Charles H. Hamilton, Introduction to Franz Oppenheimer, The State, 1975.



A small minority has stolen the heritage of humanity.

Franz Oppenheimer

The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Gustav Landauer

The state affects the most mundane as well as the most important aspects of our lives. As a powerful, sprawling institution it shapes the other major institutions of our society and reaches into our most personal everyday affairs. As Robert Nisbet has written, “the single most decisive influence upon Western social organization has been the rise and development of the centralized territorial state.”1

But surprisingly, little of importance has been written on the state. In fact, a quick review of the books and articles reveals that most of them have been largely rationalizations of the coercion and force that all states practice. Such diverse people as George Sabine (a quite traditional political scientist) and Robert P. Wolff (a more radical and questioning political philosopher) have made this point.2

One exception to this tendency to rationalize is The State by Franz Oppenheimer. In this classic, he presents a strongly libertarian view of the state. He neither defends it nor condemns it out of hand. Rather, through his study of history and political economy, he seeks to understand its nature and development. His work leads him to conclude that:

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, 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 over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Ideologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.3

This may seem somewhat polemical, but I think he is essentially correct. I hope that this short introduction and especially the book itself, will reintroduce Oppenheimer’s conquest theory of the state and prove suggestive to others studying the state.

There is very little in English on Franz Oppenheimer’s intellectual and, for that matter, political development.4 He was the most Western-minded of the early German sociologists, rejecting racial interpretations of history while championing a Proudhonian ideal of a truly free society.5 But Oppenheimer did fall squarely within a German sociological tradition and he was one of its more important thinkers.

Sociology came to Germany at the beginning of this century. Rooted as it was in history, philosophy and political economy, sociology did not dissipate its energy in statistical minutiae and obscure topics. Reminiscent of Comte and Spencer, early German sociology was involved in the grand sweep of history and social life.

It is not surprising then that one of the first “schools” of German sociology was historical sociology. Oppenheimer certainly fit under that rubric, along with people like Alfred Weber, Karl Mannheim, Max Scheler and Max Weber. Concerned with “depicting individual instances,” with “interpreting historical evolution,” and with “collective realities” (culture and the state, for instance), they wrote in large strokes for the insight it gave into current life.

Sociology is conceived as being akin to a theory of universal history and as undertaking the tasks of the philosophy of history; namely, the provision of an answer to present anxieties out of the experience of the past.6

They also wrote with a clear and profound understanding of the crucial role played by conflict in every area of social life: hence, the importance of conflict theory for this group. The two greatest names in historical sociology are Karl Marx and Max Weber. Marx preceded the development of historical sociology as a distinct school and set the tone on a number of important points. As Randall Collins outlines it:

He brought together for the first time the major sources of the conflict tradition: the revelations of historical scholarship, the effort at a materialist theory of society, the iconoclasm of the freethinkers.7

Of particular importance was Marx’s emphasis on the material preconditions of human action and the importance of material factors in shaping human action (without, it should be noted, denying the crucial importance of thinking as an activity by human actors). This grounded philosophy in history and was an effective attack on pure idealism.

Max Weber was without a doubt one of the greatest sociologists and thinkers of recent times. Weber and Oppenheimer were contemporaries both in time and in intellectual pursuits. They were both deeply affected by Marx and clearly immersed in historical and empirical work. Randall Collins includes them all as thinkers in the tradition of the conflict theory. Weber and Oppenheimer, however, emphasized a different set of problems than did Marx, and developed a different theory. While Collins rightly includes Marx in his discussion of conflict theory, Anthony Giddeng is more correct when he emphasizes the importance of domination and subordination:

Oversimplifying somewhat, it might be said that Weber gives to the organization of relationships of domination and subordination the prominence which Marx attributes to relationships of production.8

In either case conflict is one of the important underpinnings of historical sociology.

The central focus is on the organization of material arrangements into a system of power which divides society into interest groups struggling for control.9

This dynamic of struggle and how it is handled offers a way of explaining the entire social structure so well that Randall Collins contends “that conflict theory has been vindicated by empirical evidence to an extent approached by no other sociological theory.”10 This view of the dynamic of conflict is not new. Not taking into account the political use to which this insight was put, the idea is evident in the Epicureans, in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Hobbes, Hume, Spencer and Lester Ward. Their ideas and the indigenous conflict theories of Ludwig Gumplowicz (who Oppenheimer acknowledges was very influential on his own thinking) and Gustav Ratzenhofer set the stage for the writings on conflict theory in this century.11

Oppenheimer’s emphasis, in the book at hand, is the state and its origin and development. It represents a major contribution to the theories of conflict and conquest. But who was Franz Oppenheimer?

Franz Oppenheimer was born in a suburb of Berlin on March 30, 1864. He became a physician in 1885, and practiced medicine for a decade. He was aware of and quite concerned about the social issues of his time and he became acquainted with many of the radical movements: the marxists and revisionists, the liberal socialists and land nationalizers, the federalists and anarchists. Influenced by all of these and yet not convinced by any, he went back to school in economics. He supported his wife and child by writing articles. In 1908, at the age of 44, he received his Ph.D. at the University of Kiel. The next year he became a privadozent (unsalaried lecturer receiving only student’s fees) of economics at the University of Berlin. During these years he was very involved in the cooperative and back-to-the-land movements that were common then.

During the First World War he was an economic counselor in the War Office. In 1919 he became ordinarius (full professor) of economics and sociology at the University of FrankTort. Ill-health forced him to retire in 1929 at the age of 65 (his chair, incidentally, was taken by Karl Mannheim), or the next four years he lived at a rural cooperative settlement near Berlin that he had helped form prior to World War I.

In 1933 Oppenheimer left Germany and taught in France and Palestine and then came to the United States. He continued to write and in 1941 was a founding editor of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, a journal which followed the ideas of Henry George. He died in Los Angeles on September 30, 1943.

Oppenheimer always contended that the social sciences would affirm and support the search for justice. He combined his scholarship with a reforming zeal “which sometimes becomes an obsession [calling] forth alternately respect and irritation.”12 As Eduard Heimann said:

He was a liberal of that old, heroic, revolutionary brand which has otherwise died out long ago. .. . Oppenheimer calls himself a liberal socialist. He is a socialist in that he regards capitalism as a systen of exploitation, and capital revenue as the gain of that exploitation, but a liberal in that he believes in the harmony of a genuinely free market.13

In an article published after his death, Oppenheimer set down his long held belief that there is an alternative to the totalitarianism of Fascism and Bolshevism and the exploitation of the current amalgam of political democracy, which isn’t democracy at all, and capitalism, which is really just “the bastard offspring of slavery and freedom.”14

there is a third possibility: a perfect democracy, not only politically but also economically.. . . The first condition of perfect democracy is equal opportunity for all, or, which is the same, free untrammeled competition.15

That equal opportunity and free untrammeled competition seem so contradictory is indicative of the fact that we may still not have come to realize that “perfect democracy” is an alternative. But Oppenheimer believed that history and empirical work would prove these points.

It is the task of social science, especially of theoretical economics, to teach this gospel [of freedom] and spread the conviction that perfect democracy is more than a daydream of some utopianist outsiders.16

From 1893 until his death in 1943, Oppenheimer wrote hundreds of books, pamphlets, articles and reviews.17 These ran the gamut from economic theory to polemics about the major intellectual strains of his day. Very little of his major work is in English. His most important work is the four double volume System of Sociology. In 4500 pages Oppenheimer constructed a theory of general sociology and social psychology (Volume I), political theory (II), economic theory (III) and economic and social history (IV). One review referred to it as “by far the most elaborate system of sociology ever written.”18 Yet it is ironic that only an early, sketchy version of volume two has ever been translated into English: The State. Sketchy though it may be, there is much of interest and importance in it.

