The defenses of State and Religious law are surprisingly similar

Statists love to argue that without the government humans would descend into chaos. Much like theists claim that without God we’d all be beasts. Here’s why they’re wrong.

A detail from Benjamin West's The Death of Gen...
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While discussing with people who are pro-state and even wish to increase its scale there are a few arguments that are most often used to base this position, the most notorious of which is the Argument from Human Nature. The perspective from the statist is basically that humans needs to be controlled from themselves lest they return to a beast-like existence as well as considering the state the most important institution for the advancement of civilization.

It is no wonder that those most supportive of the most authoritarian of states, the absolute monarchy, were also those who initiated the concept of Hard Primitivism to counter the Romanticism of the “Noble Savage” which made libertarian concepts such as self-management and direct action seem natural and possible. In fact the “Noble Savage” is all to often raised as a handy strawman when the idea that humans are not naturally bastards is put forth.

In this, the statists have a lot in common with monotheists who consider that a higher power is necessary to decide the hard rules all of us should follow. It is all too often for atheists to hear that without a god deciding the absolute rules for all of us (as interpreted by the official clergy of course), humans would immediately turn to barbarism. Without absolute objective morals, humans -is argued- would never be able to have a civilization, and thus religion (and the church) is necessary.

The basic idea from these two perspectives is surprisingly similar so lets look at them each in turn.

Is humanity inherently flawed?

Whereas theists consider than humans areĀ  inherently evil, coming from an original sin and can be made “civilized” only through strict religious authority and trust in a god’s rules, Statists consider that humans are inherently greedy, vicious and destructive and can be made “civilized” only through strict state authority and trust in the common law. The difference is that the former’s excuse lies in the supernatural, while the later in perceived scientific authority.

In short, the idea that fear of God or fear of the State is the only thing keeping society together and chaos & destruction at bay.

The counter to the former is fairly simple: We’ve observed that in fact humans do not turn to barbarism when religious moral are taken away, in fact many Atheists can be perceived to be “better” morally, even from the perspective of the theists and secular societies have a generally good correlation with civility.

The counter to the later is similar: Much like we don’t expect a Theist to become a rampaging beast when they discard their religion, so will a human not turn into a beast when the state authority drops away. In fact, we would consider anyone who does not become a murderer, rapists or thief only because of the fear of getting caught as having a very stumped moral system. We normally consider such a person a sociopath.

But this is in fact the argument that the statist brings forward. That we are a society of sociopaths, barely being held together by the heroic actions of those at the top, who somehow have managed to escape their personal sociopathy while also convincing all the other sociopaths to elect them.

I hope the absurdity of this proposition becomes obvious.

The truth is fortunately somehow different. While humans do have a capacity for both good and evil acts, they also have a tendency towards cooperation and mutual aid as well as having their moral code internalized rather than enforced externally. This is why when the state authority drops away, such as in national disasters like Katrina, we see humans managing to act civilized (even if they can get away not doing so) and helping each other, while those who assume the worst in humans, end up becoming what they fear.

Examples such as these are all too often in human societies, where those at the top, who consider themselves enlightened and surpassing their own “human nature” act the most brutally, while those whom they condemn end up proving them wrong in reality. One only needs to look at the communes in the Spanish Revolution, the Soviets of the Russian Revolution (before Lenin’s consolidation of power that is), the libertarian projects such as Christania or the Kibbutz. All practical, working examples that humans without the state can function just as well if not better.

Thus, much like a new atheist retaining most of their moral system once they lose their religion, so do people retain their moral system once they lose their rulers.

Is central leadership necessary for civilization?

This is another favourite argument from both camps and we’ll see, it is related to the previous one. Theists will argue that without their god’s code of laws, humans would never have been able to organize and achieve a civilization. Without religious scripture and leadership of the clergy/founding fathers/scribes/etc humans would have forever remained in a state of primitivism. In a similar vein, statists claim that without a state promoting science and reason, humans would have remained ignorant, superstitious and crude.

