Mises Wire

Home | Wire | That Pinker Quote

That Pinker Quote


A new pro-state canard that has been trotted out lately has been to contrast levels of violence in pre-state versus state societies. It is pointed out that even the bloodiest of "state society" centuries (the twentieth) was an improvement on tribal society. Steven Pinker is often enlisted in this cause, particularly this passage from his "A History of Violence":

If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

To draw an endorsement of the state from such statistics is entirely vacuous.

Primitive ("tribal") societies are primitive not because they don't have states, but because they don't have a developed tradition of private property. This necessarily results in economic autarky and extreme poverty. Autarky and poverty in turn result in both inter-tribal biological competition (constant warfare) and the fact that there is not enough wealth to support a parasitic state. It is private property and the division of labor that led both to a decline in inter-tribal warfare and enough wealth in societies for parasitic states to feed off.

The state owes its existence to civilization, not vice versa.  And the wars that interrupt the process of civilization have been made more frequent and more bloody by the encroachment of the state on market-and-civil society.

Dan Sanchez is a libertarian writer and an editor at the Foundation for Economic Education. He is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com, where he writes a regular column, and an independent journalist at Anti-Media. His work has frequently appeared at such websites as Zero Hedge, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, and David Stockman's Contra Corner. His writings are collected at DanSanchez.me.

Add Comment

Shield icon wire