Statism Blinds Journalist to Horrors of the State


By Robert Murphy –

Earlier this week I was listening to an interesting episode of the NPR show “Fresh Air.” The host, Terry Gross, was interviewing the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins, who was recounting his experience in Iraq while he was researching his latest article. Filkins gave example after example of how violent daily life still is, and how the Iraqi government is hopelessly corrupt. The entire interview was one giant testament to the utter failure of the U.S. invasion to bring peace and democratic government to the country.

Yet despite Filkins’ first-hand experience of the failure of U.S. military might, and the daily corruption of the Iraqi government, he uttered a casual remark that made my jaw drop as I was driving. His remark underscores why it is so hard for the supporters of a voluntary society to get the general public to see just how dangerous and malevolent the State is. Let me first reproduce the exchange and then comment on it. As we join the conversation between the host and Filkins below, he is in the middle of telling the story about a former Iraqi finance minister, Rafi Issawi, who refused someone calling himself “Mohammed Abdullah” (a very common name in Iraq) when he presented obviously fake documents trying to transfer a large amount of money on behalf of other government officials:

And so [Issawi] said the next day, I took all this – I took all these papers, all these fake documents and a photograph that our security cameras had taken of Mr. Mohammed Abdullah to [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki himself, and he showed them to Maliki and said, look, you’ve got to investigate this, this is clearly coming from people inside your office, you’ve got to stop this. Use the intelligence agencies to investigate.

Nothing happened. Two months later, the finance ministry, his office, came under attack from a militia force…probably by, as I was told, a force called the Golden Battalion, which is a kind of security force, which is run personally by the prime minister, they attacked the finance ministry. They basically burned down Issawi’s office. They destroyed the security cameras. They burned the offices around him. And that was that.

And shortly after that, Issawi’s problems began, when his bodyguards started to get arrested, and then shortly after that he fled the country. And that’s one story I heard of dozens.



FILKINS: You know, one ministry attacking another. You know, it’s just a state of nature. [Bold added.]

It’s the part I put in bold that is so shocking, and represents the mental barriers we must overcome if we hope to achieve a free society.

In case it’s not clear to the reader, let me spell out the problem: Here the American journalist is observing the chaos and bloodshed to which the U.S. troops abandoned Iraq after they shattered their society with the invasion. (More than 1,000 people died in sectarian fighting in the month of April alone, the highest death toll since 2008, in clashes over who will control the government.) He then tells Terry Gross a story involving one group of government officials trying to rob and then violently attacking another group of government officials. The journalist then declares that such outcome is “a state of nature,” in other words the absence of a political State.

With the deck so rigged, it is impossible to ever conclude that the State is our enemy, to use Albert Jay Nock’s language. Americans and others in Western democracies are taught in standard political science courses that humans are born into a “state of nature” where life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” That is Thomas Hobbes’ famous justification for the formation of the State apparatus to keep each individual in “awe” of its terrible power and thus provide the rule of law and peace.

But what if Hobbes is simply wrong? What if giving a monopoly on the provision of legal opinions and enforcement is a really bad idea—just like giving a monopoly on the production of food or of newspapers to one group of people would be a really bad idea?

Well, in that case, with journalists like Filkins writing articles and giving interviews, we would have no way of ever realizing the problem. By definition Filkins is treating the existence of warfare and corruption as the absence of a strong government. He literally described one government agency attacking another as “state of nature.” With such mental classifications, he will never be able to see that in practice it is the various States of the world that are the chief sources of violence and theft.

To diagnose the causes of widespread human misery and to prescribe a cure doesn’t take an extensive study of history or a keen intellect. All it takes is the ability to see what is staring us in the face.


4 thoughts on “Statism Blinds Journalist to Horrors of the State

  • May 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Well…people will self-organize into groups for gain, even if that means stomping on others…like Native Americans before Europeans came to North America…

  • May 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Unfortunately, Filkins’ attitude is old and entrenched.

    Politicians declare themselves to be socialists and create the usual poverty and destruction. Those like Filkins then tell us that they weren’t realy socialists, just pretending to be. Next time, the same policies implemented by a real socialist will bring prosperity to everyone.

    We can all have wealth, just as soon as we abolish the greedy, materialist attitudes of the capitalists.

  • May 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Great idea for a meme!

    A war of all against all isn’t the state of nature.
    It’s the nature of the State.

  • Pingback: “Fresh Air” Really Grinds My Gears

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