The Four Signs of a Collapsing State (Jeffrey Tucker)
Tuesday February 12th, 2013
“This used to be a hell of a good country, I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.” said George Hanson in the movie “Easy Rider.”
My old friend Joe Sobran (1946-2010) loved that line and quoted it often.
Sobran, who worked alongside William Buckley at National Review during its heyday, was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. After a lifetime of thinking about politics, he eventually decided that there was only one way out of our troubles: the whole of the government has to go.
Sobran was ahead of his time. The latest polls show that 9 in 10 people distrust government to do the right thing. Forget partisanship at this point. The largest political grouping in this country is against government in general. Sure, people are glad to grab benefits as programs allow, believing that they might as well get something back for all the times they have been robbed.
Does public opinion matter? Absolutely. Government an inherently unstable situation because they are few and we are many. The real question is not why revolutions happen but why isn’t there a revolution every day? What is it that keeps these guys in power, aside from the threat of violence? There has to be more to it.
David Hume, in his First Principles of Government, argued that it is public opinion that keeps the racket going. That is a more important thing than violence or guns. It is what people believe about themselves and their government that is the key. Without it, government would collapse. And we see this in history. The precondition for every revolution is the lack of belief in the system that governs them.
The government has strong interest in shoring up public opinion.
According to Hoppe, it does this through the control of four institutions:
A government that fully monopolizes these four institutions and prevents any alternatives from forming is secure in its rule for decades if not centuries. But when they begin to fall, the rulers begin to lose their grip on power. For this reason, all governments have made the control of these institutions a priority.
Control of education allows the political class to inculcate a sense of civic obligation and duty, set the parameters of approved thought, and keep revolutionary ideas from entering into the culture. If you can get the kids at a young age and train them, all the better. This is why every state the world over has worked to secure its control over education. The goal is not to make everyone smart but rather to make everyone obedient.
Control of communication reinforces this tendency to properly filter the ideas that people hold. This is why censorship is one of the first and long-lasting functions of government. It is not to protect you and me against hearing or seeing things that would corrupt our hearts and souls. The idea is to maintain a firm grip over what people believe about the political system and to keep outlying ideas underground and at the margins of society.
Money comes next. Historically, this is one of the earliest institutions that the state seeks to monopolize. Only in the 20th century has the excuse been to keep unemployment down or keep the banking and financial systems stable. The real reason is, as Hoppe explains, to provide a funding source for government that doesn’t require taxation. Taxes make people mad. Devaluation and inflation flies under cover of night.
Finally, there is the need to monopolize the provision of security, which means controlling courts, police, and justice. The idea here is to be able to tell the population that the government is keeping everyone safe. If government is not there, terrible things will happen: monsters will take over.
Now, using this model, we are in a position to assess the stability any regime. Looking back at the anti-socialist revolutions of 1989 and 1990, we can see that all four conditions of control had collapsed, and so therefore the people no longer believed. We saw this too in the Arab spring. We can even look back at the American and French revolutions and see the same thing. In each case, the government systems of control fell and private alternatives took their place. The revolution happened.
How does this apply to us today in the U.S?
Consider communication. Twenty years ago, that monopoly was in tact. The government ruled the networks, controlled the press, owned the telephones, censored the radio, and there were few alternatives outside word of mouth and the ham radio.
Today? Wow. The communication monopoly is completely smashed. The internet, cellular networks, the explosion of media outlets, and the astonishing growth of all forms of human interaction on a global level mean that this side of state control has been obliterated.
The educational system is cracking in a huge way. We learn more from digital networks than from government-owned classrooms. The kids still show up but do they believe? Not really. The dream of inculcating generations in dedicated belief in the civic system is just gone.
Homeschooling continues on the march, and the products of this system are occupying important positions of influence in the culture. Online venues are huge. The university-level system is poised for massive correction in the downward direction.
The money system is seriously broken. The Fed prints and prints but it is not inspiring economic recovery or even bringing about the inflation that would be necessary to cover the government’s astonishing debt level. A measure of the monopoly’s effectiveness is the lockdown of bank lending and the downgrade of U.S. bonds that occurred last year.
Because of this failure, new forms of private money are flourishing: precious metals, digital currencies, gift cards, cash-based credit cards. Peer-to-peer lending is booming. More challenges to this monopoly appear by the day.
Police, justice, and security? This is an interesting case. Thirty years ago, the police were not militarized, the courts were not clogged to the point of being useless, the jails were not full to capacity, and there was a sense that the system was flawed but essentially workable. That is no longer true.
After 9-11, the state overreached and militarized the entire security system in this country, thereby exposing its essential nature. More and more people are catching on to the reality that the security system is not there to protect us but rather to protect the state itself from us.
Hoppe’s checklist provides an extremely revealing look at the stability of the political system today. How far are we from a real or de facto revolution in which private society displaces the corrupt and bankrupt public system? It could be sooner than anyone predicts.
A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism shows us what to look for and how to access the triggers that make dramatic change possible.
Final note: if the ideas in this article seems outlandish, it is wise to compare them to the ideas in circulation in the U.S. colonies in 1775. A whole general favored the abolition of government. “The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act,” wrote Thomas Paine. “A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.”
We’ve traveled a long way from these ideals. Thanks to technology and the breakdown of government monopolies, we are travelling down the other direction toward freedom.
Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo, It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, and A Beautiful Anarchy: How to Build Your Own Civilization in the Digital Age, among thousands of articles. Click to sign up for his free daily letter. Email him: [email protected] | Facebook | Twitter | Google