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The State and the Beehive

November 14, 2002

“Men quarrel because they do not know how to argue,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. One of the pleasures of this job is that I get into so many arguments with readers. Intelligent arguments keep me on my toes and help me sharpen the points I’m trying to make. Sometimes they force me to eat my words. (The taste is awful.) In any case, I usually learn something.

One recent correspondent takes issue with my argument that society would be better off without the state. She argues that the state is a natural institution, found even among animals, and offers the provocative example of the beehive, with its queen bee and elaborate social organization. She calls this a kind of “invisible state.”

But I think this example supports my case. The beehive is an instance of spontaneous order and cooperation. It doesn’t rely on organized force, as the state does. And unlike the rulers of states, the queen can’t commit mass murders of her subjects. That wouldn’t help her produce honey anyway.

The animal kingdom (why kingdom, by the way?) is very violent, but animals use violence only for particular objects: food, sexual rivals, menacing enemies. The leader of a wolf pack doesn’t kill his own followers. Animals don’t have Stalins.

[Breaker quote: "Legitimacy" and slavery]Man is the only creature disposed to kill huge numbers of members of his own species, and his instrument is usually the state. I often cite the research of Professor R.J. Rummel, who reckons that in the last century alone more than 160 million people were murdered by their own rulers. This figure by itself calls into question the whole idea that the raison d’être of the state is to protect its subjects from violence. To the contrary, it suggests that the state is highly unnatural.

Another of my readers argues that anarchism, the absence of a state, must inevitably terminate in the rule of thugs. But thugs can only rule by terror, and such rule is usually brief. The most successful states are those ruled by a subtle combination of force and cunning, persuading their subjects of their right to command.

The belief that a state rules by right is called legitimacy. This is variously ascribed to popular will, inheritance, a constitution, or mere success in overthrowing a previous state. There is no single agreed-upon rationale, but as a practical matter it is usually ensured by the acceptance of other states. The Soviet Union was widely rejected as a criminal regime until Franklin Roosevelt gave it diplomatic recognition in 1934; thereupon it became “legitimate” in the eyes of states that had refused to acknowledge it. But it claimed legitimacy as the representative of the “working class,” urging revolution everywhere else and denying the legitimacy of states formed on any other basis.

In America the Federal Government’s legitimacy was first based on a constitutional agreement among the people of the states. After the Civil War, which has been rightly called “the Second American Revolution,” the United States became an essentially different thing — a single consolidated and centralized state. Even our grammar reflects the change: the Constitution calls the United States “they,” but we now call them “it.” Americans are still confused about their political identity. The transformation from confederation to consolidation is hard to square with the Constitution, but most Americans accept the legitimacy of the centralized state and submit to it, even though the very grounds of that state’s alleged legitimacy have changed.

Aristotle long ago observed that most men are “slaves by nature,” and perhaps this helps explain why they are so ready to submit to the state, whatever it claims to base its legitimacy on. They have proved ready to kill each other at the state’s behest, provided it assures them that they are “defending freedom” — even if they are conscripted to fight! Few of them see that conscription itself is a violation of their own freedom.

By now we are so inured to the rule of the state that we confused the terms state, law, and society. The state is the enemy of both true law and normal society.

“But what would you replace the state with?” another reader asks. Well, I see no pressing need to “replace” an organization that kills and enslaves millions. But if I have to answer the question, I guess I’d say: “With a beehive.”

Joseph Sobran

Joe Sobran's Biography.


When honest people who hold strong opinions come together, it is natural that they state their opinions, and that those opinions occasionally clash. The articles that you see on this website represent the opinion of the writers, and are not the official opinion of this party. To see the official party position on any question, the reader is referred to the Party Platform.

Permission to reprint/republish granted, as long as you include the name of our site, the author,and our URL. All CP Texas reports, and all editorials are property of The Constitution Party of Texas 2002 (unless otherwise noted).

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