Positions of leadership are not much coveted by the Ik. They are backed by little power, and in so far as they confer any benefits (i.e., ngag, or food) upon the officeholder, that only serves to make him all the more edible.

Colin Turnbull in The Mountain People

There are many ways to look at the state. Since the early Greek philosophers there has been a tendency to view it as the ideal and/or the only important form of social organization.19 The state is given a pre-eminence and a universality that betrays a massive bias in favor of the state.

Some, like E. Adamson Hoebel, think that “where there is political organization there is a state. If political organization is universal, so then is the state.”20 This view dilutes any meaning the state might have. Others try to be rid of the concept altogether, an approach exemplified by the functionalists. Gabriel Almond and James Coleman feel that the “rejection of the ‘state and non-state’ classification … is a matter of theoretical and operational importance. … If the functions are there then the structures must be.”21 it does seem naive however to assume that any function must be met by a similar structure. In that case, we are confronted by an undifferentiated mass of information about different cultures and social institutions that can’t be meaningfully discussed.

Oppenheimer, on the other hand, correctly appreciates the state’s crucial importance, but he also emphasizes its distinctiveness. He does this by developing the distinction between the economic means and the political means. This is one of Oppenheimer’s most important contributions.

To talk about the economic and the political means is Oppenheimer’s way of emphasizing the actions and processes by which people seek to satisfy their common needs for material sustenance. There are two basic organizing principles of social life. One is essentially peaceful and is what Oppenheimer calls the economic means: “one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others.” Life is based on peaceful existence, equality of opportunity and voluntary exchange. The other is the political means, which is based on domination and is essentially violent: “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.”22

The difference between the political and the economic means is similar to the probably better known distinction between state and society.23 In fact, Oppenheimer calls the state the “organization of the political means.” However, Oppenheimer’s choice of words constantly reminds us of the action and process involved in the distinctions. “Society,” for instance, is often seen as a static and monolithic term. It is not; nor is it some integrated whole as the functionalists, among others, suggest. It is, rather, a vast and fluid network of individuals and groups that interact voluntarily on the basis of shared economic interests or on the basis of feelings of identity and community. This is the economic means at work. It is unfortunate that we have become so jaded that we cannot see the effectiveness and importance of these voluntary interactions in our daily lives and in the larger social order.24

In earlier times this voluntary interaction was called “natural society.” It is in a real sense prior to the state. In fact it can be said that the state develops out of society as a secondary formation and is “the alienated form of society,”25 serving the interests of social classes unequally.

The state rises out of society when some people utilize the political means for their own advantage. Some individuals or groups are in a position to enforce actions upon others and by others. Relations become based on super- and sub-ordination. The state then “is first of all an apparatus of domination.”26

This distinction between the economic means and the political means or. society and state is a powerful tool in understanding the world that has past us and the world around us. While the two in fact flow into one another, at times, they are essentially separate and this should be constantly kept in mind. As Reinhard Bendix says in his article on “Social Stratification and the Political Community”:

The distinction refers to a universal attribute of group life in the sense that, however interrelated, these two types of human association are not reducible to each other. From an analytical viewpoint it is necessary to consider ‘society’ and ‘the state’ as interdependent, but autonomous spheres of thought and action which coexist in one form or another in all complex societies.27

This distinction between the two means of coordination is not merely an analytic nicety. In an admittedly simplified form it is the major dynamic of history, “the basic social struggle in human history.”28

We see the voluntary cooperation of the economic means every day, from our own personal friendships to the small-scale exchange of goods and services between individuals.29 But there have also been cases where these voluntary means were virtually the sole mechanism of coordination among groups of people. Often considered primitive by our patronizing language of progress, they were quite extraordinary societies. The study of these stateless societies (as they have come to be called) is important and interesting precisely because “one of the most essential things that we can learn from the life of rude tribes is how society can function without the policeman to keep order.”30 Studying stateless societies gives us a better perspective on the uses of the economic means and on those societies which have states.

Any group of people have to interact and that means some form of coordination must be effected. As we have seen, cooperation and domination are these ways. Within such a group there will also arise moments of conflict, and they must be mediated and resolved in some way. There is a view which holds that the minimal domain of the state is the protection and the provision of justice. Such a position is untenable in view of the numerous ways conflicts are resolved without the state. Stateless societies are important precisely because they show that non-state resolutions of conflict can encompass large social groups and continue for some time.

Stateless societies include many dissimilar types. It is only necessary to define them in a general way here. Stateless societies

have few or no roles whose primarily goal is the exercise of authority, authority and political action there are, but they are exercised through multipurpose roles in which they cannot be said to form the primary element.31

Stateless societies are not just a few geographically restricted and primitive societies. Most of the evidence is about primitive societies but this says more about the imperialistic nature of states than it does about the limitations of stateless societies. There is no inherent reason why we can not have and can not work for a stateless society in our own time. Some of these societies have included the Kung Bushmen of South Africa and the African Logoli, the Tallinsi and the Nuer, the Eskimos, the Ifugao of the Phillipines and the Star Mountain people of New Guinea.32 They have ranged from patrilineal to matrilineal and from pastoral to hunting. They have lived nomadically, in villages or confederacies. In fact until conquered by the Europeans, state organizations were exceptional in Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.33

It is held that the state is necessary for the integration of society. The modern state provides “a uniquely effective form of social integration.”34 Indeed terrifyingly effective! Compare this to the “remarkable spectacle of societies positively maintaining themselves at a high level of integration without any obvious specialized means of enforcement. .. .”35 We may say then that stateless societies achieve the same ends as states but through vastly different means.36 Aidan Southall sums this up beautifully when he says:

Stateless societies are so constituted that the kaleidoscopic succession of concrete social situations provides the stimulus that motivates each individual to act for his own interest or for that of close kin and neighbors with whom he is so totally involved, in a manner which maintains the fabric of society. It is a little like the classical model of laissez-faire economics translated into the political field … the lack of specialized roles and the resulting multiplex quality of social networks mean that neither economic nor political ends can be exclusively pursued by anyone to the detriment of society, because the ends are intertwined with each other and further channeled by ritual and controlled by the beliefs which ritual expresses.37

We need not look solely to so-called primitive societies for examples of stateless societies. Germany in the early middle ages “was in some ways the complete antithesis of the modern state.”38 Until the seventeenth century, Ireland had “no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice…. There was no trace of State-administered justice.”39 And in
early America there were notable attempts to forge something anarchistic. Murray Rothbard has mentioned Albemarle, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.40

The point is not to suggest that the stateless and near stateless societies which have existed were in any way perfect. They were not, but they did exist and they did attempt to solve social problems in a way different from the usual reliance on force, centralization and the political means. Stateless societies have been remarkably viable.

Since his interest was specifically on the state, Oppenheimer spent no time on this larger discussion of the economic means and stateless societies. We have mentioned such societies because they suggest a breadth to the significance of the economic means.

Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators, and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.

Albert Jay Nock

The first task Oppenheimer set himself was to trace the origins of the state. He saw the state rising out of conflict and out of the conquest of one group by another. Let us put this in context by briefly discussing other theories of the state.

The usual view of the origin of the state (when it is discussed at all) is that it rose spontaneously and naturally. People voluntarily gave up their sovereignty. This is known as the Social Contract, a convenient metaphor. It is an implausible theory and there is just no proof that such a thing ever really happened.

