The State:
A Definition

What is the "STATE?"

When most people think of the "State" they are thinking of "the government," e.g., Washington, D.C.

The word "government" can be used in different ways. We can speak of "self-government." The owner of a business imposes a form of government on his employees. In family, school, neighborhood association, and groups of all kinds, there is "government." But only "the government" ("the State") claims the right to seize the property of others, have those who resist beaten and raped, and kill all those who get in the way.

George Washington is reported to have said,

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. . . .

"Private" persons and businesses can only raise money by persuasion. A business can entice a customer to exchange his money for the goods and services produced by the business. A charity can persuade donors to give money voluntarily. But the State raises money through force and threats of violence

What is a "State," and what gives a person or group the right to so call themselves?

Ludwig von Mises, the most influential political economist of the "Austrian" school of economics, gives us this definition of a "State":

The state is essentially an apparatus of compulsion and coercion. The characteristic feature of its activities is to compel people through the application or the threat of force to behave otherwise than they would like to behave.

Government Equals Force by James Bovard

Suppose I come up to you and say, "If you murder anyone I'll kill you." I am compelling you through the application or threat of force to behave otherwise than you might like to behave; am I a "State?" Not necessarily; Mises continues his definition:

But not every apparatus of compulsion and coercion is called a state. Only one which is powerful enough to maintain its existence, for some time at least, by its own force is commonly called a state. A gang of robbers, which because of the comparative weakness of its forces has no prospect of successfully resisting for any length of time the forces of another organization, is not entitled to be called a state. The state will either smash or tolerate a gang. In the first case the gang is not a state because its independence lasts for a short time only; in the second case it is not a state because it does not stand on its own might. The pogrom gangs in Imperial Russia were not a state because they could kill and plunder only thanks to the connivance of the government.

Consider this question: under Mises' definition, and based on the account in Genesis 14, was Abraham a "State?" It would certainly seem so.

Paul (Romans 13:1) commands us to obey "the powers that be." How does this find expression in Genesis 14? Were there no "powers?" Was Abraham "the powers?" Was it a more complex situation? Was Abraham fighting "the powers" by fighting the "United Nations Peace-keeping Force," this demonic alliance of kings? It seems clear that in Abraham's life there was no earthly "State" outside of himself, and this situation is acceptable in the eyes of God. (Nevertheless, to advance our thesis, we will never call Abrahamic Patriarchies "states." "State" will be a term reserved for non-Familial systems of social structure.)

"The State" is thus a group of individuals who can steal from and kill a selected target of people without expecting any other group to be willing or able to stop them.

The essential point of this Thesis is that God in the Bible nowhere gives any individual or group the right to steal or kill, even if they call themselves "the State." Being a politician does not make taxation less theft, or war less murder.

Additional Definitions

A government is an institution, consisting of a group of people and some items at their disposal, which has a monopoly on the legitimate, or at least widely accepted, initiation of force within a given geographical area. 

The State is all about taxation: a monopoly over violence that is funded by the compulsory collection of revenues.  Who receives what portion of these revenues, and who pays what portion, are the continuing twin themes of politics down through the ages.


Democracy: The God That Failed

by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

My theoretical interpretation is entirely different. It involves the shattering of three historical myths. The first and most fundamental is the myth that the emergence of states out of a prior, non-statist order has caused subsequent economic and civilizational progress. In fact, theory dictates that any progress must have occurred in spite – not because – of the institution of a state.

A state is defined conventionally as an agency that exercises a compulsory territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction) and of taxation. By definition then, every state, regardless of its particular constitution, is economically and ethically deficient. Every monopolist is "bad" from the viewpoint of consumers. Monopoly is hereby understood as the absence of free entry into a particular line of production: only one agency, A, may produce X.

