Mises Wire

The Anatomy of the Statist

The statist is a complex creature, composed of many parts, some of which are more obvious than others. No two statists are exactly the same, but many of them share a set of common elements. Studying these elements can shed light on why the statist is so wedded to their statism, and it can also shed light on what can be done to transform them into a civilized human being.

The following list of elements is by no means accurate or complete. This is, after all, still a budding science, and progress is sure to be made in the coming years and decades to correct and add to this list. Nevertheless, a first stab must be made, a first attempt to chronicle and categorize those elements which are likely to be found in your typical statist. This list may be regarded as such a first attempt.

The Humanitarian

One piece of anatomy nearly all statists share is the humanitarian. “We must use force to help the downtrodden,” says the humanitarian. “The state should provide a social safety net for those in need.”

To be sure, humanitarianism as such is not inherently statist. The point here is that many statists are motivated to their statism by their inner humanitarian. The same goes for many of the other elements listed below.

Examples of this element in action abound. From welfare programs to minimum wages to foreign aid and more, humanitarian motives lie behind many of the statist’s most cherished ideas.

To combat the humanitarian, it is helpful to know some economics. If we can show people how free markets do a better job of helping the poor than government handouts, we will be well on our way to harnessing people’s inner humanitarian for good rather than for evil.

The Egalitarian

Many statists also have an inner egalitarian, a personality that sees injustice in mere inequality and sees the state as the solution. Thus, they push for all kinds of wealth redistribution programs, and also for “universal” initiatives like education, roads, and healthcare. “Everyone should have the same access to basic services,” they like to say. “It’s only fair.”

Unlike the humanitarian, it is better to attack the egalitarian head on, perhaps by appealing to a sense of justice. If some people produce more value than others, wouldn’t fairness demand an inequality of wealth? As Thomas Sowell brilliantly put it, “What is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?”

The Paternalist

The inner paternalist is not as well known, but it too is a significant motivating factor for many statists. The paternalist is the one who is constantly saying, “For your own good, I can’t let you do that.” Why is it illegal to take drugs that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration? It’s for your own good. Why are some chocolate Easter eggs banned? It’s for your own good. Why can’t I drive without a seatbelt? It’s for your own good.

How do we fight paternalism? In many cases, simply calling it out works wonders. Point out the hubris it takes to treat other adults as if they were children and see if that does the trick.

The Special-Interest Group Member

This is the person who wants government favors for their group out of naked self-interest. It could be a business lobbying for patent protections, a domestic producer lobbying for tariffs to protect them from competition, or even local homeowners who don’t want that megastructure ruining the character of their community. The interests and groups are extremely diverse, but the common feature is the belief that the state should benefit my group at some other group’s expense.

One idea to push back on this is to emphasize the coercive element of their plans. “What should happen to people who refuse to comply?” you could ask. “Is threatening people with guns and cages really a moral way to benefit yourself?”

The Utilitarian

For some people, morality is largely about maximizing happiness points. Thus, if the free market doesn’t maximize “social welfare,” however they define that, then the state should come in and “fix” things. Many advocates for state provision of public goods or state regulation of “natural monopolies” would fall into this category.

The best way to push back against this is probably to question the possibility of doing any objective utilitarian calculations. But even if the scientific validity of the calculations is conceded, it must still be argued that “social welfare” takes precedence over, you know, not initiating force on peaceful people.

The Theocrat

The theocrat is the one who wishes to instantiate their religion into law, or at least some part of it. Laws along these lines might include the prohibition of various vices like drug and alcohol use, or regulations on people’s sexual lives.

The theocrat is probably one of the harder personalities to persuade because the person’s political convictions are tied to their deeply held religious beliefs. Convert them to a different worldview if you can. That seems to be about the only way out.

The Resigned Follower

This is the person who says government is “necessary” or “inevitable.” “It could never work,” they insist when asked about a stateless society. “We just need to accept the system we have and work to make it better.”

Persuading the resigned follower lies in demonstrating that the state is not, in fact, necessary or inevitable. Show them how private, voluntary institutions have provided many things in the past that we now get from the state. Show them how even today there are private alternatives to everything the state does, including roads, security, and arbitration.

The Risk Mitigator

This is the person who justifies preemptive rights violations because freedom is dangerous. Gun control is a classic example. The risk mitigator believes that freedom should be violated if it means we would live in (what they believe is) a safer society.

There are a few ways to push back on risk mitigators. One way would be to argue that their preferred policies don’t actually mitigate risk and may even make for a more dangerous world. But while this may be true, it lacks force because it concedes the framing. A better approach would be to emphasize that mere danger does not justify coercion.

The Megalomaniac

Cambridge Dictionary defines a megalomaniac as “someone who has an unnaturally strong wish for power and control.”

This is perhaps the purest form of statism. It is someone who genuinely wishes to control others, almost for its own sake.

The kinds of policies indicative of this element are policies that attack our most basic liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and bodily autonomy. People motivated by this element view your life as their plaything. You are a pawn in their chess game, a piece of clay for their hands alone to mold as they see fit.

This is likely the hardest element of statism to overcome. Do your best to persuade such people if you can. And then, perhaps, rally a bunch of friends so the megalomaniac is at least outnumbered and thus intimidated into retreat.

The Heart of the Statist

Though some statists will have more of these elements and others will have fewer, there is one element that comprises the heart of the statist, an anatomical feature they all share without exception. This element goes by many names, but the one I prefer is intolerance.

The statist, at his core, is someone who refuses to tolerate ways of being that are contrary to his own preferences. His motives may be humanitarian, egalitarian, or any of the others listed, but the result is always force, always coercion, always the employment of threats and weapons to control others according to his own desires.

To strike at the heart, then, we must loudly and repeatedly call out this intolerance. We must lay bare for the world to see that this person thinks so highly of themselves that they feel it’s acceptable and even laudable to impose their enlightened views on others by force.

Not only does this get to the crux of the issue, it also highlights the way forward.

The path out of statism does not really lie in a technical understanding of the nonaggression principle, though that certainly helps. The path simply consists of humility. Humble yourself, take stock of your ignorance and moral failings, and you will find your statism shedding like skin off a snake.

You don’t have to understand the intricacies of a stateless society. You don’t have to get a master’s degree in ethics. You just need to say, “Let’s live and let live. You do you, I’ll do me, and as long as we leave each other alone, we’re cool.”

Once someone is nodding along with that idea, the battle is already won. Explain what it implies concerning the morality of government, and then watch for the moment when it all suddenly clicks.

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