Others see the state rising rather naturally from economic surplus and the division of labor. R. H. Lowie and R. M. Maclver see the state as one association (albeit the most powerful) out of many that make up the larger society.41 While there is a definite validity to economic differentiation and
the state-like possibilities of primitive associations, they do not as Oppenheimer would be quick to point out, cause or lead naturally to the state. There is no discussion of what exactly would propel differentiation or association into the state.

Another view of the rise of the state sees the propelling force in the imperatives of technological centralization. This was most forcefully presented by Karl Wittfogel in his study of oriental despotisms.42 For him the material needs of an area and the solution (specifically large-scale irrigation) led to the formation of a central political unit: the state. While irrigation projects did significantly strengthen the state, they did not bring about its formation. As Jacques Gernet has pointed out:

historically, it was the pre-existing state structures and the large, well trained labor force provided by the armies that made the great irrigation projects possible.43


Furthermore, it is not clearly the case that the solutions to certain problems (that is to make progress in civilization) must come a priori out of or result in technological centralization. Clearly there is something else at work.44

This brings us to the conflict theory of the origins of the state.45 For as important as these previous theories are, they can not account for the “jump” from non-state to state. For Oppenheimer this rests on the point where the voluntarism of the economic means is subsumed under concerted and continuous use of the political means:

A close examination of history indicates that only a coercive theory can account for the rise of the state. Force, and not enlightened self-interest, is the mechanism by which political evolution has led, step by step, from autonomous villages to the state.46

The state rises out of a condition of statelessness or “practical anarchy.” In general, these are essentially societies of equals and there are no roles of authority and little social or economic differentiation. Certain economic inequalities do arise through luck, cleverness, etc. Oppenheimer explicitly recognizes these economic inequalities among herdsmen as an element of statehood. However, because of his Georgist view of the importance of land and his understanding of the dynamics of the economic means, he sees a tendency for these inequalities to remain modest and to be resolved. The condition of relative equality will be approximately restored. Thus, while he sees that differentiation can and does arise through economic means, he explicitly rejects that it is this primitive accumulation which results in the state.47

This condition of relative equality is permanently destroyed by the use of the political means by one group against another in the form of war or raiding. For Oppenheimer, the state rises through conquest. In fact

No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner. … Everywhere we find some warlike tribe of wild men breaking through the boundaries of some less warlike people, settling down as nobility and founding the State.48

Oppenheimer proceeds to mention examples from around the world. Lawrence Krader has more recently pointed out, “There is no doubt that conquest played a part in most if not all processes of state formation.”49

It is conquest, then, of one group by another that leads directly to the state. While this is a striking and important insight, it can not really be considered sufficient.

The conquest theory failed as a general theory of the origin of the state because it introduced only external factors and failed to take into account internal processes… .50

It would be helpful, then, to go back to the beginnings of economic differentiation and take another look at how conflict and the political means enter into the process of state-formation.

Morton Fried goes considerably beyond Oppenheimer in his discussion of inequality as a germ of statehood. In his discussion of the evolution of political society, he sees it going through stages from an egalitarian to a ranking to a stratified society. Society is still basically stateless at this point. In the latter case, access to basic resources is limited and there is clear economic differentiation. But rather than saying, as Oppenheimer does, that this situation will resolve itself back towards equality, Fried makes the point that stratification is unstable and must change -— there are two possibilities:

The state forms in embryo in the stratified society, which, by this reasoning, must be one of the least stable models of organization that has ever existed. The stratified society is torn between two possibilities: It builds within itself great pressures for its own dissolution and for a return to a simpler kind of organization, either of ranking or egalitarian kind. … On the other side, the stratified community, to maintain itself, must evolve more powerful institutions of political control than ever were called upon to maintain a system of differential ranking.51

Within this instability there are movements toward equality and the economic means and movements in the direction of the political means whereby some seek to rigidify their economic gains. However, the outcome seems depressingly clear according to Oppenheimer, that “wherever opportunity offers, and man possesses the power, he prefers political to economic means for the preservation of his life.”52

As the use of the political means of robbery and expropriation becomes more frequent and institutionalized, the state takes shape. Internally, although Oppenheimer is not concerned with this, war (or raids) leads to the centralization of the warring group. As Georg Simmel said, “war needs a centralistic intensification of the group form, and this is guaranteed best by despotism.”53

In fact there is some evidence that defense against external conquest led to the development of the state in Ancient Sumer.54 Booty from such wars certainly solidified class differentiation within an already hierarchical form. Randolph Bourne’s insightful comment that “War is the health of the State” certainly is true, even in our own time.55

Externally, which is Oppenheimer’s emphasis, the political means leads to the conquest of one group by another and to the genesis of the state. Oppenheimer distinguishes six stages in this process.

The first stage involves continuous raiding and killing between groups. But it is the second stage that exhibits two necessary elements that make the giant step from robbery to state robbery. The peasants cease to resist these incursions. They accept their fate and their subservience. The herdsmen no longer merely loot, rape and kill, though such violence is continued to the extent necessary to insure acquiescence, now they appropriate the surplus of the peasants, leaving enough for the peasants to continue producing so that the herdsmen may skim the top off the next harvest also.

The moment when first the conqueror spared his victim in order permanently to exploit him in productive work, was of incomparable historical importance. It gave birth to nation and state, to right and the higher economics, with all the developments and ramifications which have grown and which will hereafter grow out of them.56

Out of this ‘arrangement’ comes the beginning of the process of integration whereby both master and ‘slave’ recognize certain common interests and their common humanity. Customary rights begin to develop into the first threads of jural relations. Even though this internal

development begins and legal rights and wrongs become defined, it is important to keep in mind that these develop within the context of class interests and for class interests.

The third stage arrives when the peasants regularly bring their surplus as tribute. This is the beginning of taxation.

The next stage in the genesis of the state comes with the territorial union of the two groups. This allows the ruling group to “protect” its subjects and its economic base from external incursions. But it also permits the ruling group to better oversee internal affairs and smash uprisings against its hegemony.

In the fifth stage, the rulers assume the right to arbitrate. Thus the judicial function is taken out of the local and common law context. This gives the rulers much greater control to enforce their own interests and to mediate conflicts.

Finally the primitive state is complete. The last stage is the need to

develop the habit of rule and the usages of government. The two groups, separated to begin with, and then united on one territory, are at first merely laid alongside one another, then are scattered through one another … soon the bonds of relationship unite the upper and the lower strata.57

These stages, which Oppenheimer describes, are analytically useful. But Oppenheimer did not mean to have them rigidly regarded. Some states have developed through these stages; others, however, have skipped or combined stages. In any case, the state is formed.

The state then is the organization of the politick means. The state “can have originated in no other way than through conquest and subjugation.”58 For Oppenheimer, every state in history has been a state of classes; that is a polity of superior and inferior social groups, based upon distinctions either of rank or of property. The master or ruling class tries to maintain the “law of the political means” and is thereby conservative and even reactionary. The subject or the ruled class wants to substitute the “law of equality” for all inhabitants of the state, which makes for liberalism and revolution.

His emphasis on class, on the distinction between rulers and ruled, has led some observers, like R. H. Lowie, to claim that Oppenheimer’s theory

is properly not a theory of the State but a theory of caste. It explains the origin of hereditary classes, but it does not solve the more fundamental problem of all political organization.. .. Conquest led to complication and integration, but the germs of statehood antedated these processes.59

Of course, as we have seen, Oppenheimer agrees that the germs of statehood were there, but it was only with concerted use of the political means, the conquest of one group by another, that led to the actual formation of the state. While other factors are also involved, the state always retains its class characteristics.

