The Demoralizing Nature of the State
By Michael Kleen
The problem of being both opposed to the modern state and being forced to live within the context of it is a vexing one, and one that has plagued libertarians, anarchists, and other like-minded individuals for quite some time. As previously mentioned in “A Pragmatic Approach to Anti-Statism,” there are two possible responses to this problem—one based on ideology and one based on pragmatism. Both are troubling in certain ways, although the ideological response leaves the individual with fewer options. While there are two possible responses to this problem, however, there is, in fact, no solution to this problem while the state remains in existence. Previous attempts to solve this problem have fallen short because they failed to fully recognize this reality, but it is a reality that, in itself, can become one of our most effective arguments against the modern state.
In his 1987 article “Libertarians in a State-Run World,” Murray Rothbard asked the question, “How can we act, and act morally, in a State-controlled and dominated world?” In answering this question, Rothbard emphasized the need to avoid two “traps”: ultrapurist sectarianism and sellout opportunism. In the former, a libertarian would go to extremes to avoid anything state-related, including walking on public sidewalks. In the latter, a libertarian could absurdly work as a concentration camp guard while still claiming to be a “libertarian” in principle. Rothbard’s answer to his question was that it is acceptable for libertarians to live within the state as long as they do not add to the state or participate in state activities that are explicitly immoral and criminal.
However, this is a little like saying that you oppose open heart surgery, but will get open heart surgery anyway because, hey, at least you’re not the surgeon.