Mises Wire

The State as Modern-Day Superstition: Unraveling the Illusions of Authority

Without the erroneous public perception and judgment of the state as just and necessary and without the public’s voluntary cooperation, even the seemingly most powerful government would implode and its powers evaporate. Thus liberated, we would regain our right to self-defense and be able to turn to freed and unregulated insurance agencies for efficient professional assistance in all matters of protection and conflict resolution.

—Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Production of Defense

In contemporary times, the state has assumed an aura of sacred infallibility, commanding zealous and unquestioning devotion from its citizenry. This blind allegiance mirrors the fervent tribal reverence once conferred upon shamans in ancient societies, where faith and tradition superseded rational inquiry. However, unlike those organic, community-rooted systems of old, the modern state’s claimed supremacy stems not from any factual basis or empirical assessment but rather from pervasive myths surrounding its purported omniscience and benign intentions.

The State as Manmade Myth

Despite the prevailing sentiment, the state does not innately possess powers exceeding those held by ordinary individuals. The state is a human invention, devised as an organizational tool to coordinate collective affairs, not as a deity to be worshipped without reservation. And yet the average modern citizen acquiesces without resistance to the state’s declared authority, obeying its often ambiguous dictates as if they were divine commandments inscribed in stone.

Like pagans conducting rituals to appease temperamental spirits, voters today participate in elections and political processes, hoping to shape their nation’s destiny and align it with their own interests. But these efforts primarily serve to perpetuate the mythological legitimacy of the state apparatus, just as pagan rituals functioned to intensify a shaman’s exalted status among the tribe. Neither shamans nor states truly possess the far-reaching powers attributed to them by their faithful adherents. Their authority stems not from empirical facts but from the circulation of persuasive myths and the inculcation of social conditioning.

By recognizing the human origins and agenda-driven mythmaking processes that grant legitimacy to state power, we can begin to fundamentally reevaluate the relationship between the governors and the governed. This shift in perspective empowers us to challenge the sacrosanct prestige of the state and explore alternative organizational forms that prioritize individual autonomy, voluntary cooperation, and spontaneous order.

The Fiction of State Omniscience

The misplaced confidence in state authority is often rooted in an inflated notion of its knowledge and capacities. The state is frequently portrayed as an omniscient, omnipotent entity capable of expertly designing and engineering society, as well as benevolently guiding the masses toward enlightenment. In reality, no singular organization or institution, irrespective of the resources and technological prowess at its disposal, can ever hope to attain total insight into the unfathomably intricate and constantly evolving network that is human civilization.

The belief that imperfect and fundamentally limited human institutions can completely understand and manipulate dynamic social systems is a fiction, a delusion of grandeur. And yet millions of people continue to voluntarily relinquish their personal agency to the mythic idol of the state, placing implicit and unquestioning faith in its imagined omniscience and benevolence. They surrender autonomy over their own lives to participate in the spectacle of elections that promise change yet repeatedly fail to deliver meaningful reform to unseat entrenched interests.

The Triumph of Spontaneous Order

In stark contrast to the top-down control paradigm, free-market anarchists argue that authentic and enduring social order largely arises spontaneously from the bottom up, not by centralized governance and imposition. The evolutionary emergence of diverse human languages provides a compelling illustration of this basic principle in action.

Language developed gradually over millennia through decentralized networks of voluntary interactions between individuals and groups seeking to communicate, cooperate, and find shared meaning. No central authority or government decreed the proper grammar or vocabulary, yet complex and subtle linguistic structures emerged informally over time through practical usage and the adoption of successful conventions. The structures of language arose spontaneously from human action but not human design.

Similarly, individuals can successfully cooperate to fulfill basic human needs and organize complex societies without reliance on authoritarian oversight or coercion. By leveraging reason, trial and error, reputation, competition, and the universal human capacity for recognizing and pursuing shared interests, people can develop sophisticated consensual social systems far exceeding in complexity and subtlety than any state bureaucracy could hope to articulate through legislation.

