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A Review of Anatomy of the State

Anatomy of the State is available here. Note that I have posted similar reviews on Goodreads and Amazon but have expanded a bit in this version.


Ok I’ve read “the anatomy of the state”. It’s provocative and fails to address the good things a state does. I don’t think the name is correct, it should be “A Cynic’s Anatomy of the State”. When it does get to the good things like a police force, the view is combative:

“For the State, to preserve its own monopoly of predation, did indeed see to it that private and unsystematic crime was kept to a minimum; the State has always been jealous of its own preserve.” (p. 24)

The author leads the reader into this view of the state through only considering one example of how it arose – the highwaymen approach of co-opting a functioning tribe or society and forcing them to pay tributes. The pathetic negativity of this view is easily registered when considering the many other ways states have arisen and the strongly positive, egalitarian agendas they have for the people they serve. Consider the obsession in Holland with humble architecture of state buildings, to emphasize the state function there of primarily serving the people rather than being parasitic and indulging in grand architecture, or statements of dominance. Another example is the prison system in Sweden, which has a focus on rehabilitation of people, assuming a reparable deficit of function possibly due to mental ill-health or socioeconomic factors. This is opposed to considering them as targets for retaliation, based on the assumption they acted against others totally out of free will, psychopathically, without justification or evidence of their behavior being a reasonable response to a set of circumstances that might test the ability of even the most stoic to act “ethically”.

His rather heroic, even melodramatic attempt at cynicism perhaps confuses the author here:

“Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its people with the State was a means of making natural patriotism work to the State’s advantage. If “Ruritania” was being attacked by “Walldavia,” the first task of the State and its intellectuals was to convince the people of Ruritania that the attack was really upon them and not simply upon the ruling caste.” (same page)

It occurs to me that they wouldn’t have to do this because the people would already be convinced, for the reason the author states at the start of the quote. Rather I’d say it would be a harder task to convince the people the attack was only on the rulers!

It was at this point I checked the date of the publication expecting it to be from the time of Aristotle, but it’s 1974, so obviously this is a polemic. By the way, on the subject of Aristotle, he wrote a book on the same subject, Politics, check it out. We were told about it on our recent Greece tour. The content was taught amongst others by Aristotle to Alexander the Great, here: Η Σχολή του Αριστοτέλη.

Next up there is a quote about science as a god:

“In the present more secular age, the divine right of the State has been supplemented by the invocation of a new god, Science. State rule is now proclaimed as being ultra-scientific, as constituting planning by experts. But while “reason” is invoked more than in previous centuries, this is not the true reason of the individual and his exercise of free will; it is still collectivist and determinist, still implying holistic aggregates and coercive manipulation of passive subjects by their rulers.” (p. 28)

The reason this is debatable is because, along with the shift to secularism, has been a massive increase in the number of people given a secular education. This involves things like learning how to think critically and design experiments. Nature can now be cleaved at its joints efficiently with this method by huge numbers of people. The way the world works is therefore more fully understood by more people. There are fewer gaps in understanding to be filled by a “god of the gaps”, the world is less of an experience of dealing with one mysterious pattern after another. More people are now exploiting their understanding of how some of nature’s patterns work, they are living longer etc as a result. To assert that such a populace would tolerate any god is to state that one does not know the effects I’ve outlined of a secular education for the majority of the people. This is the mark of a lazy, merely antagonistic attempt at critiquing the State if one doesn’t wish to recognize the way people are in the modern, secular world.

Then on p. 42:

“Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise, we must assert that the State is profoundly and inherently anticapitalist.”

Who cares? The validity of the state doesn’t rest on merely which side of some economic theory-fence it sits. The state is also not necessarily a mechanism to sustain a ruling caste. As I observed before, and as illustrated in this comic.

