Is it old-fashioned to talk about the State?

When Mises.org published my piece on Gilligan’s Island economics, someone slashdotted it and drew huge traffic to the website. I only looked through the first few comments on slashdot. One that stood out for me said that it was obvious I was a libertarian because of my use of the word “State.”

In the comment that author Anthony Pagden left on this blog, he wrote, “I do not see how ‘the State’ (which has a lingering Marxist flavour to it) can be construed as an agent. States in the west have clearly been guilty of myriad evils, but not THE STATE.”

The slashdotter was right, of course. My article was indeed a libertarian article. I don’t know if Anthony Pagden is right or not. In the circles in which I’ve travelled for much longer than I’ve been a libertarian, the term “the State” has an old-fashioned flavor to it, but not a specifically Marxist one. My guess is that Pagden just knows more Marxists than libertarians or classical liberals.

Here’s Frank Chodorov on “the disappearance of any discussion of the State qua State.” If you were to take out Chodorov’s “New Deal” and replace it with Pagden’s “States in the west,” it would read as if the two writers were addressing each other directly.

Rise and Fall of SocietyThe present disposition is to liquidate any distinction between State and Society, conceptually or institutionally. The State is Society; the social order is indeed an appendage of the political establishment…

One indication of how far the integration has gone is the disappearance of any discussion of the State qua State — a discussion that engaged the best minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The inadequacies of a particular regime, or its personnel, are under constant attack, but there is no faultfinding with the institution itself. The State is all right, by common agreement, and it would work perfectly if the “right” people were at its helm. It does not occur to most critics of the New Deal that all its deficiencies are inherent in any State, under anybody’s guidance, or that when the political establishment garners enough power a demagogue will sprout. The idea that this power apparatus is indeed the enemy of Society, that the interests of these institutions are in opposition, is simply unthinkable. If it is brought up, it is dismissed as “old-fashioned,” which it is; until the modern era, it was an axiom that the State bears constant watching, that pernicious proclivities are built into it. (The Rise and Fall of Society, p. xx)

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2 Responses to Is it old-fashioned to talk about the State?

  1. iceberg says:

    A very public thanks is due BK, since it was that very /. article that first brought the LvMI and Austrian Economics to my attention.

    A bit off-topic but an office buddy of mine loves cranking it up to hear conservative talk show host Mark Levine venting out on, gulp!, STATISTS!

    Levine bandies that word about in frightful ignorance of his own military/industrial and veteran welfare positions.

    My buddy chuckles because he enjoys hearing someone call out the socialists in power for their devious schemes. I chuckle at both him and the radio host for believing it would work perfectly if the “right” people were at its helm.

  2. Junker says:

    on HTMLing books

    http://www.delanion.com/liberty/Chodorov/TRaFoS

    html of book & chapters

    The Rise and Fall of Society (1959)
    Frank Chodorov (1887–1966)
    HTML complete book

    Chapters
    1. Economics versus Politics
    2. From God or the Sword?
    3. The Unit of Social Life
    4. Society Are People
    5. “Easy Come, Easy Go”
    6. The Humanity of Trade
    7. Plenty by Competition
    8. Government and Property
    9. A Case of Corruption
    10. A State Is Born
    11. “Social Services”
    12. The Profit of Reform
    13. The Maker of Shortages
    14. A Matter of Degree
    15. One Can Always Hope

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