Robust extended orders in the form of organic moral codes, common law jurisprudence, sound money, and dynamic markets all evolved through decentralized processes well before the rise of the modern bureaucratic nation-state. Even ecosystem development and the self-organization of nature reveal the remarkable capability of spontaneous orders to achieve symbiosis amongst diverse constituents following simple, localized rules, but there’s no conscious, top-down design.

Decentralized evolutionary processes demonstrate the power to generate functional complexity and harmony that vastly exceeds the boldest designs of even the most well-meaning political planners and social engineers. The pledge of allegiance to centralized authority is philosophically flimsy when contrasted with the beauty of emergent spontaneous order arising freely, unencumbered by parasitic external manipulations. Though the state holds aspirations to achieve and maintain order, it cannot duplicate the dynamic elegance and intricate complexity birthed by decentralized networks of freely cooperating individuals.

Unveiling the Façade

On closer and more critical examination, the projected aura of state power and authority unveils itself as a thin façade. The state is comprised of intrinsically imperfect human institutions that remain vulnerable to the same pitfalls and limitations as any other human endeavor. Its weaknesses and failings become rapidly apparent whenever its policies or attempts at social engineering prove unsustainable, provoking unrest and ultimately open resistance from the populace meant to submit to its authority.

When the state aspires to abolish private property ownership and dictate every aspect of economic behavior from the top down, it leads to catastrophe. Totalitarian experiments in social engineering imploded under the weight of their own internal contradictions. No individual or institution, no matter how ambitious, can substitute their limited knowledge and flawed human judgment for billions of dispersed decisions and transactions made by localized actors with direct knowledge of their own unique circumstances and subjective values.

Like a cancer, government bureaucracies grow unrestrained, coalescing into sprawling hierarchies that centralize power. This concentration enables an endless list of egregious civil liberty encroachments—warrantless surveillance, censorship, and prohibitions. These symptoms underscore the diagnosis: unfettered state power threatens freedom.

The Path beyond State Worship

When contrasted with the darker aspects of human nature manifested in the predatory state, the decentralized philosophy of voluntaryism and free-market anarchism provides a compelling antidote to the destructive impulse toward state worship exhibited across societies. It seeks to completely dismantle the veneer of legitimacy and pedestal upon which the state stands and restore agency to the sovereign individual as the fundamental unit of ethics and civilization.

Free-market anarchism strips power away from entrenched, coercive, elite institutions and vests it within ordinary people possessing the natural capacity to successfully cooperate through voluntary exchange. In place of the state’s monopoly on legal violence, voluntaryists recognize that rather than attaining power, common people are most fulfilled when empowered to pursue their own diverse values and self-interests harmoniously and noncoercively to the greatest extent possible through economic and social freedom. They realize humanity’s potential through emancipation from domination.

In envisioned anarchic systems, individuals would be liberated to contract with one another on their own terms and by their own consent. Voluntary interaction allows decentralized solutions to emerge based on direct feedback, spontaneously coordinating the needs of the participants involved. Without a coercive centralized authority legally imposing its limited will and ignorant grasp of local knowledge, voluntary decentralized networks can permit an outpouring of diverse bottom-up solutions adapted to a tapestry of local conditions and individual preferences.

Superstition, blind submission, and abandonment of personal responsibility may have dominated premodern tribal communities. But retaining these anachronistic psychological tendencies manifest as irrational faith in state power represents regression, not human advancement. True progress demands skepticism, critical analysis, and debunking of the many myths cloaking the state. Only through emancipation from falsehood can the politics of sociopathic domination be displaced by voluntary civil cooperation grounded in the advanced economics of free choice and sound money.

As the mental shackles and superstitions of obedience-based state worship are cast off, ordinary people regain control over their economic and social destinies, realizing the transformative potential of unrestrained cooperation through the exercise of their natural liberty. Freed from the depraved folly of submitting to human political authority and emboldened by an ethical philosophy of self-determination, we can forge a new path forward toward unprecedented human flourishing. The crucial task before us is clear: we must challenge institutionalized assumptions, shatter existing paradigms of collective identity that diminish individual worth, and evolve society beyond the crippling grip of mysticism, coercion, and unreason. A brighter future awaits those willing to abandon the false prophets of the past while actualizing their own innate power as individuals to shape our shared destiny. But the price of transcendence is eternal vigilance.

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