Do You Hate the State?
by Murray N. Rothbard
Originally published in The Libertarian Forum, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1977.
I have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government, abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism, and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these questions are, they don’t really cut to the nub of the issue, of the crucial dividing line between us.
Let us take, for example, two of the leading anarcho-capitalist works of the last few years: my own For a New Liberty and David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. Superficially, the major differences between them are my own stand for natural rights and for a rational libertarian law code, in contrast to Friedman’s amoralist utilitarianism and call for logrolling and trade-offs between non-libertarian private police agencies. But the difference really cuts far deeper. There runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the enemy of mankind. In contrast, it is evident that David does not hate the State at all; that he has merely arrived at the conviction that anarchism and competing private police forces are a better social and economic system than any other alternative. Or, more fully, that anarchism would be better than laissez-faire which in turn is better than the current system. Amidst the entire spectrum of political alternatives, David Friedman has decided that anarcho-capitalism is superior. But superior to an existing political structure which is pretty good too. In short, there is no sign that David Friedman in any sense hates the existing American State or the State per se, hates it deep in his belly as a predatory gang of robbers, enslavers, and murderers. No, there is simply the cool conviction that anarchism would be the best of all possible worlds, but that our current set-up is pretty far up with it in desirability. For there is no sense in Friedman that the State – any State – is a predatory gang of criminals.
The same impression shines through the writing, say, of political philosopher Eric Mack. Mack is an anarcho-capitalist who believes in individual rights; but there is no sense in his writings of any passionate hatred of the State, or, a fortiori, of any sense that the State is a plundering and bestial enemy.