“With all [due] respect to the differences among types of government, there is not, in strict theory, any difference between the powers available to the democratic and to the totalitarian state.”
–Robert Nisbet, “The State,” (1985).
The following ruminations were sparked by reading a report that enemy combatants, in the War on Terror, may be detained without the constitutional protections normally afforded Americans. Any person – American citizen or foreigner – considered treasonous or a threat to the United States – may be so classified. This means that you or I could be deemed a terrorist for reading this article. (After all, our ideology certainly threatens the very existence of the state.) It is also known that President Bush has ordered, and Congress has sanctioned, the “extrajudicial killing” of enemy combatants anywhere on earth. For example, President Bush in his January 2003 State of the Union Address reported the arrest of more than 3000 terrorists, “and many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way. They are no longer a problem.” In other words, “many others” have been murdered at his direction. Whether or not such murders have taken place in the United States is not known, but they certainly could have.
Do these most recent policies by the Bush Administration make the United States of America a police state? Are they similar in nature to the actions of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia in imprisoning or murdering their enemies?
To answer these questions: No and Yes. No, because as I wrote in my 1993 article, “In All But Name,” the United States is already a police state. Every state law, no matter how petty or important, has as its final punishment your imprisonment or death – should you decide to resist it to the bitter end. This is true of all states, everywhere, at any time.
Yes, the Bush Administration policies are similar to those of Hitler and Stalin because every state depends on its police forces to enforce its coercive edicts. If a state cannot convince its subject population to comply with its laws, it must initiate violence to enforce its will. The failure to use force will ultimately lead to the breakup of even the most monolithic state.
The reason that I argue that “every state is a police state” is that it is inherently the nature of the state to establish a compulsory monopoly of defense services over a given geographic area. Property owners who prefer no protection, or prefer to protect themselves, or prefer to hire other protective agencies are not allowed to do so. It is also in the nature of the state to obtain its revenues from taxation – a compulsory levy on the inhabitants of its territory. Every state depends on taxation to finance itself. If you don’t pay your taxes you will be imprisoned and/or your property will be confiscated.
The short and long of it is that if you don’t obey state laws, the state will wreak violence on you. The anarchist insight into the nature of the state sees it as an inherently invasive institution.
All you need to know about states is that every state is a police state. Some have more edicts than others; some have fewer – but they all have laws that you must obey or suffer the consequences.
George Smith once noted that there are three primary criteria by which to measure state oppression:
To what extent do you become a criminal by peacefully going about your own business?
To what extent must you ask the government’s permission to use your own property and labor or that property and labor of others whose consent you have already obtained?
To what extent does the state confiscate money from you?
Even the most benign states violate the rights of peaceful people to be left alone. Even if there is no income tax, there are import and excise duties, sales and use taxes, and property taxes. If you want to opt out, you can’t unless you want to face the barrel-end of a gun. If you birth your children at home, the state wants to get involved. You are required to register their births. If you want to erect a building dedicated to your religion or your business you are required to get a building permit. If you want to homeschool your children you are required to report to governmental authorities.
All government, by its very nature, is coercive. To the voluntaryist, a man is still a slave who is required to submit even to the best of laws or the mildest government. Coercion is still coercion regardless of how mildly it is administered. The point is not what form of government is best, or mildest, or which form of government seems to be most protective of liberty. (Governments cannot be “protective” of liberty because they negate property rights via taxation and compulsory monopolization of services.) The question is: Wouldn’t it be more moral and more practical to provide protection services and all the other myriad services that governments provide via voluntary means rather than on a coercive basis? After all, common sense and experience teach that if one takes care of the means that the end will take care of itself. The only way to avoid the police state is not having a state at all.