E. C. Riegel






A wonderful text that puts the human being at the center of all human relations.
The publication of this essay has been suggested by James Clayton.

Source: E. C. Riegel, Flight from Inflation, Essay 5, 1950.



In giving fundamental consideration to government, it might be instructive to have an authoritative opinion regarding the modern state, written while its author was on the outside looking in, and who when on the inside, magnified the intrusions upon private rights that he had condemned: [1]

The state, with its monstrous terrific machine, gives us a feeling of suffocation. The state was endurable for the individual as long as it was content to be a soldier and policeman; today the state is everything—banker, usurer, gambling den proprietor, ship owner, procurer, insurance agent, postman, railroader, entrepreneur, teacher, professor, tobacco merchant and countless other things, in addition to its former functions of policeman, judge, jailer, and tax collector. The state, this Moloch of frightful countenance, receives everything, does everything, knows everything, ruins everything. Every state function is a misfortune. State art is a misfortune, state ownership of shipping, state victualizing—the litany could extend indefinitely. ...If men had but a faint idea of the abyss toward which they are moving the number of suicides would increase, for we are approaching complete destruction of personality. The state is that frightful machine which swallows living men and spews them out again as dead ciphers. Human life has now no secrets, no intimacy, neither material affairs nor spiritual; all corners are smelled into, all movements measured; everyone is locked into his cell and numbered, just as in prison. (Benito Mussolini, Popolo d’Italia, April 6, 1920).

Il Duce's candid appraisal has been shared through the centuries by many who have thought and written on the state. In a more reflective and perhaps more honest vein, Immanuel Kant wrote, 

« Man is an animal which when living among others of its kind, needs a master. For he surely abuses his freedom in the presence of his equals, and though as a reasonable being he desires a law, his beastly selfish nature leads him to exempt himself whenever he can. Hence he needs a master who will break his individual will and compel him to obey a generally accepted rule whereby everyone can be free. » (Immanuel Kant, Ideas for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent, sixth thesis, 1784) [2]

Likewise, Jean Jacques Rousseau: 

« The citizen of the state is ... no longer the judge concerning the danger to which he may expose himself at the demand of the law, and when the state says to him, "Thy death is necessary for the state," he must die, since it is only upon this condition that he has thus far lived in security, and his life is no longer merely a gift of nature, but is a conditional grant from the state. »  (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Book 2, 1762)

On the other hand, Henry David Thoreau denied the state any rightful authority: 

I heartily accept the motto —"That government is best which governs least," and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe: That government is best which governs not at all. (Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 1848)

And Proudhon:

Liberty the mother, not the daughter, of order ... » (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, La solution du problème social, 1848)

The personality is for me the criterion of the social order. The freer, the more independent, the more enterprising the personality is in society, the better for society. 

But Proudhon broke free from the horns of the tyranny-anarchy dilemma. He glimpsed an alternative.

"So you want to abolish government," someone asked Proudhon. "You want no constitution? Who will maintain law and order in society? What would you put in place of the state? In place of the police? In place of the great political powers?" "Nothing," he answered. "Society is eternal motion; it does not have to be wound up, and it is not necessary to beat time for it. It carries its own pendulum and its ever wound-up spring within it. An organized society needs laws as little as legislators. Laws are to society what cobwebs are to a bee hive; they only serve to catch the bees." (in Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture, 1937, Chapter 14)

Those who have pondered the past, present, and future of the state, have quite generally distinguished between society and the state, but they have associated government with the latter, hence implying that society would be anarchic but for government supplied by the state. 

The view advocated here, however, is that society and self-government are inseparable. One could not exist without the other. They are natural and spontaneous. Social government operates by unwritten laws which spring from the common impulse of self advancement by the process of exchanging with others under the discipline of cooperative competition. The rivalry to win patronage and gratify men's desires, which we call competition, is really the broadest and deepest form of cooperation that social man can develop. But for the intervention of the state, it would always be tranquil. The state serves solely the purpose of evading the law of cooperative competition. Its appeal is always to the cheater, he who desires to escape this natural discipline. 