Any monopoly is "bad" for consumers because, shielded from potential new entrants into its line of production, the price for its product will be higher and the quality lower than with free entry. And a monopolist with ultimate decision-making powers is particularly bad. While other monopolists produce inferior goods, a monopolist judge, besides producing inferior goods, will produce bads, because he who is the ultimate judge in every case of conflict also has the last word in each conflict involving himself. Consequently, instead of preventing and resolving conflict, a monopolist of ultimate decision-making will cause and provoke conflict in order to settle it to his own advantage.

Not only would no one accept such a monopoly judge provision, but no one would ever agree to a provision that allowed this judge to determine the price to be paid for his "service" unilaterally. Predictably, such a monopolist would use up ever more resources (tax revenue) to produce fewer goods and perpetrate more bads. This is not a prescription for protection but for oppression and exploitation. The result of a state, then, is not peaceful cooperation and social order, but conflict, provocation, aggression, oppression, and impoverishment, i.e., de-civilization. This, above all, is what the history of states illustrates. It is first and foremost the history of countless millions of innocent state victims. 

Uniforms and Guns
By Muni Savyon

Government is force. The only difference between government and any other agency or organization in existence is that government claims monopoly on the use of force. Unlike actions taken by private agencies or individuals, every government action has force behind it, and without force, there is no need for government to be involved in the things it does.

Are government actions desirable or not? Can government activities be done by other agencies? Are most people better off or worse off with government actions? These questions have little to do with the issue in front of us, which is the definition of government.

Government is force, and when I say force, I mean physical force, carried out by men in uniforms with guns.

Peaceful, caring people

Most of us have serious concerns beyond our daily life. It can be the economy, the environment, the growing number of poor people, the decline in the quality of education, how to prevent road accidents, the danger in which our cultural and moral values are, war between rival nations abroad - you name it, people care about it. They care and they want to do something about it. They can't do anything by themselves, so they turn to the government for a solution.

What is the public image of those people? We hear them in lectures, we read their books and we see them on TV. They are caring people, who put their narrow interests in second place so all of us could live in a better world. In their personal life they are peaceful and tolerant, they don't fight with their neighbors, they don't break into stores and they are not the people who fill prisons.

We rarely think of them as violent people who want to use force - yet they are:

Every time they turn to the government for a solution to our problems, they want the government to pass a new law or regulation which will: 
1. Force someone to do something they want, 
2. Forcibly prevent someone from doing something they don't want, or 
3. Force someone to pay for something they want.

Every time they turn to the government for a solution to their problems, they want the government to use force or the threat of force, and when I say force, I mean physical force, carried out by men in uniforms with guns. 

The State is almost universally considered an institution of social service. Some theorists venerate the State as the apotheosis of society; others regard it as an amiable, though often inefficient, organization for achieving social ends; but almost all regard it as a necessary means for achieving the goals of mankind, a means to be ranged against the "private sector" and often winning in this competition of resources. With the rise of democracy, the identification of the State with society has been redoubled, until it is common to hear sentiments expressed which violate virtually every tenet of reason and common sense such as, "we are the government." The useful collective term "we" has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If "we are the government," then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and untyrannical but also "voluntary" on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must be paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that "we owe it to ourselves. . . ."

If, then, the State is not "us," if it is not "the human family" getting together to decide mutual problems, if it is not a lodge meeting or country club, what is it? Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet.[3] Having used force and violence to obtain its revenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate the other actions of its individual subjects. One would think that simple observation of all States through history and over the globe would be proof enough of this assertion; but the miasma of myth has lain so long over State activity that elaboration is necessary.

Man has found that, through the process of voluntary, mutual exchange, the productivity and hence, the living standards of all participants in exchange may increase enormously. The only "natural" course for man to survive and to attain wealth, therefore, is by using his mind and energy to engage in the production-and-exchange process. He does this, first, by finding natural resources, and then by transforming them (by "mixing his labor" with them, as Locke puts it), to make them his individual property, and then by exchanging this property for the similarly obtained property of others. The social path dictated by the requirements of man's nature, therefore, is the path of "property rights" and the "free market" of gift or exchange of such rights. Through this path, men have learned how to avoid the "jungle" methods of fighting over scarce resources so that A can only acquire them at the expense of B and, instead, to multiply those resources enormously in peaceful and harmonious production and exchange.

