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The Fiction That Is the State

For a number of years, I’ve been on the email list of The Independent Institute. I’m not really a Great Big Fan of pubic policy "think tanks" for several reasons, but as such things go, these guys and CATO do some good work I suppose.

I usually only skim the emails that come, rarely reading the whole thing or really even any one of the articles completely. Today was different. Finally; something comes along with which I can find nary a single thing wrong.

This bears reading about ten times. Take it to heart; because it’s the absolute reality concerning the State and always has been. Given that the State is such a huge force in everyone’s existence, then if the following does not represent your view of it, you’re ill-equiped to live a life as full and happy as it could be–such fulfillment and happiness always requiring the maximun possible adherence to reality. The State: it’s nothing more than fictional harbor for scaredycats–and it always has been.

HOW RULERS EXPLOIT FEAR

When governments of old tired of spending lots of resources to beat the public into submission, they created the court priest, who promoted a theology of obedience. Modern governments, by contrast, maintain power by exaggerating crises (or crying "wolf" about non-crises) — and clamoring for "solutions" that would give them even greater amounts of power and resources. Both responses are propaganda strategies that exploit the public’s psychological insecurities for the benefit of the rulers.

"From top to bottom, the government wants us to be afraid, needs us to be afraid, invests greatly in making us afraid," writes Senior Fellow Robert Higgs, in an insightful new article, "Fear: The Foundation of Every Government’s Power."

Higgs argues that fear plays a key role in helping the rulers maintain dominion over the ruled. Further, because fear is a "productive" resource for the government, like any other productive asset it is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hence, governments (and their shills in the media and elsewhere) ceaselessly search for new fears to create and exploit — fostering the phenomenon Higgs calls the "danger du jour" seen on television news programs.

"By keeping the population in a state of artificially heightened apprehension, the government-cum-media prepares the ground for planting specific measures of taxation, regulation, surveillance, reporting, and other invasions of the people’s wealth, privacy, and freedoms. Left alone for a while, relieved of this ceaseless bombardment of warnings, people would soon come to understand that hardly any of the announced threats has any substance and that they can manage their own affairs quite well without the security-related regimentation and tax-extortion the government seeks to justify."

If only more members of the public would dare to look behind the curtain, they would see the small mentalities to whom they had surrendered the fruits of their labor and become emboldened to reclaim their liberty.

"Were we ever to stop being afraid of the government itself and to cast off the phoney fears it has fostered, the government would shrivel and die, and the host would disappear for the tens of millions of parasites in the United States — not to speak of the vast number of others in the rest of the world — who now feed directly and indirectly off the public’s wealth and energies. On that glorious day, everyone who had been living at public expense would have to get an honest job, and the rest of us, recognizing government as the false god it has always been, could set about assuaging our remaining fears in more productive and morally defensible ways.

This is a summary. The entire article takes about 10-15 minutes to get through and is very well worth the time. Fear: The Foundation of Every Government’s Power, by Robert Higgs.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace
alarmed–and hence clamorous to be led to safety–by menacing with an
endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." — H. L. Mencken

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

10 Comments

  1. Kyle Bennett on June 2, 2005 at 07:54

    A corollary to this is that when there is a genuine crisis, such as Islamic terrorism, nobody believes it. They think, understandably so, that it is just another trumped up power grab. And sure enough, the vultures have used even this genuine crisis to grab more power. Witness the War on Airline Passengers and the War on Banking as adjuncts to the real war.

  2. Arancaytar on June 2, 2005 at 23:16

    No surprises… what Machiavelli wrote is true today as it is then. Fear is the most effective emotion to promote submission.
    Incidentally, that is why terrorist attacks against a tyrannical regime are not only useless, but actually help that regime increase its own power by creating an aura of paranoia.

  3. Kyle Bennett on June 3, 2005 at 14:33

    Ken,

    "So, therefore, governments DOES have a purpose other than the consolidation of power"

    Not only do I disagree with this, but you do to:

    "Legal restriction, backed by the enforcement power of government, is a necessary evil for humanity. "

    What is that but the consolidation of power? What you're really saying is that "[the consolidation of power] is a necessary evil for humanity.". Seems silly when you phrase it that way, though, doesn't it?

  4. Richard Nikoley on June 3, 2005 at 17:39

    Ken:

    Well, at least we agree that government is evil. The "necessity of evil" is a contradiction in terms.

  5. ken grandlund on June 3, 2005 at 13:45

    Government- at least "self-government" such as a democracy also provide legal standards of behavior and a system by which to enforce those codes. Based not so much on fear, but on the predication of common good and safety. Surely, no amount of lack of fear can ensure that people will all get along nicely. Legal restriction, backed by the enforcement power of government, is a necessary evil for humanity. At least at this stage of our existence.
    So, therefore, governments DOES have a purpose other than the consolidation of power. The trick is getting them to do the right thing by the standards of the people.

  6. ken grandlund on June 4, 2005 at 01:28

    Kyle- Consolidation of power in the sense that we craft rules and establish an enforcement arm for those rules. But we all agree, at some level, to abide by the reles and administer the penalties. It is a shared consolidation of sorts, but not one forced upon us without our acceptance, or by way of our apathy.

    Still other purposes for government include the development and maintainance of our infrastructure (i.e. roads, parks, utilities) and providing minimum baseline standards for equal treatment of citizens. If these are also evils, I can't imagine what our society would be like if left to manage these things as individuals.

    Richard- It was bound to happen sooner or later, but the evil I see in government may not be quite the same as the evil you see.

  7. Kyle Bennett on June 4, 2005 at 10:34

    ken,

    " But we all agree, at some level, to abide by the [rules] and administer the penalties".

    No, I don't.

    I've imagined what it would be like if infrastructure were left to individuals. It would be glorious.

  8. Abraham Lincoln on June 4, 2005 at 06:04

    Karl Rove and Tom DeLay are the government of this country and Bush is the mouth-piece. I suspect Jeb Bush will be the new mouth for somebody else. But you are right. Fear is what made religion and fear is what created the Cold War. However, having said that, people being afraid of their government is like a child being in fear of their parents. We are not able to stand alone until we have grown up and we are a long way from being adults in this world.

  9. Kyle Bennett on June 4, 2005 at 13:48

    Ophir,

    "…then bid us fear it greatly."

    Or, you could say that the post shows that once you see through the charade, you see there is nothing really to fear:

    "If only more members of the public would dare to look behind the curtain, they would see the small mentalities to whom they had surrendered the fruits of their labor and become emboldened to reclaim their liberty.

    "Were we ever to stop being afraid of the government itself and to cast off the phoney fears it has fostered, the government would shrivel and die,"

  10. Ophir's Razor on June 4, 2005 at 13:36

    This whole entry seems aimed at exposing a sort of psychological tyranny of all governments. And it decries the use of fear as a chief asset by which states seek to control its minions (that would be us).

    The great irony here is that, if what you say is true, then we have every good reason to fear the state. In other words, you have told us that the state uses fear to dominate us, and then bid us fear it greatly.

    One could only properly conclude from YOUR OWN logic that you are in fact an agent of the state, whose blog remains a front for the government to increase our fear of the state, so as to maintain a greater degree of control over us.

    Very clever.

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