On The State

Earlier this week on Twitter, perhaps the worst medium for reasonable discourse, Brent Woodcox made a statement which raised the eyebrows of a few followers:

Now, given the respective roles each of these players fill, the ad hominem aspects should be put aside. Ford Porter is on Governor Cooper’s communications team, and Brent is Special Counsel for Republicans in the General Assembly. They occupy opposite ends of the spectrum politically.

But though the genesis of their spat is on politics-as-usual, there’s actually truth in what Brent is saying, though it may pain me to confess it.

It’s more about the way he said it as opposed to what he said, that drew a few potshots from others online. The crux of his statement is true, at least in a popular reading of political philosophy.

Max Weber, one of the foremost intellectuals of the late 1800s-early 1900s, has a succinct definition of the state:

“A human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”

Weber, Politics as a Vocation, 1919

For Weber, it’s as simple as that. The one entity that has the power to wield force – legitimately – over members of the community. That doesn’t mean we live in a totalitarian state; far from it. But there is the implication of violence in the sense that you can be coerced to do something against your will.

The easiest example, and the one cited by Brent, is taxation. Although plenty of us understand and may even value the services yielded by taxation (would you build your own road, or schools, or libraries?) few if any would voluntarily pay them.

Apart from some of the uber-wealthy, who have ways to get around paying taxes because of loopholes and complicated tax codes they can afford to exploit, pretty much everyone coughs it up every year. But why?

Because, as Jonah Goldberg wrote, “Refuse to obey even the most picayune law and eventually a man in uniform with a gun on his hip is going to come talk to you about it.”

If you refuse to pay your taxes, or child support, or some comparable fee owed to an entity other than yourself, at some point along the line an officer of the law will pay you a visit. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be obtained in some violent manner, but there’s a reason you wouldn’t resist arrest, either.

John Hood chimed in as well, with a great encapsulation:

He makes clear the distinction that is lost with such a simple definition. It doesn’t necessarily mean the government is violent all the time, but it’s the specter of violence that allows the federal government to maintain control, enforce laws, protect the nation, etc.

The upshot of this should be that, given we live in a republic, it is incumbent on the voters to ensure we send competent, moral and upstanding citizens to represent our interests, be it to city councils, state legislatures, Congress and, yes, the White House.

An engaged citizenry that elects admirable representatives is the only bulwark against a devolution to chaos.

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