The great German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer pointed out that there are two mutually exclusive ways of acquiring wealth; one, the above way of production and exchange, he called the "economic means." The other way is simpler in that it does not require productivity; it is the way of seizure of another's goods or services by the use of force and violence. This is the method of one-sided confiscation, of theft of the property of others. This is the method which Oppenheimer termed "the political means" to wealth. It should be clear that the peaceful use of reason and energy in production is the "natural" path for man: the means for his survival and prosperity on this earth. It should be equally clear that the coercive, exploitative means is contrary to natural law; it is parasitic, for instead of adding to production, it subtracts from it. The "political means" siphons production off to a parasitic and destructive individual or group; and this siphoning not only subtracts from the number producing, but also lowers the producer's incentive to produce beyond his own subsistence.

We are now in a position to answer more fully the question: what is the State? The State, in the words of Oppenheimer, is the "organization of the political means"; it is the systematization of the predatory process over a given territory.[4] For crime, at best, is sporadic and uncertain; the parasitism is ephemeral, and the coercive, parasitic lifeline may be cut off at any time by the resistance of the victims. The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively "peaceful" the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society.[5] Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a "social contract"; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation. The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.[6]

[3] Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper and Bros., 1942), p. 198.

The friction or antagonism between the private and the public sphere was intensified from the first by the fact that . . . the State has been living on a revenue which was being produced in the private sphere for private purposes and had to be deflected from these purposes by political force. The theory which construes taxes on the analogy of club dues or of the purchase of the service of, say, a doctor only proves how far removed this part of the social sciences is from scientific habits of mind.
Also see Murray N. Rothbard, "The Fallacy of the 'Public Sector,"' New Individualist Review (Summer, 1961): 3ff.

[4] Franz Oppenheimer, The State (New York: Vanguard Press, 1926) pp. 24–27:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. . . . I propose in the following discussion to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others, the "economic means" for the satisfaction of need while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the "political means". . . . The State is an organization of the political means. No State, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which objects may be taken away or appropriated by warlike robbery.

[5] Albert Jay Nock wrote vividly that

the State claims and exercises the monopoly of crime. . . . It forbids private murder, but itself organizes murder on a colossal scale. It punishes private theft, but itself lays unscrupulous hands on anything it wants, whether the property of citizen or of alien.
Nock, On Doing the Right Thing, and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Bros., 1929), p. 143; quoted in Jack Schwartzman, "Albert Jay Nock—A Superfluous Man," Faith and Freedom (December, 1953): 11.

[6] Oppenheimer, The State, p. 15:

What, then, is the State as a sociological concept? The State, completely in its genesis . . . is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group of men on a defeated group, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.
And de Jouvenel has written: "the State is in essence the result of the successes achieved by a band of brigands who superimpose themselves on small, distinct societies." Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (New York: Viking Press, 1949), pp. 100–01.

Murray N. Rothbard,
"The Anatomy of the State"
in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays


\State\, a. 1. Stately. [Obs.] --Spenser.

2. Belonging to the state, or body politic; public.
Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.


1: supported and operated by the government of a state; "a state university" [syn: state-supported
2: in the service of the community or nation; "state security" 

1: the group of people comprising the government of a sovereign state; "the state has lowered its income tax" 
2: the territory occupied by one of the constituent administrative districts of a nation; "his state is in the deep south" [syn: province
3: a politically organized body of people under a single government; "the state has elected a new president" [syn: nation, country, land, commonwealth, res publica, body politic
5: the federal department that sets and maintains foreign policies; "the Department of State was created in 1789" [syn: Department of State, State Department, State
6: the territory occupied by a nation; "he returned to the land of his birth"; "he visited several European countries" [syn: country, land, nation
Source: WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

8. Any body of men united by profession, or constituting a community of a particular character; as, the civil and ecclesiastical states, or the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons, in Great Britain. Cf. Estate, n., 6.