Once Oppenheimer had made the distinction between the economic, means and the political means, described the genesis of the state and indicated its basic nature in the political means, conquest and class, he proceeded to outline the state’s further development. Oppenheimer’s own discussion of this is itself very short and often borders on the metaphorical. But there is significant material there. It is important to point out a few of the major points.

Whatever the further developments of the state are, Oppenheimer constantly repeats that its basic form and nature do not change. From the primitive feudal state through the modern constitutional state, it is still the institutionalization of the political means by one class to expropriate the economic wealth of another.

The development of the state beginning with the primitive feudal state brought two internal developments which had opposite directions: first, a continuing process of social integration, of breaking down the separate cultures of various groups within the state; and second, a process of social differentiation along class lines leading to class-consciousness.

A whole series of processes, ranging from the assimilation of languages and religions to intermarriage, lead to a “spirit of fraternity and of equity.” Ethnic differences and the mere recognition of physical boundaries produce a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, along with a feeling of group solidarity. And internally, “A far stronger bond of psychical community between high and low … is woven by legal protection against the aggression of the mighty.” This is “a consciousness of belonging to the same state.”60

This pulling together is opposed by a pulling apart that is just as powerful. This is the development of class consciousness among both the upper strata (rulers) and the lower strata (ruled). Class consciousness through the development of class theories is the psychological dynamic in history, just as economic needs is the material dynamic. As the process of state consciousness proceeds, a class theory of the ruling group becomes necessary to direct, modify and sustain the state. Although approached from a somewhat different angle, this crucial point is admitted by most political philosophers.

As soon, however, as the psychic integration develops, in any degree, the community feeling of state consciousness, as soon as the bond
servant acquires ‘rights,’ and the consciousness of essential equality percolates through the mass, the political means requires a system of justification; and there arises in the ruling class the group theory of ‘legitimacy.’61

All questions of state legitimacy, then, can only be founded on or traced back to class and class theories. As Morton Fried so succinctly put it, “Legitimacy, no matter how its definition is phrased, is the means by which ideology is blended with power.”62

The final stage in the state’s development is what Oppenheimer calls the modern constitutional state. This is the most sophisticated level because domination and exploitation continue but are limited by public law and hidden by a complex ideological superstructure. As Oppenheimer says:

Its form still continues to be domination, its content still remains the exploitation of the economic means. The latter continues to be limited by public law which on the one hand protects the traditional ‘distribution’ of the total products of the nation; while on the other it attempts to maintain at their full efficiency the taxpayers and those bound to render service. The internal policy of the state continues to revolve in the path prescribed for it by the parallelogram of the centrifugal force of class contests and the centripetal impulse of the common interests in the state; and its foreign policy continues to be determined by the interests of the master class, now comprising besides the landed also the moneyed interests.63

It should be clear by now that in addition to the sameness that the state exhibits throughout ah its stages, Oppenheimer also sees a steady progress in the state’s development, This assumption of the inevitability of progress is problematic as there is little basis for believing it in this day and age. But for Oppenheimer it meant that the state culminated in what he called the freemen’s citizenship. In his last chapter he makes it clear that the state of the future will be society guided by self-government.64 Even though the state rises out of the political means and conquest, and is a class state, Oppenheimer sees the economic means eventually predominating and the class-state disappearing. Oppenheimer, however, is no anarchist. He was, as we have mentioned, quite the classical liberal “

No great Society can exist without a body which renders final decision on debatable issues and has the means, in case of emergency, to enforce decisions. No society can exist without the power of punishment of the judge, nor without the right to expropriate
property even against the wish of the proprietor, if the public interest demands it.65

Once the domination and administration of the ruling class and the economic monopoly of the land are removed from the class state, then we would have, according to Oppenheimer, a truly free society (perhaps a class-less state).

In such a society all political power would lie in the base of the pyramid: in the communitives [sic] and cooperatives. While the administrators on top, as I once wrote, would only have a power comparable let us say, to the one of the international geodetic committee.66

When the class-less society is reached it would rest in a steady state. For similar to his discussion of primitive accumulation earlier, he sees that it would be “impossible for any abuse of power to be introduced beyond the simple level of individual theft, which would be swiftly punished.”67

It is certainly shocking and unsettling to read his conclusion. After a sustained and remarkable discussion of the state as oppressive and class-oriented, it is difficult to see how we will be rather miraculously presented with a society somewhere between the anarchist ideal of free collectives and the classical liberal ideal of a neutral state. Certainly everything Oppenheimer has said and taught us shows the neutral state as contradictory. As C. J. Friedrich said years ago, “The ‘state’ as some kind of neutral god charged with looking after the national interest is so central in all dictatorial ideologies. . ,”68 This may be a little hard on Oppenheimer but it certainly is to the point.

Part of the context for Oppenheimer’s conclusion can be seen in the contrasts between the sociological optimism and pessimism of his day. The pessimists accepted the rise of the state and totalitarianism with either glee or regret. Those who were part of the ruled class saw, then, revolution as the only solution. This would, in Oppenheimer’s eyes, cause more problems than it would solve. He, on the other hand, was an optimist and his reading of history and political economy showed him that the class state would indeed evolve into a class-less state. He was one of the small fraction of social liberals, or liberal socialists who:

believe in the evolution of a society without class dominion and class exploitation which will guarantee to the individual, besides political, also economic liberty of movement, within of course the limitations
of the economic means. That was the credo of the old social liberalism of pre-Manchester days, enunciated by Quesnay and especially by Adam Smith, and again taken up in modern times by Henry George, and Theodore Hertzka.69

While his optimism and belief in evolution may be misplaced for us who live in an increasingly centralized and politicized world, Oppenheimer’s analysis can be very helpful as we try to understand and change our world. Oppenheimer’s optimistic conclusion that states will necessarily give way to what he termed freemen’s citizenship seems much less certain to us today. In a world dominated by war and the authoritarian state, our sense of inevitable progress has been shaken.

Oppenheimer’s historical discussion of the origins and rise of the state, however, is clearly very relevant. The element of conflict and conquest has played a part in the origins of most states. Together with the emphasis on the use of the political means and the class nature of the state’s interests, we can begin to see history a little differently. No longer can we say that states are benign in the process of history.

Any further judgement on the significance of The State can be made by the reader. Whatever its relevance Oppenheimer believed that the social sciences were important precisely to the extent that they valued and tried to extend human life and freedom.

C. Hamilton

Crompond, N.Y.

May 1975

Chuck Hamilton is an editor of Free Life Editions and was formerly on the editorial board of Libertarian Analysis.




1 Robert A. Nisbet, Community and Power (Oxford University Press, London, 1962), p. 98.

2 George Sabine, “State,” Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 14 (Macmillan, New York, 1934), p. 331, and Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (Harper & Row, New York, 1970), pp. 5, 8, 9.

3 Franz Oppenheimer, The State, p. 8. All page references to The State refer to this edition of the book.

4 Paul Honigsheim’s article is suggestive of some of these influences. “The Sociological Doctrines of Franz Oppenheimer: An Agrarian Philosophy of History and Social Reform,” Harry Elmer Barnes, ed., An Introduction to the History of Sociology (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1948), pp. 332-352.

5 Raymond Aron, German Sociology (Free Press, New York, 1964), p. 43.

6 Ibid., p. 37.

7 Randall Collins, “Reassessments of Sociological History: The Empirical Validity of the Conflict Tradition,” Theory and Society, Summer 1974, p. 159.

8 Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (Cambridge University Press, London, 1971), p. 234.