Failure of the critics of the state to realize that society and government are concomitants, puts them in the awkward position of advocating anarchy to the same degree as they oppose the sway of the state. The diminution of state power does not mean less government, however, but its displacement by natural and nonpolitical government. It does not imply an increase in the sphere of anarchy. Rather, to coin a much needed word, it means manarchy—the natural government of man in society. 

Manarchy means the prevalence of social customs wherein equality among individuals makes each a law giver as well as a law observer, without professional governors. The natural rule of manarchy has been submerged by the presumptions of the state, and as state power recedes, manarchy, the rock upon which society rests, emerges as the true government. 

Since manarchy is the true government of society, and the intrusion of the state lessons its sway, the so-called government of the state is seen as disgovernment, or antigovernment. Thus advocacy of the diminution of state power is the advocacy of the sway of government and the denunciation of anti-government. 

What is the constitutional or fundamental law of society? It is the law of competitive cooperation. The beginning of the social order was the beginning of exchanges. Here independence ended and interdependence began. Here competitive cooperation entered as man discovered that his urge for self-advancement was best served by catering to the wants and wishes of his fellows through voluntary exchanges. But there arose would-be breakers of the rule of competitive cooperation. 

As Franz Oppenheimer has observed in his volume, The State (1908),

« Whenever the opportunity offers, and man possesses the power, he prefers political to economic means for preservation of his life. And this is perhaps true not alone of man, for, according to Maeterlinck's Life of the Bees (1901), a swarm which once made the experiment of obtaining honey from a foreign hive, by robbery instead of by tedious building, is henceforth spoiled for the "economic means. »

From working bees robber bees have developed. 

The state was invented by those who wished to escape the law of competitive cooperation—by those who would be robbers through the exercise of political power. This is the explanation for the genesis of the state which Oppenheimer sets forth so well. Beginning with rape and evolving toward seduction, the purpose of the state has ever been to serve the ends of exploiters. Therefore, liberty will never be attained as long as the state is permitted to intervene in economic affairs. The state has ever been the implement of those who would escape the discipline of voluntary exchanges, and it has contrived a variety of cheating devices, the greatest and most deceptive of which is its power to issue counterfeit money. This very device, however, will prove to be the state's Armageddon. 

Always an instrument for robbery of the many by the few, the state within the present century has gradually popularized its distribution of the loot. It is no longer the robber of the many for the benefit of the few; it now offers to provide for all citizens "from the womb to the tomb." It poses as the welfare state. No longer does it need the support of the wealthy; it has found a way to rob the whole constituency while apparently benefitting the many, and by this delusive method it has greatly enhanced its prestige. By subtly taxing the economy through inflation of the money supply while ostentatiously distributing its largess, the state has convinced the citizen that it is a fountain of wealth. But the popularity so achieved has been attained through the issuance of spurious money. Hence the state must be undermined as the mounting inflation discloses the falsity of its pretended power of paternalism. 

Out of the impending collapse of the political monetary system will come not only a weakening of the power of the state, but a strengthening of society. For the nonpolitical monetary system which must replace the defunct political one will lead automatically to the union of peoples economically. 

Once society has consolidated its power, while the national states remain divided, the subordination of political power will easily be accomplished. Thus will society gain the ascendancy and assure freedom and prosperity under the natural law of competitive cooperation.




[1] Most of these quotations are taken from Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture, 1937.

[2] Kant added the following words that clarify a bit better his idea:

“Let him begin it as he will, it is not to be seen how he can procure a magistracy which can maintain public justice and which is itself just, whether it be a single person or a group of several elected persons. For each of them will always abuse his freedom if he has none above him to exercise force in accord with the laws. The highest master should be just in himself, and yet a man. This task is therefore the hardest of all; indeed, its complete solution is impossible, for from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built. That it is the last problem to be solved follows also from this: it requires that there be a correct conception of a possible constitution, great experience gained in many paths of life, and – far beyond these-a good will ready to accept such a constitution. Three such things are very hard, and if they are ever to be found together, it will be very late and after many vain attempts.“


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