Every State a Police State [from Issue 138]
By Carl Watner
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,"
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Smith once noted that there are three primary criteria by which to measure
what extent do you become a criminal by peacefully going about your
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?
what extent does the state confiscate money from you?
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.
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.