What is Happening in Europe and is the USA Next?
By Hyrum Lewis on Friday, Sep 16 2011
I believe that the turmoil in Europe today may be better understood if we use a new conceptual map of the long arc of western political history. So please indulge me while I engage in a massively overambitious, over-generalized, and somewhat Marxist-sounding historical speculation about the rise, and eventual fall, of the western liberal state.
Stage I: The Absolute State
Presumably, thousands of years ago, homo sapiens lived like animals in hunter-gatherer, kin-based tribes in which there were no laws or governments and stronger tribes would haphazardly plunder weaker tribes. How the state emerged from this anarchy is something of a mystery, but it may have happened when a dominant chief and his tribe decided to institutionalize the plunder of weaker tribes via taxation—thus bringing geographic (Rather than kin-based) rule into existence and creating a permanent governing order. The prospect of stable, predictable plunder instead of the capricious plunder of anarchy was simply too attractive for the strong chief to pass up. However, even though the state was created for plunder, it immediately took up a protective function as well: if people within or outside the chief’s governing domain were to kill or steal from his people, then there would be less for him to take—he could not tax the dead or the destitute. The chief cum king therefore protected the lives and properties of his people from internal and external threats for his own interest’s sake and the ideology of absolute monarchy came into being.
Thus, the first stage of political development, the absolute state, operated on two primary values: plunder and protection. This result is the same even if the state came into being via the protective Social Compact (as suggested by Hobbes): allocating power to a sovereign to achieve protection without constitutional and democratic restraints would eventually result in the sovereign plundering his people as well as protecting them. In other words, if the state was formed to plunder it would end up protecting, if the state was formed to protect, it would end up plundering.
Stage II: The Liberal state
The citizens of the absolute state, however, naturally preferring protection to plunder, sought means of restraining the monarch’s power and, if circumstances allowed, would eventually set up representative institutions, like parliament, to ensure that taxation would be used for protective rather than plundering purposes. This second stage of political development, the liberal state, retained the protective function of the absolute state, but added representation making its two primary values are protection and representation. This liberal state, which found fulfillment and ideological expression in the “natural rights” and “consent of the governed” language of the Glorious and American Revolutions, represented the apex of political development.
Stage III: The Distributive State
But, alas, the liberal state could not last. Representation, as a new primary political value, eventually spread to all in society and the public realized that, being thus empowered, it could help itself to the public treasury. They were aided by cultural elites (journalists, professors, entertainers, etc.), who, feeling a moral vacuum in a post-Christian era, were looking for an effortless way to feel superior and righteous. Hence, the temptations of free resources for the masses and easy “compassion” for the cultural elites was just too strong—the protective function of government took a backseat to wealth transfer. Just like that, plunder was back as a primary value, but this time from the bottom up: the weak and unproductive plundered the strong and productive using the institutionalized mechanisms of the state set up eons before. The values of the liberal state–representation and protection—gave way to the new values of the distributive state, representation and plunder.
The distributive state masked its parasitism by using and perverting the language of liberalism: claiming that it defended “rights” and even calling itself “liberalism”—but in the distributive state rights were no longer the right to be protected from plunder, they became rights toengage in plunder itself. A “right” became whatever the masses and cultural elites felt like plundering away from the productive at the moment.
The Real “End of History”
This brings us to Europe of the present day. The distributive state was born in the 20th century, but now, in the 21st, its internal contradictions are causing its implosion. By plundering the productive to give endless goodies to the unproductive, the distributive state kills the goose that lays the golden egg. Citizens living in the distributive state respond to the standard human incentives: they do more of what they are rewarded for doing—leeching off of others—and do less of what they are punished for doing—producing economic goods. Hence, there are ever more claims to resources made by ever more people, but ever fewer resources with which to satisfy these claims.
The outcome will not be pretty. The distributive state steadily slides into bankruptcy with protests, strikes, bloodshed, and chaos accompanying the process. The mob violence we see happening in Greece, England, and Italy (and other western nations very soon to be sure) is simply the playing out of this long historical logic. In politics, as in biology, an excess of parasites will kill the host.
This leads us back to where we began: Anarchy. As the government takes on more and more distributive functions, it loses the capacity to perform its basic and legitimate protective functions (putting police on the streets, running the courts, defending against foreign invasion, etc.). The state thus bankrupted and not protecting its citizens gives them few reasons to retain allegiance to it and, over time, groups simply opt out of the state altogether. Those who have most advanced the distributivist agenda (pseudo-liberals) are also those most reluctant to employ military force, which makes the state powerless to prevent the secessions that will lead to its dissolution. This circling back to anarchy simply completes the cycle that began thousands of years ago.
Francis Fukuyama was wrong: the collapse of the Soviet model was not the “end of History,” but a foretaste of what was to come—the collapse of a distributive governing model that both western and Soviet nations shared, only to differing degrees. Fukuyama and other political scientists have too quickly drawn sharp dividing lines between “liberal” and “socialist” nations, when there is actually a continuum between liberal and distributive states, and we have all been steadily sliding towards the latter for a century. The day of reckoning is upon us.