The State Lives in the Minds of its Victims by Dan Sanchez

The State Lives in the Minds of its Victims” is a very perceptive article in which Sanchez provides a subtle addition to the Austrian school definition of a state.

What is a state? A common definition is “a territorial monopoly of force.” But what about a civil war in which an old regime and a would-be new regime are fighting street-to-street over control of a city? In that case, there is no territorial monopoly of force over the contested areas. But are we to say that such areas are “stateless”?

When an incumbent regime loses its monopoly of force over a region, it does not suddenly become more benign as an institution. And the fact that the upstart “rebels” do not yet have such a monopoly does not make them any more benign either. Both are still pernicious in a hugely important and distinctive way. They both enjoy the privilege of committing aggression that is perceived by at least some to be exceptionally legitimate. Both are granted a special dispensation by their partisans to commandeer the persons and property of others.

That is the fundamental problem that makes both groups distinctively vicious as compared to other criminals, regardless of whether they have yet achieved uncontested dominance. And so it is that characteristic that deserves to be the criterion for statehood. It highlights the most important issue in the theory of government if we define the state not as “a territorial monopoly of force,” but as “anybody whose aggression is considered exceptionally legitimate by some.”

And there are grades of legitimacy. A warlord’s tribute, not yet hallowed by the years, may not have as much perceived legitimacy as a tax paid to a long-established bureaucracy. But so long as it is normalized at all by habit and/or propaganda in the minds of the victims, then it is importantly different from pirate booty or a highwayman’s loot. Most warlord bands, therefore, should be considered statelets.

Understood this way, situations which are often called instances of “anarchy,” like Somalia, are actually chronic civil wars fought by contending states. As Charles Johnson has said, they are not “power vacuums,” but “power plenums.” The fact that there are multiple states contesting the same ground, instead of one state solely dominating it, means that, far from “statelessness,” the pitiable residents are up to their eyeballs in “statefulness”. Consider, for example, the plight right now of the Sunni tribespeople in the Alam District of Iraq. They have to deal with the pretensions of ISIS, whom they are openly fighting, as well as the government in Baghdad, who bombs them anyway. That is not anarchy, but multi-archy: not a lack of a state, but a surfeit of states.

The important “monopoly” held by any state is not territorial, but spiritual; it is the privileged place that the state holds in the hearts of its individual subjects, the possession of which exempts the possessor from the rules of justice that that the subject holds everyone else to.

The rest of the article can be read here.

One can summarize Sanchez’s insight by calling the state a manifestation of the meme of statism. From the wikipedia definition of a meme:

A meme (/ˈmm/ meem)[1] is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”[2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.[3]

The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα Greek pronunciation: [míːmɛːma] mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai, “to imitate”, from μῖμος mimos “mime”)[4] and it was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976)[1][5] as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.[6]

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