9 Randall Collins, op. cit., p. 174.

10 Ibid., pp. 150-51.

11 See Howard Becker and Harry Elmer Barnes, Social Thought from Lore to Science (Dover, New York, 1961) for information on some early proponents of the conflict theory. See especially pp. 702-734.

12 Raymond Aron, op. cit., p. 43.

13 Eduard Heimann, “Franz Oppenheimer’s Economic Ideas,” Social Research, vol. II, no. l, Feb. 1944, pp. 27, 29.

14 Franz Oppenheimer, “The Idolatry of the State,” Review of Nations, no. 2, 1927, p. 26.

15 Franz Oppenheimer, “The Gospel of Freedom,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 7, no. 3, April 1, 948, p. 353.

16 Ibid., p. 367.

17 See the useful though incomplete two part bibliography prepared by Felicia Fuss which appeared in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 6, no. 1, Oct. 1946, pp. 95-112, and vol. 7, no. 1, Oct. 1947, pp. 107-117.

18 Eduard Heimann in American Journal of Sociology, vol. 49, no. 3, Nov. 1943, p. 225.

19 See Robert M. Maclver and Charles H. Page, Society (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1961), p. 591, and Robert M. Maclver, The Modern State (Oxford University Press, London, 1926), pp. 83-91.

20 E. Adamson Hoebel, Man in the Primitive World (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1949), p. 376

21 Gabriel A. Almond and James S. Coleman, eds., The Politics of Developing Areas (Princeton University Press, Princeton, I960) p. 12

22 The State, p. 12.

23 For some interesting discussion and history of the distinction between society and state, see Randall Collins, “A Comparative Approach to Political Sociology,” Reinhard Bendix et al., eds., State and Society (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968), pp. 48-56, and W. G. Runciman, Social Science and Political Theory (Cambridge University Press, London, 1969) pp. 24-42.

24 For a brilliant, if sour, look at the decline of social power and the rise of state power in America, see Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy the State (Free Life Editions, New York, 1974).

25 Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive (Transaction Books, New Brunswick, 1974), p. 276.

26 Randall Collins, “A Comparative Approach to Political Sociology,” op. cit., p. 49.

27 Reinhard Bendix, “Social Stratification and the Political Community,” Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman, eds., Philosophy, Politics and Society, Second Series (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1969), pp. 224-225.

28 Stanley Diamond, op. cit., p. 9. Also see The State, p. 27, and Morris Ginsberg, Essays in Sociology and Social Philosophy, vol. 1 (Heinemann, London, 1956-61), p. 131 ff.

29 For a fascinating view of some of the ways that free and voluntary actions creep into the interstices of our rigid and hierarchical society see Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action (Harper & Row, New York, 1974), and Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1970).

30 Edward B. Tylor, Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man (Watts, London, 1946), p. 134.

31 Aidan Southall, “A Critique of the Typology of States and Political Systems,” Michael Banton, ed., Political Systems and the Distribution of Power (Tavistock Publications, London, 1965), p. 121.

32 See M. Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchards, eds., African Political Systems (Oxford University Press, London, ]940), John Middleton and David Tait, eds., Tribes Without Rulers (Routledge, London, 1958), and Aidan Southall, “Stateless Society,” The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15 (Macmillan, New York, 1968).

33 Aidan Southall, “Stateless Society,” op. cit., p. 161.

34 F. M. Watkins, The State as a Concept of Political Science (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1934), p. 155.

35 Aidan Southall, “Stateless Society,” op. cit., p. 167.

36 Lawrence Krader, Formation of the State (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1968), p. 110.

37 Aidan Southall, “Stateless Society,” op. cit., p. 167.

38 Joseph R. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1970), p. 13. Also see The State, p. 106.

39 Joseph Peden, “Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland,” The Libertarian Forum, April 1971, p. 3 ff.

40 Murray N. Rothbard, “Individualist Anarchism in the United States: The Origins,” Libertarian Analysis, Winter 1970, pp. 14-28.

41 See R. H. Lowie, The Origin of the State (Russell, New York, 1961), and R. M. Maclver, The Modern State, op. cit.

42 Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1957).

43 Jacques Gernet, Ancient China, from the Beginnings to the Empire (Faber & Faber, London, 1968), p. 92.

44 It is relevant to mention here that when Oppenheimer died he was working on a manuscript about the similarities in the development of Japan and Western Europe along lines consistent with The State. Four articles entitled “Japan and Westem Europe: A Comparative Presentation of Their Social Histories” were published in The American Journal of Economics and sociology, vol. 3, no. 4, July 1944, pp. 539-551; vol. 4, no. 1, Oct. 1944, pp. 53-65; vol. 4, no. 2, Jan. 1945, pp. 239-244; and vol. 5, no. 1. Oct 1945, pp. 111-128.

45 For historical information see Howard Becker and Leon Smelo, “Conflict Theories of the Origin of the State,” The Sociological Review, vol 23, no. 2, July 1931, pp. 65-79.

46 Robert L. Carneiro, A Theory of the Origin of the State (Institute for Humane Studies, Menlo Park, n.d.), p. 6.

47 The State, pp. 6-15,33-36.

48 The State, p. 8.

49 Lawrence Krader, op. cit., p. 45.

50 Ibid.

51 Morton Fried, The Evolution of Political Society (Random House, New York, 1967), pp. 225-226.

52 The State, p. 22.

53 Georg Simmel, Conflict (Free Press, Glencoe, 1955), p. 93. See Lewis Coser, The Function of Social Conflict (Free Press, New York, 1956).

54 See Samuel N. Kramer, The Sumerians (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1963), pp. 73 ff.

55 See, for instance, the effects war had on centralizing American society, Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard, eds., A New History of Leviathan (E. P. Dutton, New York, 1972), and William E. Leuchtenburg, “The New Deal and the Analogue of War,” Braeman et al., eds., Change and Continuity in Twentieth Century America (Harper & Row, New York, 1966).

56 The State, p. 27.

57 The State, p. 31.

58 The State, p. 7.

59 R. H. Lowie, “The Origin of the State,” The Freeman, vol. 5, no. 123, July 19, 1922, p. 442.

60 The State, p. 35.

61 The State, p. 36.

62 Morton Fried, op. cit., p. 26. Also see John Schaar, “Legitimacy in the Modern State,” Philip Green and Sanford Levinson, eds., Power and Community in Political Science (Random House, New York, 1970).

63 The State, p. 96.

64 The State,p. 102.

65 Franz Oppenheimer, “Reminiscences of Peter Kropotkin,” The Roman Forum, vol. 2, no. 9, Dec. 1942, p. 11.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid., p. 12.

68 C. J. Friedrich, “The Deification of the State,” Review of Politics, vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 1939, p. 21.

69 The State, pp. 103-104.

In response to Jordan Peterson’s claim for the evolutionary benefit of religious stories

Aristotle made the observation that nature abhors a vacuum. I want to extend this by saying that minds abhor a vacuum of beliefs. As I was listening to Jordan Peterson saying that there surely must be an evolutionary benefit to religious stories, it struck me that he is probably right but at the wrong level. He seems to be claiming that there is some evolutionary benefit to particular stories  and rituals.  By contrast, I would like to claim that even on the animal level — of say cats, there is a benefit in constructing a map of the world.  I don’t know how to talk about the behavior of cats and other animals without invoking the language of perception, desires, and beliefs.  C.D. Broad introduced the concept of a “quasi-belief” which he explained as trying to understand the behavior of an animal or a human on the model, analogy, or fiction of  a belief.  In other words, to say that an animal or a human has a quasi-belief, is just another way of expressing the idea that the animal or human is acting “as if” it had the belief.