9. The principal persons in a government.

The bold design Pleased highly those infernal states. --Milton.

10. The bodies that constitute the legislature of a country; as, the States-general of Holland.

11. A form of government which is not monarchial, as a republic. [Obs.]

Well monarchies may own religion's name, But states are atheists in their very fame. --Dryden.

12. A political body, or body politic; the whole body of people who are united one government, whatever may be the form of the government; a nation.

Municipal law is a rule of conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state. --Blackstone.

The Puritans in the reign of Mary, driven from their homes, sought an asylum in Geneva, where they found a state without a king, and a church without a bishop. --R. Choate.

13. In the United States, one of the commonwealth, or bodies politic, the people of which make up the body of the nation, and which, under the national constitution, stands in certain specified relations with the national government, and are invested, as commonwealth, with full power in their several spheres over all matters not expressly inhibited.

Note: The term State, in its technical sense, is used in distinction from the federal system, i. e., the government of the United States.

14. Highest and stationary condition, as that of maturity between growth and decline, or as that of crisis between the increase and the abating of a disease; height; acme. [Obs.]

Note: When state is joined with another word, or used adjectively, it denotes public, or what belongs to the community or body politic, or to the government; also, what belongs to the States severally in the American Union; as, state affairs; state policy; State laws of Iowa.

  1. A specific mode of government: the socialist state.
  2. A body politic, especially one constituting a nation: the states of Eastern Europe.
  3. One of the more or less internally autonomous territorial and political units composing a federation under a sovereign government: the 48 contiguous states of the Union.

A state is an area organized into a political unit and ruled by an established government. 

A "nation-state" is a state whose territory corresponds to that occupied by a particular nation.
The term "state" refers to a political entity, while the term "nation" refers to a people. If we map the areal extent of a particular state and then we map the areal extent of a particular nation, and if we find that the state and the nation occupy the same area on the earth's surface, then we have a nation-state. 

Definition of state in 'civilization'
... Definition of state in 'civilization'. ... Date: Wed, 10 Dec 1997 01:29:39 -0500 From: Haines Brown <BROWNH@CCSUA.CTSTATEU.EDU> Subject: Re: definition of state. ... - 47k - Cached - Similar pages

A territory built by conquest in which one culture, one set of ideals and one set of laws have been imposed by force or threat over diverse nations by a civilian and military bureaucracy. States are ephemeral and originate and disappear with the stroke of a pen (e.g. the end of the U.S.S.R., December 25, 1991). In 1993 there existed 191 states.

(Examples: USA, Sudan, China, Spain, Nicaragua) (The Center for World Indigenous Studies)

Society and the State defined
     Contrary to what the government schools and the state-licensed mass media are endlessly propagandizing the populace to believe, the dictionary’s definitions make it obvious that the state is neither a synonym for society nor even an integral part of it.  While a society may be afflicted by a state, there can, in fact, be a complete human society without any state or government at all.
     The nine definitions of society include “organized groups of human beings... cultural patterns and institutions... companionship... social life,” but the great and glorious state is not referred to once.
     As we recover from our shock, let’s consider this: the first schools . . . all functioned without government involvement.  So did the hospitals, roads, charities, fire departments, banks, churches, factories, farms, shops, inns and hockey leagues.
     Government does not create any of the above; it only coerces and corrupts them.  Government does not create economies; it merely meddles in them. Government does not create wealth; it confiscates it.  Government does not ensure rights; it tramples them.  Government is not a guarantor of peace, but of war.  And government, the dictionary reminds us, is “the state and its administration.” 

Defining the State and Society
DEFINING THE STATE AND SOCIETY. From The Freeman, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp.223-227. by Wendy McElroy.