The Difference Between Government and State

The power of government should not be vested in the state, which is a group of people who are exempt from the rules that govern the rest of us. You can’t solve a problem if you’re not aware of it, and you can’t defend against attacks on your liberties if you don’t know where they come from.

On April 9, 2012, Rush Limbaugh said the following:

Now, is America in decline?  No.  I don’t believe we’re in decline.  I think we’re in shackles.  It’s a fine point.  There’s no question the economy’s trending down, but why?  What Obama wants — folks, this is crucially important now.  Look at me.  What Obama and the Democrats want you to believe is that we are in structural decline because of the failure of capitalism.  We’re not.  We are in decline because of Obamaism.  We are in decline because Obama is shrinking the private sector.  We are in decline because Obama is spending us into debt.  He is taxing us into debt. He is taxing everybody into mediocrity.  It really hits starting next year.  There’s nothing wrong with the country if capitalism would be allowed to flourish.  What’s happening here is that Obamaism has shackled all these new regulations, all of the spending.

The expansion of government has to come from somewhere.  It comes from the private sector shrinking.  Government doesn’t have any money, other than what it borrows or prints, but it doesn’t have any money as a result of production.  So whatever money it has to redistribute, it has to take from someplace.  It’s taking from you and me and every other American.  It’s taking from the private sector, shrinking it.  That’s why the labor force participation rate is down by over two million people since Obama took office.  This economy, there’s nothing wrong with it that capitalism can’t fix.  But what Obama wants you to believe is that it’s never worked.  Capitalism, since the days of our founding, has never worked.  It’s as though we don’t have an incumbent president.

He’s mostly right, in that Obamaism is identical with statism, but getting rid of Obama will not solve the problem if we just replace him with another statist, even if he’s a Republican statist. Republicans are simply statists with a different view of how to use the power of coercion, but even they don’t realize that statism itself is the greatest threat to liberty in our experience.

To understand why this is so, let’s understand some terms.

Government and State

In the past I also have used the terms “government” and “state” interchangeably, but they are actually very different, and if we don’t learn the distinction we will never regain liberty.

Government is the institution that provides governance. No society can long endure without rules governing the interaction of the individuals that constitute it. The question is not whether we should have government — of course we should. The question is, where should the power of government be vested? Should it be vested in a group of people who are exempt from the rules by which everyone else is governed? Of course not. The power of governance should be vested where that power originates — in society. The purpose and function of the state is to extract social power — including the power of governance — from society. We tend to conflate “government” and “state” because in all our lifelong experience the power of governance has been exercised by the state, and most people can hardly conceive an alternative.

The state is a privileged criminal class. It is a group of people who have the privilege of behaving in ways that are defined as criminal if you or I behave the same way. Some examples:

  • Theft. I can’t take your money by force, but the people constituting the state can. If I do it, we call it “theft,” but if the state does it, we call it “taxation.” This is defined as legitimate, but the conduct is identical to the conduct defined as criminal when you or I do it.
  • Monopolies. If you use force to maintain a monopoly, it’s a crime. But the state creates monopolies all the time, and if you resist those monopolies you’ll go to jail. For example, if you decide to sell electricity, the utility in your area will use the coercive power of the state to stop you. In fact, the only way monopolies can be maintained is by the use or threat of force.
  • Counterfeiting. If you create money from paper and ink, you’ll go to jail, but the state does it, destroying our economy in the process.
  • Violence. I can’t force your child to receive medical treatment, but the state can.
  • Trespass. You can’t enter my property without permission, but the state can. Example: A game warden can wander through your woods without your permission and without a warrant, on the theory that the state owns the wild game on your property.
  • Slavery. Slavery is illegal in the United States, except for the state. One common example is the state’s practice of forcing individuals to perform certain acts, such as filling out tax returns or paying minimum wages; requiring them to attend school; forbidding them to sell certain objects or substances, such as guns or raw milk; or to ingest certain substances, such as marijuana. The very act of declaring taxation “legitimate” is based on the idea that the state owns you and is therefore entitled to your work-product.
  • Murder. States are the most lethal institutions in history. More people have died by state action than for any other violent cause.

In all these instances, however you excuse it, the state is conducting itself in a way that is criminal for all but the privileged criminal class. The state is, therefore, institutionalized criminality.

One of the state’s most powerful tools is consent. In fact, even tyrants can maintain their rule only so long as enough people consent. The state has many tools at its disposal for fostering consent:

  • Fear. People fear that planes will fall out of the sky, so they consent to the creation of the TSA.
  • Greed. People envy the rich, so they thank the state for stealing from the rich and giving them the money.
  • Chaos. Fast and Furious is a perfect example. Here the state sold guns to Mexican drug gangs so they’d be used to kill civilians, so it could then blame law-abiding gun dealers and create public demand for more restrictions on gun sales.
  • Ignorance. State-run schools don’t teach principles of liberty, but rather indoctrinate children to think that they cannot exist without the beneficent state. If enough people had any knowledge of liberty, they’d resist the state’s assault on their liberties.

Libertarianism is not Anarchy

I’ve been accused of being an anarchist, but I don’t reject authority; I simply say that the people with the power of governance should not be exempt from the rules that govern everyone else. That’s not anarchy. It’s justice.

For Liberty

Manny Edwards

2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Government and State”

  1. Ugh…I can’t believe I’m even partially agreeing with anything Limbaugh says.

    This is a well written post. I’ll be sure to share it.

    Don’t be bothered by people calling you an Anarchist. I consider it a compliment.

  2. Let’s get rid of governMENT (etymologically: "control MIND") in favor of stigmergic governANCE via the web – see… for a definition of stigmergy. For this to work well, profit needs to be removed as a motive – and that can be done by eliminating the NEED for money.

    Well. How can THAT be done? Please read this essay: Share it widely, because the first step in accomplishing this is getting awareness to the tipping point of the nature of money, and the solution to it.

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