The state also can serve the people, such as by introducing cigarette plain packaging regulations to help reduce their “coolness”. Both, and other, types of states exist. It’s disappointing, if viewed as anything other than a polemic, to see the author restrict his view to the state as parasite. Obviously, to me at least, capitalism unsupervised by something like a state is bad and can be parasitic also. An example is that businesses exist which exploit people’s, even encouraging children’s, addiction to cigarettes. These cause cancer and are one of the biggest causes of early death. You could leave it to the Holy Market to eventually eradicate such exploitation of addiction by companies, or you could do the sensible thing and create something like a state to do such good things for its people, using a scientific evidence based approach. Not creating a state to do such things, knowing the scientific evidence about cancer from cigarettes and the general shittiness of using addiction to make money off people in this context, strikes me as being psychopathic. Returning to the quote, there is a broader context that a state could be evaluated within than its degree of enthusiasm for an economic theory, and to restrict one’s evaluation just to that means you’re missing the point of some states, admittedly not all, and the distinctive good they can do for individuals. As an individual it is not a better experience for me to spend some of my life the victim of an advertising campaign trying to make me feel inadequate unless I buy an addictive carcinogen from some company. It is a better experience as an individual to have a group of people protecting me from such parasitic companies by sharing their scientific knowledge in the form of market regulations.

Through the above, yes I make the counter argument that the Holy Market of the author’s capitalist utopia is in fact inhabited by some parasites and the state can protect individuals from these. Not the other way round that the author would have us think. I’m all for getting rid of parasites, hell who wouldn’t be. It’s just that the author in his narrow, cynical, ancient view of what a state is, has missed the fact that many states no longer are, and the good work these ones do attacking other parasites, some of which are companies trying to sell addictive carcinogens to children.

In his concluding chapter there is the remark

“State power, as we have seen, is the coercive and parasitic seizure of this production—a draining of the fruits of society for the benefit of nonproductive (actually antiproductive) rulers.”

I’m not convinced that this book is about social vs state power. Rather it’s about parasites (and misses the point they’re not only states). I don’t really care who is doing it, parasitism is bad and I have provided evidence that non-state parasites exist such as cigarette companies. The aforementioned comic illustrates an example of a state (Australian federal government) attacking this parasite with a plain packaging regulation, and an attempt by the parasite to overturn this through the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).


This produced a bit of discussion among the people I shared it with. All of this inspired me to write more of a response to Murray Rothbard’s book as I like the idea of fighting against parasites. I think the parasitic approach to fortune is common, using either a state or capitalist mechanism. I think the final chapter of his book should be about society’s ongoing  struggle with parasites, of either type, and I’d like to explore that a bit more.

It’s common for people to criticize the state for distorting the market with tariffs, minimum wages etc… accompanied by howls about how if only Real Capitalism were left alone the Holy Market would resolve inequality through competition. The theme is that the state, and some in society, are afraid of losing the selling competition, essentially, and having a shorter life etc. as a result.

Well here’s the thing. Attempts to distort the Holy Market are routinely made by our precious, virtuous capitalists. A principal method that springs to mind is marketing. This is essentially an attempt to modify the target’s perception of their goods so that they are less exposed to the risks and doubts of competing in the Holy Market. There are two markets really:

  1. The dusty, bustling collection of stalls one can browse, often clustered into districts of merchants selling the same type of goods. I shall term this the Holy Market.
  2. The Marketing Market, a collection of concepts curated by often gay marketers (I kid you not,  based on the ones I’ve met in my life). These concepts whirl about in the mind of the consumer (the very term consumer is a victory of the marketers since it casts us in the role of buying goods as a default activity of living) and distort their perception of the landscape of goods in the Holy Market. The Marketing Market gives sellers ways to win the competition in the Holy Market by means other than a rational evidence – based evaluation of the adequacy of the goods. For example, Pepsi cola and Coca cola taste the same. All beers of the same type taste the same. All breads of the same type taste the same. All cigarettes of the same type taste the same. Marketing can allow certain sellers of these goods to win the selling competition by distorting the Holy Market. The distortion is achieved through, for example, making gullible people forego an evaluation based on adequacy and instead base it on something else covered in the marketing material. Such as how “Summery” coca cola is, or simply how recently the consumer was made to think about Wonder Bread as opposed to other breads. In achieving the shift away from adequacy based evaluations, marketers have revealed the fear some sellers have of the challenge of winning in the Holy Market, and ultimately their dislike of capitalism.

