Your Friend, the State
May 16, 2002
Albert Jay Nock, an excellent but largely forgotten
writer, once wrote a little book titled Our Enemy, the State.
I still reread it when Im groggy from absorption in the daily events
of politics. It revives me like a slap in the face.
If I were a pagan, I
might fancy I heard the Olympian laughter of the gods when modern men
think of their rulers as their friends. Common sense would suggest that
those who have power over you, and can use it to kill or enslave you, are,
more properly speaking, your masters and enemies. Were supposed
to think that the system that can extort half our earnings from us is
I dont think
its funny, but I can see how Zeus and Neptune and Mercury, with
their larger perspective, might get a kick out of it. As described by Homer
and Ovid, they didnt have to pay taxes. They could afford to laugh.
What fools these mortals be!
The state is a parasite
on its subjects, but in America its subjects have acquired the habit of
speaking of the state as we. As in: We are fighting a
war on terrorism. There can be no greater triumph for the parasite
than for the host to think of it and itself as a single unit. Its as if
a man were to refer to himself and a blood-bloated leech under his skin as
How does the state
pull this off? One tested and well-nigh infallible method is to convince
its subjects that its protecting them from an even worse enemy
than itself. This seldom fails. The majority nearly always fall for the idea
that if the state is hurting someone else even worse than its
hurting them, its on their side, and is therefore their friend,
protector, and benefactor.
The Soviet Union
crushed every freedom worth having, but it assured the
proletariat that it was only exterminating their
class enemies. Hitler imposed tyranny on ordinary Germans,
but he was even crueler to Jews, so Germans figured he was on their side.
The socialist state of Israel robs Jews blind, but since it treats Arabs
even worse, Jews think of the state as us. And the U.S.
Government is stripping away traditional American freedoms; but as long
as it is prepared to bomb foreigners to death, Americans imagine that
their proximate enemy is defending them. No, its even worse than
that: they think their enemy is us. The enemy becomes the
What a blessing
terrorism is for the state! Its the ideal distraction
from the day-to-day reality of the states chief activity: wringing
from its subjects the wealth they produce. Last September a handful of
fanatics, armed only with box-cutters, provided a new rationale for the
trillion-dollar swindle. A bonanza!
I dont know
what these terrorists thought they were achieving: Making
the infidel respect Allah? If so, they were wrong. You might as well try to
make the U.S. Government respect the U.S. Constitution. Aint gonna
happen. They only made the average American cling all the more tightly to
Orwell, with his
Olympian humor, summed up this eerie state of affairs in two words: Big
Brother. The all-powerful master feigning blood kinship with his feckless
protagonist, Winston Smith, arrives at an illusory happy ending: He
had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. And no
doubt he pasted a decal of Big Brothers flag
our flag onto his windshield.
When I was ten, I
learned how to get a leech out of my leg in a hurry: a lighted match would
do the trick. I never supposed that that creepy thing and I were
But try getting a
parasite out of your mind! As soon as you think youre rid of it, it
has a way of coming back. Youve been trained from childhood to
think of your rulers as we, just as sports fans speak of the
home team as we, as if they too had been down on the field
earning the victory. Such mental habits are hard to shake.
Even the most wary of
us have to keep reminding ourselves that the state is our enemy. Always.
Not just when the Republicans or the Democrats are in
power. Always. Tyranny and freedom are equally nonpartisan.