I would like to advance the hypothesis that in some animals there is an innate drive to construct a quasi-Weltanschuung. For example, I have a cat, and I believe that it has formulated a complete picture of its proximate environment — the interior of our house.  At first the cat was relatively slow in moving around the house; but now it moves around the house with speed and confidence, and it seems to know the properties of the objects it encounters.  Furthermore, it has a picture of the house composed of substances and causal properties — perhaps we can call them quasi-substances and quasi-causes. In my Ph.D. dissertation, I called this view Animal Realism.

I bring up the powers of the cat to point out the evolutionary powers which we share with the cat in addition to our conceptual powers embodied in our mastery of language.  What am I driving at?  Just as the cat can and does map the house, we also have the ability, but more than an ability — we seem to have a drive to map and explain our universe.  This drive is aided by imagination.  I am saying that we have a drive to have beliefs about the workings of the whole universe, and this drive is such that what we do not know by experience, we supplement with imagination. This work of the imagination is called myth and religion.  Now, we would now call it the ability to form scientific hypotheses.

I am as skeptical about the evolutionary benefits of particular mythical beliefs, as I am of initial scientific hypotheses — i.e., until they have failed refutation.

I make no claims about the origin of our conceptual abilities, but judging by the nature of myths, I think that Wilfrid Sellars was right in postulating for humans an Original Image — a Weltanschauung in which everything is a person. If animism is the view that everything in the universe is alive, then Sellars is a radical animist in making a more specific claim that everything is a person. And I think that it suffices to say that such a power of imaginatively constructing a Weltanschauung is an evolutionary endowment of man, without having to resort to the additional burden of explaining particular myths in evolutionary terms.

If there is this drive in humans to have a total world view, it would explain the proclivity of people to utter bullshit.  They cannot help it. They always will give you some answer as an explanation. President Trump is almost the perfect example of this. The man is obviously quite ignorant of many things, but when asked he never says “I don’t know.”  Instead he makes up an answer on the spot without any qualms about the truth. He is a bullshitter as described by Harry Franfurther. Apparently it takes some sophistication and courage to say “I don’t know.”

Social media are pathological.

Sam Vaknin analyzes the structure of social media, their uses, and effects. Paradoxically, — and this applies to the youngest generation, growing up in the age of social media — the effect of social media is to produce narcissistic, asocial behavior, which in the extreme leads to suicide.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

Emmanuel Macron: “Nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism.”

Recently, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, said:

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our own interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values. “

In short, he said that patriotism is good, but nationalism is not. Such talk is systematically misleading, as my recent exchange on Facebook was equally misleading. In my posting, I tried to distinguish a nation from a country, claiming that a nation is a country with one language; whereas a country can have several languages, as does Switzerland. The objection was that there are nations without countries!

Obviously, I and my critic were using the word “nation” in different ways. Who was right?  Why did I use the word in the way I did?

Well, there is this phenomenon of people who do not have a country but who endeavor to create an independent country or “nation”, as it may be called. And these people can be called “nationalists.” They do not want to create just any country, but a country composed of people like themselves — an ethnically homogeneous country, which I called a “nation.”

My critic on Facebook responded that what I refer to as an “ethnic group” is, by his use of words, a “nation.” And he — I admit — has a point. The Iroquois League or Confederacy comes to mind. It was composed of five “nations”: Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca; and expanded to include the Tuscarora nation, thus, creating a confederacy of Six Nations. And I myself am prone to call such people without an independent country or State as diverse “nationalities.”

To complicate the matter further, there is the use of the term “nation” as synonymous with a “country” or “State,” as in the international (note the part “national”) “United Nations.” This organization is an organization of political States or countries. (Is “country” and “State” synonymous?)

And to complicate the matter further – in a negative way — there are the associations stemming from the Nazi Party, whose name is a shortening of the word “Nationalsozialismus” or “National Socialism,” producing a psychological antagonism to both the words “national” and “socialism.” [I may mention also the fact that the Russian bolsheviks,  by rechristening themselves “communists”, made the word “communism” also leave a bad taste.]

Now, if we associate the term “nationalism” with the Nazi program, then we will think of nationalism as trying to promote the superiority of a group of people over others. Nazi policy was “Deutschland uber alles” (Germany over others). And in the United States, there are what are called, White Nationalists, or White Supremacists — a carry over, I take it, from Southern slavery days.

This idea of superiority has contaminated the idea of nationalism, which from another perspective, is the almost (dare I say) instinctual desire for tribalism. “Tribalism,” as I use the term,  is the desire to be with people who are like you is some respects, primarily, in respect of language, and secondarily, in other respects — like race, religion, age, sexual preference, or whatever.

Tribalism —  this instinct to flock together — is distinct from chauvinism, or the claim of superiority. Unfortunately, Nazis and White “Nationalists,” have given nationalism a bad association. However, in more common or laudatory ways of understanding “nationalism,” it is a form of (innocuous?) tribalism, with no necessary connections to claims of superiority.

Complicating this discussion even further, is the recent overwhelming phenomenon of massive migrations  into Europe. Europe, although cosmopolitan is outlook, is composed of pretty much homogeneous ethnic groups or nationalities, and this linguistic and quasi-religious homogeneity has been severely disrupted in recent years, causing, what may be called, a nationalistic – although I would prefer to call it a tribal — reaction.

But when Macron said that patriotism is good, but nationalism is bad, he was ambiguously (or by conflation) expressing two different sentiments. The first – acceptable sentiment – is that nationalism with the connotation of superiority is bad, whereas patriotism, as the love and defense of country, is good. The second – unacceptable sentiment of a capitalist – is that tribalism in any form is bad, that no county should be endeavoring for any kind of homogeneity — linguistic, religious, or whatever; instead, all countries should embrace multiculturalism. Why is this the sentiment of a capitalist? The capitalist wants to atomize the population into self-centered individuals or families, which do not unite in any way to disrupt the commercial market. And for this reason, the capitalists of Europe, like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, are in favor of multiculturalism and the influx of heterogeneous immigrants.


In my first take on Macron’s claim that “nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism,” I failed to take account of his “moral values.” These appear to be a rejection of:

1. National interests have a priority over international interests.

And the embracing of:

2. National interest should take into account the interests of other nations.

He seems to be claiming that if you accept 1, you have to reject 2. I do not see how that follows.

Think of countries as if they were isolated homesteads in the wild west of the United States. Each homestead had to be self-sufficient, and the priority was for its own survival and flourishing. And if another homestead failed, that was not due to any fault of the first homestead.

However, suppose these homesteads had the same river crossing through their homesteads; then the situation changes. What a homestead does with the river upstream makes a difference to the homestead downstream — and so, out of self-interest, some mutually satisfactory agreement has to be reached. This is not because one homestead cares for the good of the other, but because a compromise is necessary for self-interest.

Perhaps what Macron should have said is that no homestead (nation) is or can be isolated from another because not only is the river now contaminated by both homesteads (nations), but also the the soil is contaminated, the air is polluted, and the global temperature is too high.

In that case, Macron should have accused Trump, or anyone who thinks like Trump, of thinking that that 1 excludes 2 (as Macron himself seems to think); where in fact, 1 requires and depends on 2. The accusation should, then be, not about the rejection of moral values, but an accusation of stupidity.

But let’s be realistic. Neither the United States nor Trump are isolating themselves in all respects. The United States has a global military presence with nearly 1000 military bases. And it defends the interests of US international corporations, particularly those producing oil and military hardware. What can be said is that Trump is interested is short-term interests for himself and his cronies, but is interested neither in the short-term nor the long-term interests of either the ordinary people of the United States or of the world.

