in competition to family authority (in principle–I’m sure in practice there were all sorts of conflicts).  Society and the state, if it should even be called “the state,” seemed to have a congruence.

Of course, when one approaches political organizations approaching the size and scope of the modern state, then conquest and aggression as well as calculated contracts for the common good, probably played an important part.  But my point is that enlightenment political theory didn’t start with families, tribes, or villages.  It started with naked individuals.  It started with fictions.  Naked indivduals have parents and learn a language from them.

This leads me to think about the modern state and the way it is taking shape in our life.  It seems to me that any rational description of what the modern state does is create “the state of nature”–first by stripping away the normal identities one finds in stateless society and then by making life nasty, brutish and short.  Individualism is a state-invention.

It also leads me to suspect that one need not be a libertarian or a philosophical individualist to oppose the state.  One need not oppose the recognition of private property, the institution of marriage, or the enforcement of justice to oppose the state.

Just as one need not oppose all mail carrying enterprises to oppose the U.S. Postal Service.

2 thoughts on “Random thoughts on “state of nature” arguments for the state

  1. Pingback: Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e56v1

  2. Jim Irwin

    For me, categorization would be “Social Philosophy”.

    Opposition to the ‘State’ doesn’t have to be anti-family or anti-“God’s Law”, and in fact in today’s society, in the U.S.A., to be anti-State would be pro-family.


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