The religious argument is generally easy to counter by pointing out the existence of civilizations which existed along with religions other than their own. They may argue that no other civilization managed to reach the level we have no except Christianity of course, but one can point out that this happened <i>despite</i> Christianity and in fact we see the rise of secularism and atheism as the best correlation, not a particular religion.

The counter-argument from the statist claims is a bit more tricky. They will certainly point out that a state existed ever since we’ve had civilization but that is through a clever definitional trick: We define “civilization” generally from the point at which a state appeared.

Certainly, almost all cultures at some point achieved a state but that has obviously not been enough for the modern civilization and in fact, very often rolled any progress backwards. Rather, something else was necessary.

That was Rationalism. The Age of Enlightenment saw finally the time where humans started coming out of the dark ages and superstition and religious or arbitrary authority started being superseded by rationality and reasonable authority. And while the initial states and other assorted authority institutes were initially hostile to the concept, as it undermined their rule, rationality still increased as the environment of the time made it a competitive meme.

As this increased, we saw first the mellowing of authority and then the first steps towards reasonable authority as seen by the use of political democracy. Traditional customs were discarded and relationships of domination started getting criticized. As rationality increased feeding upon its achievements, so did human behaviour which was shaped by it, start becoming more civilized.

It is this that defines the rise of modern civilization, not the democratic state. That was a symptom of the need for reasonable authority. As such, the claim that the state was necessary is false. Humans would have progressed to a brighter future with or without a state, and in fact they were on the road of doing exactly that within their medieval cities which freed from the state authority, became bastions of progress. If anything, the state, initially feudal but later democratic as well, was the primary cause of the stalling of such progress, with it violently enforcing a system with a conflicting nature in regards to human progress: Capitalism

How? Well it’s a fact that Capitalism is not good at inventing new stuff. This is because of its necessity for short term profit, while research is a long-term goal. As such, the state is necessary to provide the funds for research and advancement, and it is exactly this fact that Statists will bring up as definite proof of the necessity of the state.

But this argument is flawed. The state is only required as long as a system which is inherently irrational in regards to progress needs to be pushed in the right direction. And then it can only do a half-job. But this argument is defeated once one poses the question “Why is Capitalism required?”. Can we not have a system which does not provide a disincentive for research? We can. And once this fact becomes clear, the necessity for the state collapses. Which is naturally why a statist will also maintain that Capitalism is absolutely necessary while moaning about the inability of the system to do what is needed for humans.

In the end, for libertarian socialists, this defense ends up looking more like schizophrenia, with the Statist on one hand trying to praise Capitalism for its ability to promote progress, while one the other trying to defend the state’s existence by lamenting on how bad Capitalism is for progress.

The Truth? Humans Can do Without Authority.

Fortunately, there is ample evidence to prove that humans are not the flawed beasts that theists and statists suggest in order to maintain the rule of their chosen leaders. While humans are of course not Noble Savages, they do have a natural tendency towards Mutual Aid and Co-operation, something which is both historically and empirically proven. We’re not talking about romanticizing the tribal structures, nor are we suggesting we return to such a living (another favourite strawman of the statists).

What we are suggesting is that since humans have the capacity for both “Good” and “Evil” it is the system around them which naturally selects which behaviour will come to the front. Obviously, a system like Capitalism which promotes Greed, Material Self-interest, viciousness, win-culture etc will require a state in order (among other reasons) to prevent this behaviour from unraveling the whole social order. Of course that wouldn’t happen anyway as without a state or other organized submission, humans would most likely follow their natural tendencies and discard capitalism as well.

But a system which promotes a behaviour based around co-operation and mutual aid, such as any system which has discarded private property, will not risk devolving into chaos and therefore a state would not be required to maintain order.

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2 thoughts on “The defenses of State and Religious law are surprisingly similar”

  1. Not to go romanticizing the indigenous past, but have you read America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse by German Arciniegas? If not, he is a S. American professor who makes the case that the enlightenment was spawned by contact with indigenous people in the Americas. It's a really interesting book and pokes some very large holes in the connections between nation-states and "civilization."

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