“A state is a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a certain geographical territory.”
For my purposes, this definition will do. However, from my individual perspective, what is important to me and to everyone else, is the fact that we cannot occupy a piece of subsistence land for free, but must submit to the dictates of a centralized government.
How is the “State” different from a tribe, which also may prevent me from occupying a piece of land? Let us express the difference in the following way. If I am a member of a tribe, then I will be allowed to occupy a piece of land for free. But, if I am a member of a State, I will not be allowed to occupy a piece of land for free.
From this perspective, the question is: how is this transition from tribal free occupancy to a State non-free occupancy possible? This is the problem which has been labeled the problem of “primitive accumulation.”
One approach is to point out the differences in human natures. Some are gifted (i.e., intelligent, diligent, thrifty, etc.); others are not. OK, so the gifted will do better with their land holding than the less-gifted. Still, the less gifted will not work for the gifted unless their reward is equal or better than what they can accomplish on their own piece of land.
But the situation in a State is that many would be better off if they had access to free subsistence land; but they do not.
I urge the reader to read the book. The author is clear, brief, reasonable, and convincing. I will only focus on what to me is the convincing, deductive argument for the conquest theory of the State.
He starts with the following assumption:
“No one will work for another if he can do as well or better by living off subsistence land. All teachers of natural law, etc., have unanimously declared that the differentiation into income- receiving classes and propertyless classes can only take place when all fertile lands have been occupied. For so long as man has ample opportunity to take up unoccupied land, "no one," says Turgot, "would think of entering the service of another"; we may add, "at least for wages, which are not apt to be higher than the earnings of an independent peasant working an unmortgaged and sufficiently large property"; while mortgaging is not possible as long as land is yet free for the working or taking, as free as air and water. Matter that is obtainable for the taking has no value that enables it to be pledged, since no one loans on things that can be had for nothing.
Let me formulate this as an explicit argument:
1. Person x will not work for person y, if x can do as well or better on his own.
2. x can do as well or better on his own, if he has free access to subsistence land
3. There are z acres of available fertile land in the world.
4. There are m number of people in the world
5. z/m = g
6. In order to subsist, x must have access to h acres of land
7. g > h
9. Therefore, there is enough subsistence land for each person
Oppenheimer gives us the statistics for available land in Germany as well as in the world, at the time when he wrote (1914); concluding that there is ample land for everyone. But despite this, we are prevented from taking free occupancy by States.
The rest of the book is a narrative of conquests of one group of people by another. I need no further convincing, since the history of man is a history of war and conquest.
I want to conclude with the observation that since Oppenheimer wrote, we have a massive increase in populations and a decrease in available subsistence land. When Oppenheimer wrote, he gave 1.8 billion as the number of people in the world, and estimated 181 billion acres of available land, which would give each person roughly 100 acres. We have now 7.7 billion people, which, if that same amount of land were available, would give each person about 23 acres, which is still sufficient for subsistence.
But the amount of land available for agriculture has dropped substantially . . .
Let me add the following:
“Private property in land has no justification except historically through power of the sword. In the beginning of feudal times, certain men had enough military strength to be able to force those whom they disliked not to live in a certain area. Those whom they chose to leave on the land became their serf’s, and were forced to work for them in return for the gracious permission to stay. In order to establish law in place of private force, it was necessary, in the main, to leave undisturbed the rights which had been acquired by the sword. The land became the property, of those who had conquered it, and the serfs were allowed to give rent instead of service. There is no justification for private property in land, except the historical necessity to conciliate turbulent robbers who would not otherwise have obeyed the law. This necessity arose in Europe many centuries ago, but in Africa the whole process is often quite recent. It is by this process, slightly disguised, that the Kimberley diamond mines and the Rand gold-mines were acquired in spite of prior native rights. It is a singular example of human inertia that men should have continued until now to endure the tyranny and extortion which a small minority are able to inflict by their possession of the land. No good to the community, of any sort or kind, results from the private ownership of land. If men were reasonable, they would decree that it should cease to-morrow, with no compensation beyond a moderate life income to the present holders.”
Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1916,pp. 125-126.