English is the lingua franca of the world — no bullshit

Woke up this morning, thinking of the series of videos on the dominance of the English language in the world, narrated by Robert MacNeil.  I think this was prompted by what I heard on Sunday.   On Sunday, Nov. 11. 2018, in Paris, during his speech commemorating the centenary of the First World War Armistice, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is its betrayal.”  I reject this for the following reason.  A nation is a country (or State) with one language. A patriot is someone who is loyal to his country — even if it is not a nation; while a nationalist is someone who aspires to create a country based on his language, or to preserve the existing Nation.

This made me think of how English is spoken everywhere in the world.

Below are the 9 videos “The Story of English,” broadcast in 1989, which was followed by the  publication of the book: Robert MCcrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran, The Story of English, 3d ed., 2002. [496 pages]

1. An English Speaking World: Discusses how English has become the most dominant language throughout the world.
2. The Mother Tongue: Discusses the early stages of the English language, including Old English and Middle English.
3. A Muse of Fire: Discusses the influence of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the English language.
4. The Guid Scots Tongue: Discusses the Scottish influence on the English language.
5. Black on White: Discusses the influence of  Blacks on the English language. (Includes interviews with Philadelphia hip hop legends The Scanner Boys, Parry P and Grand Tone.)
6. Pioneers, O Pioneers!: Discusses Canadian English and the various forms of American English.
7. The Muvver Tongue: Discusses Cockney dialect and Australian English.
8. The Loaded Weapon: Discusses the Irish influence on the English Language.
9. Next Year’s Words: Discusses the future and new emerging forms of the English language.

1 An English Speaking World

2 The Mother Tongue

3 A Muse of Fire

4 The Guid Scots Tongue

5 Black on White

6 Pioneers, O Pioneers!

7 The Muvver Tongue

8 The Loaded Weapon

9 Next Year’s Words

Capitalism = Proletarianism

Definitions of capitalism stress freedom of trade. But trade has always existed. Well, trade is a necessary condition of capitalism, as is industrialization (mass production), but the other necessary condition — which is much too often omitted — is the existence of workers, who are drawn from the proletariat class. Proletarians are people who do not have a free access to land on which to subsist.

I don’t know any writer, other than Shaw, who understood and emphasized this existence of proletarians, and wanted to substitute for the term “capitalism,” the more appropriate term “proletarianism.”

In chapter 28 of his book, he makes his reasoning quite clear. (I have taken the liberty to emphasize some words.)


Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, 1928


Nobody who does not understand Capitalism can change it into Socialism, or have clear notions of how Socialism will work. Therefore we shall have to study Capitalism as carefully as Socialism. To begin with, the word Capitalism is misleading. The proper name of our system is Proletarianism. When practically every disinterested person who understands our system wants to put an end to it because it wastes capital so monstrously that most of us are as poor as church mice, it darkens counsel to call it Capitalism. It sets people thinking that Socialists want to destroy capital, and believe that they could do without it: in short, that they are worse fools than their neighbors.

Unfortunately that is exactly what the owners of the newspapers want you to think about Socialists, whilst at the same time they would persuade you that the British people are a free and independent race who would scorn to be proletarians (except a few drunken rascals and Russians and professional agitators): therefore they carefully avoid the obnoxious word Proletarianism and stick to the flattering title of Capitalism, which suggests that the capitalists are defending that necessary thing, Capital.

However, I must take names as I find them; and so must you. Let it be understood between us, then, that when we say Capitalism we mean the system by which the land of the country is in the hands, not of the nation, but of private persons called landlords, who can prevent anyone from living on it or using it except, on their own terms. Lawyers tell you that there is no such thing as private property in land because all the land belongs to the King, and can legally be “resumed” by him at any moment. But as the King never resumes it nowadays, and the freeholder can keep you off it, private property in land is a fact in spite of the law.

The main advantage claimed for this arrangement is that it makes the landholders rich enough to accumulate a fund of spare money called capital. This fund is also private property. Consequently the entire industry of the country, which could not exist without land and capital, is private property. But as industry cannot exist without labor, the owners must for their own sakes give employment to those who are not owners (called proletarians), and must pay them enough wages to keep them alive and enable them to marry and reproduce themselves, though enough to enable them ever to stop working regularly.

In this way, provided the owners make it their duty to be selfish, and always hire labor at the lowest possible wage, the industry of the country will be kept going, and the people provided with a continuous livelihood, yet kept under a continuous necessity to go on working until they are worn out and fit only for the workhouse. It is fully admitted, by those who understand this system, that it produces enormous inequality of income, and that the cheapening of labor which comes from increase of population must end in an appalling spread of discontent, misery, crime, and disease, culminating in violent rebellion, unless the population is checked at the point up to which the owners can find employment for it; but the argument is that this must be faced because human nature is so essentially selfish, and so inaccessible to any motive except pecuniary gain, that no other practicable way of building up a great modern civilization stands open to us.

This doctrine used to be called the doctrine of The Manchester School. But as the name became unpopular, it is now described generally as Capitalism. Capitalism therefore means that the only duty of the Government is to maintain private property in land and capital, and to keep on foot an efficient police force; and magistracy to enforce all private contracts made by individuals in pursuance of their own interests, besides, of course, keeping civil order and providing for naval and military defense or adventure.

In opposition to Capitalism, Socialism insists that the first duty of the Government is to maintain equality of income, and absolutely denies any private right of property whatever. It would treat every contract as one to which the nation is a party, with the nation’s welfare as the predominant consideration, and would not for a moment tolerate any contract the effect of which would be that one woman should work herself to death prematurely in degrading poverty in order that another should live idly and extravagantly on her labor. Thus it is quite true that Socialism will abolish private property and freedom of contract: indeed it has done so already to a much greater extent than people realize; for the political struggle between Capitalism and Socialism has been going on for a century past, during which Capitalism has been yielding bit by bit to the public indignation roused by its worst results, and accepting installments of Socialism to palliate them.

Do not, by the way, let yourself be confused by the common use of the term private property to denote personal possession. The law distinguished between Real Property (lordship) and Personal Property until the effort to make a distinction between property in land and property in capital produced such a muddle that it was dropped in 1926. Socialism, far from absurdly objecting to personal possessions, knows them to be indispensable, and looks forward to a great increase of them. But it is incompatible with real property.

To make the distinction clear let me illustrate. You call your umbrella your private property, and your dinner your private property. But they are not so: you hold them on public conditions. You may not do as you please with them. You may not hit me on the head with your umbrella; and you may not put rat poison into your dinner and kill me with it, or even kill yourself; for suicide is a crime in British law. Your right to the use and enjoyment of your umbrella and dinner is a personal right, rigidly limited by public considerations. But if you own an English or Scottish county you may drive the inhabitants off it into the sea if they have nowhere else to go. You may drag a sick woman with a newly born baby in her arms out of her house and dump her in the snow on the public road for no better reason than that you can make more money out of sheep and deer than out of women and men. You may prevent a waterside village from building a steamboat pier for the convenience of its trade because you think the pier would spoil the view from your bedroom window, even though you never spend more than a fortnight a year in that bedroom, and often do not come there for years together. These are not fancy examples: they are things that have been done again and again. They are much worse crimes than hitting me over the head with your umbrella. And if you ask why landowners are allowed to do with their land what you are not allowed to do with your umbrella, the reply is that the land is private property, or, as the lawyers used to say, real property, whilst the umbrella is only personal property. So you will not be surprised to hear Socialists say that the sooner private property is done away with the better.