We all know the respect people have for successful sellers that only rely on word of mouth. These are capitalists. Their products win in the Holy Market competition without the assistance of first having to win in the Marketing Market competition. Can you think of other examples how supposedly virtuous capitalist goods sellers shy away from the Holy Market? From competing? Because they know deep down they can’t win on adequacy and so must make the competition about something else or avoid competing altogether? So they can, ultimately, just act like a parasite sucking the life out of society? I’ve got another couple of examples, shaming and addiction. These are both about the method of trying to win the selling competition through compulsion rather than facing the risks of an evidence and adequacy based evaluation. Compulsion is a good thing to harness as a parasite because it bypasses cognition. If someone does something out of the compulsion of addiction or avoiding shaming, and you can involve your product in satisfying that compulsion, then you have a great approach as a parasite.

Addiction is something I mentioned before about cigarette parasites. Yes, I deliberately stopped calling them companies. Once addiction or some other compulsion factor is part of your means of winning the selling competition then you’re a parasite and not a capitalist only operating in the Holy Market. Parasites use more than nicotine addiction though, they also use alcohol, drug, pornography, sugar, stimulant and drama addiction to win the selling competition. Addictions might not be specific though to a brand, so there will still be a lively Marketing Market to help win the selling competition for a particular compulsion of this type. That’s why these parasites got so angry when the Australian Government took away the cigarette Marketing Market by introducing the plain packaging regulation. Attacks on these parasites’ Marketing Market, though, have been ongoing for many decades… remember when cigarettes were in movies and on race bikes? Strikes me (pardon the pun – see, even though I’ve never smoked, their Marketing Market still means I know about Lucky Strike) though that the Marketing Market is also useful for setting up the addictions in the first place. This is through helping consumers get over how bad it smells and tastes by associating it with cool actors or motorbike racers. Then once they’ve done it a few times because it’s cool, the addiction will start and they’ll keep doing it only because of compulsion. They’ll still do it even though they’re regretful of how disgusting it smells and tastes, the addiction is stronger than most people’s willpower. The parasite will have been successful if the consumer settles on the brand which was seen as being cool during the process of setting up the compulsion.

Next up is shaming. When talking with my gay or otherwise generally unadventurous, unmanly fashion marketing friends (must be why men’s fashion really doesn’t appeal to me) they told me something disappointing. A primary means of winning the selling competition for fashion items is to make the consumer feel inadequate unless they have your product. It’s about using shame, something people will do anything to avoid, to compel people. This is good as a parasitic approach rather than merely capitalist because it’s not about trying to win based on a product which proves adequate for making someone smell or look beautiful. Rather, it has the added kick of making the consumer believe they’ll look ugly or smell bad, shamefully so, without the product.

So these are some examples of how I think supposedly capitalist companies operating supposedly only in the Holy Market are in fact parasites operating in the Marketing Market. I acknowledge parasitic states exist, most of them are especially where there is a CENSORED, or CENSORED is not separated from government.  I have demonstrated above, though, that parasitic companies also exist. Generally, parasites exist and society is continually fighting against these, not the state – a mistake Rothbard makes in the last chapter of his book. The state can sometimes be good at fighting parasites, such as ones trying to sell cigarettes. Some companies can be good at helping us fight state parasites, for example internet service providers can provide the means to circumvent censorship especially if the buyer also uses Tor or Psiphon.

Given these observations I think a response book or essay needs to be written to Anatomy of the State, called Anatomy of Societal Parasites… although the challenge to the Koch Brothers in Bernie Sanders’ delightfully honest and noble US 2016 presidential campaign might have met the need already:


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This entry was posted on August 17, 2015 by in Commentary, Literature.

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