Love, Liberty, and the State

Love and liberty are the basic building blocks with which decent people build good lives for themselves.

Love takes many forms—in personal relations, in work and other creative endeavors, in charity toward the needy, in spiritual commitments that give deeper meaning to life amid its inevitable challenges and losses. Love gives us a reason to continue despite discouragements and difficulties, to keep trying to make still another comeback after we have been crushed in body or spirit.

Freedom provides the spaces we need to express our love, to pursue our passions in regard to where and how we live, to choose our goals freely and pursue them as we think best, to practice the arts and professions that most attract us, to allocate our personal and material means as we please in the service of our own purposes, to live without feeling a constant need to look over our shoulders, lest we incur the wrath of a state functionary or a policeman in search of his next victim.

If we have love and liberty, other things follow naturally, at least as naturally as the laws of nature, society, and economics allow. Liberty gives us room for maneuver as we construct our lives in accordance with our loves.

It is no wonder that the state’s essential nature entails its thwarting of love and liberty—nay, even worse—its breeding and fostering of their exact opposites.

States thrive on hatred. In their very establishment, through conquest and the pillaging of conquered people, they make themselves hateful by their own violence and cruelty. In the course of their post-conquest histories, when the formerly roving bandits have discovered that stationary banditry pays better than hit-and-run plunder, they hold their odious threats of violence constantly over their subjects’ heads to ensure that no one dare resist their rule or their demands for tribute and abasement.

After democracy enters the picture, and political parties form coalitions to seize control of state powers, the parties provoke and enlarge hatred in order to attract and maintain loyal members. They constantly harp on how the overriding element in every political issue boils down to a question of “us” against the hated “them.” Societal division and conflict form the fertile soil in which they plant their poisonous proposals for robbing “them” and dividing the spoils among “us.” Thus, by keeping the pot of (largely artificial) class, group, sectional, and race conflicts boiling, democratic political parties smash the love that might grow among cooperative and peaceful people working together for their mutual advantage and replace it with spiritual turmoil and restless contempt for everyone outside the party’s arbitrary bounds.

Of course, it scarcely needs to be said that this kind of organized hatred goes hand in hand with the state’s attacks on people’s liberties. Some of these attacks aim at damaging the “others” outside the ruling coalition, but some of them ironically damage almost everyone in the service of augmenting the state’s power and splendor—always in order (or so the rulers assert) ultimately to serve the general public interest or to gain some great advantage for the nation as a whole, or at least for everyone except the members of unpopular minorities.

Amid the dishonesty, hatred, and violence inherent in a state’s rule, whether under democracy or some other political order, decent people lose the freedoms to express their love in peaceful, creative, and productive ways. Like a muscle, love unexercised tends to atrophy. State-dominated societies are always hate-ridden and spiteful; they turn individuals against one another in countless ways as they crush the liberties that allow positive-sum games to proliferate and establish instead negative-sum games in which if a man does not crush his fellow, that fellow will crush him. Envy and suspicion run rampant. The cheerful good natures that readily develop and sustain themselves among peaceful, free, and prosperous people wither away. The whole world turns into East Germany.

Love and liberty are fundamentally incompatible with the state’s existence and operation. This relation exists not because states begin good and eventually go bad, but because the state is intrinsically an organization whose establishment and operation rest on violence and plunder, which in turn foster hatred and the denial of liberties. Hence, under state rule, decent people’s attempts to build good lives for themselves encounter a plethora of obstacles put in their paths by state functionaries backed by ruling coalitions. Countless intellectuals have reasoned that if the state would only do X, Y, or Z, it would make good lives possible for the masses. Such reasoning flies in the face of the state’s very nature. Sensible people do not invite a viper to live in their home, much less to make it happier.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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