Mises Wire

An Ancient Warning: Criminal Trespass Is the State’s Essential Feature

Whether one takes the Hebrew as literal history or as archetypal fable, there’s no escaping the warnings given to those who reject the private law society. Those warnings are that there is one vile and destructive alternative to the peaceful resolution of conflict by market actors. That vile alternative is what we call the state.

In the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to the scene of a nationwide rejection of private law in exchange for a form of rule that the people of Israel had observed in all the pagan nations that surrounded them. In their defense, their prophet, Samuel, had selected leading judges in a direct affront to the methods that Yahweh—Israel’s god—had clearly prescribed. The selection process had to emerge from the sphere of exchange, where honest dealers who had the competence and character to win over their fellow citizens through their personal uprightness would be exalted in unanimity. These people would then serve as arbiters in what Hans-Hermann Hoppe has described as private courts.

Instead of utilizing this market-centered selection mechanism, Samuel took the expedient path and simply lifted his own sons to the role. In doing so, they would move throughout the land of Israel from town to town, deciding difficult cases. These cases included every offense from the improper building of walls on a neighbor’s property all the way up to capital offenses. Rather than conducting themselves with impartiality, Samuel’s sons were incompetent and greedy for bribes, and they were not held in check by their fellow countrymen. Rather than demanding that the prophet denounce these crooks and replace them through the righteous process that Yahweh had prescribed, the people also erred by looking to power and not righteous actions in the market for the solution to judgment.

The rejection of this method wasn’t a rejection of Samuel or his sons. Rather, it was a personal rejection of Yahweh himself as sovereign ruler and arbiter of justice and righteousness. The people petulantly complained to the prophet and to the Lord to give them the state. And they were given it … good and hard.

Even so, they were warned about the nature of the state before it was inaugurated through the reign of the tall and handsome yet moronic and worthless donkey retriever named Saul. However, Yahweh didn’t speak of the personal flaws of the kings themselves. Rather, he warned his people that by rejecting Him and his market-generated path toward justice, they were wishing for a monstrous institution that was—and is—established in criminal trespass.

Yahweh issued the dire promise, not just to them, but to all nations, that those who prefer the state to private law will rest under his judgment and displeasure. They will get what they ask for. Under such rulers and authorities, every sphere of life would be violated, including families, farms, and fortunes.

Specifically, the state would—not might—violate their families by enlisting (kidnapping) their sons to serve as the rulers’ infantry, to be cannon fodder. The plight of daughters would be even worse. Even though they were initially warned that they would be used as “bakers and perfumers” the vile predations of kings would turn them into rulers’ own sex slaves. Furthermore, every family and tribe would become the authority’s personal slaves (1 Samuel 8:10–18).

Far from stopping at such trespasses in family life, these same rulers, regardless of their personal righteousness, would also violate the sphere of faith and worship by seizing the first tenth—or tithe—of Israel’s income to put toward maintaining the servants of the king’s house. This is an obvious affront to Yahweh, as under the private law arrangement, that tenth was to go to the servants of the Lord himself. In other words, the king would trespass on the wealth that belonged to God himself for service rendered to Him!

As if all these forms of criminal trespass weren’t enough, these rulers would seize the best of the lands, flocks, vineyards, and other choice properties. Once again, the fruits of these physical properties would be used by the arbitrary and capricious whims of the kings of Israel and Judah.

One would think that such warnings would be enough to cause the people of Israel to shudder in terror, remember the meager predations of the occasional corrupt judge, and beg for the original form of private law that Yahweh had mandated. Alas, the ancient Israeli people, much like the statists of today, chose the predations and criminal trespasses of the state. All for the false promise of security and safety and the alleged ability to limit the corruption of authorities. But instead they welcomed that institution that was—and always will be—nothing less than weaponized criminal trespass.

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