Both Capitalism and Socialism claim that their object is the attainment of the utmost possible welfare for mankind. It is in their practical postulates for good government, their commandments if you like to call them so, that they differ. These are, for Capitalism, the upholding of private property in land and capital, the enforcement of private contracts, and no other State in interference with industry or business except to keep civil order; and for Socialism, the equalization of income, which involves the complete substitution of personal for private property and of publicly regulated contract for private contract, with police interference whenever equality is threatened, and complete regulation and control of industry and its products by the State.

As far as political theory is concerned you could hardly have a flatter contradiction and opposition than this; and when you look at our Parliament you do in fact see two opposed parties, the Conservative and the Labor, representing roughly Capitalism Socialism. But as members of Parliament are not required to have had any political education, or indeed any education at all, only a very few of them, who happen to have made a special study, such as you are making, of social and political questions, understand the principles their parties represent. Many of the Labor members are not Socialists. Many of the Conservatives are feudal aristocrats, called Tories, who are as keen on State interference with everything and everybody as the Socialists. All of them are muddling along from one difficulty to another, settling as best they can when they can put it off no longer, rather than on any principle or system. The most you can say is that, as far as the Conservative Party has a policy at all, it is a Capitalistic policy, and as far as the Labor Party has a policy at all it is a Socialist policy; so that if you wish to vote against Socialism you should vote Conservative; and if you wish to vote against Capitalism you should vote Labor. I put it in this way because it is not easy to induce people to take the trouble to vote. We go to the polling station mostly to vote against something instead of for anything.

We can now settle down to our examination of Capitalism as it comes to our own doors. And, as we proceed, you must excuse the disadvantage I am at in not knowing your private affairs. You may be a capitalist. You may be a proletarian. You may be betwixt-and-between in the sense of having an independent income sufficient to keep you, but not sufficient to enable you to save any more capital. I shall have to treat you sometimes as if you were so poor that the difference of a few shillings a ton in the price of coal is a matter of serious importance in your housekeeping, and sometimes as if you were so rich that your chief anxiety is how to invest the thousands you have not been able to spend.

There is no need for you to remain equally in the dark about me; and you had better know whom you are dealing with. I am a landlord and capitalist, rich enough to be super-taxed; and in addition I have a special sort of property called literary property, for the use of which I charge people exactly as a landlord charges rent for his land. I object to inequality of income not as a man with a small income, but as one with a middling big one. But I know what it is to be a proletarian, and a poor one at that. I have worked in an office; and I have pulled through years of professional unemployment, some of the hardest of them at the expense of my mother. I have known the extremes of failure and of success. The class in which I was born was that most unlucky of all classes: the class that claims gentility and is expected to keep up its appearances without more than the barest scrap and remnant of property to do it on. I intrude these confidences on you because it is as well that you be able to allow for my personal bias. The rich often write about the poor, and the poor about the rich, without really knowing what they are writing about. I know the whole gamut from personal experience, short of actual hunger and homelessness, which should never be experienced by anybody. If I cry sour grapes, you need not suspect that they are only out of my reach: they are all in my hand at their ripest and best.

So now let us come down to tin tacks.


Comments on the Cenk Uygur and Tucker Carlson “debate”

The exchange between Cenk Uygur and Tucker Carlson was prompted by the Honduran caravan heading towards the United States.
The whole exchange was dominated by Tucker Carlson who made the following observations:

Carlson made a number of claims, which Uygur, by not disagreeing, tacitly agreed with.
There is poverty everywhere in the world.
Is it the role of the US government to deal with global poverty?
No. The primary role of government is to safeguard the interests of its own citizens.
These interests are, at least in theory, supposed to be safeguarded by the elected politicians who make and execute laws.
Now, there are existing laws about immigration and they should be executed.
It is another question whether these immigration laws should be changed.

By Carlson’s reasoning, immigration laws should not be changed. Why? Because of the principle of supply and demand. At one time in America, during the Industrial Revolution, there was a great demand for workers, and the US welcomed immigrants by the thousands. But this demand no longer exists. Industrial jobs have gone to places like China and elsewhere, and because of automation, even less workers are needed. In other words, we have a surplus of workers. The existing illegal immigrants compete for available jobs, and cause wages to drop. Adding more immigrants will only worsen the situation.

Carlson also brought up the issue that too much change is disruptive to societies, citing the work of Robert D. Putnman. Carlson mentioned that in the past we underwent an economic revolution from an agrarian to an industrial society, and now we have another major revolution due to technological changes based on computers, resulting in automation.

Carlson also claimed that multi-culturalism does not work. He noted that a country in order to be a country, must have some unifying principles, among which the most important is language; otherwise, the country will eventually break apart.

Uygur did not respond to any of Carlson’s main claims. He offered what I would call red herrings. For one, he complained about Fox news reporting in such a way as to suggest that the the Honduran caravan was about to sneak in or break through the border. Whereas, in fact, these are people seeking asylum. And then he went to say that Trump is planning to reject the request for asylum. And he reminded the audience of how some Jews were refused asylum during World War II —  the case where one ship was returned, with the result that a quarter of the passengers of that ship died in German concentration camps. His position is that asylum seekers should be listened to, and not rejected out of hand. Fair enough.

As to the main issue of supply and demand, Uygur had no comments. Instead he went off the track to point out that America is a country built on immigration, and that illegal immigrants are not responsible for most of the crimes. In response, Carlson said that he assumed that immigrants are fine people, but that this has nothing to do with the economic problem of supply and demand. Carlson also agreed with Uyger that undocumented immigrants may very well be innocent, but that there are 20 million of them. And he asked who benefits from this? Uygur gave no answer, but the answer is that it is employers.

The only remotely relevant answer to this problem  of supply and demand which Uygur gave, was to claim that there are certain kinds of jobs which Americans are reluctant to do. He cited cases where in the South, illegal immigrants were removed by ICE from chicken plants, resulting in employers complaining that there was no one to replace them. Carlson’s answer to this was that if employers paid more, they would find the workers among citizens.

Commentary on the Jordan Peterson – Sam Harris discussion

A major problem when criticizing or commenting on someone’s position is to avoid misrepresenting their position, resulting in an attack on a straw man. I will therefore try to restate their position in such a may as not to misrepresent them, and then add commentary.

Jordan Peterson presented their overall problem as the problem of grounding morality in facts. He further added that the grounding should avoid dogmatism, on the one hand, and relativism on the other; and Harris agreed.

As it turned out, both agreed that there are different categories of “facts.” There is, first, the category of empirical or experiential facts; second, the facts of mathematics and logic; third, the realm of subjective facts: such as likes and dislikes, desires, consciousness; fourth, there is the realm of social facts, including religions. I leave open the question whether there are other types of facts.

Sam Harris’ thesis was that many people base their morality on religions as expressed in sacred books. The narratives of these books can be taken literally (as by fundamentalists) or in some non-literal interpretation. And his position was that some of the prescriptions, taken literally,  in some of these books are not only harmful, but atrocious. The harmful ones are predominantly sexual in nature, as, for example, forbidding masturbation. The atrocious one are those which prescribe killing either of individuals or groups.

Harris adds that those who take the religious texts in a non-literal way, obviously have some extra-textual criterion for their reading. That criterion is an independent understanding of morality. Thus, the grounding of morality in texts is not necessary.

Peterson did not disagree with this. His interest was to understand religious texts from an evolutionary perspective, and that since any cognition requires a priori categories, he wanted to know what were these evolutionary a priori categories. [For the reader — a priori categories are those concepts or structures which are independent of experience, but which make human experience possible. Such categories include the concepts of time, space, causality, and substance.]

Harris said that morality is grounded in the fact that people avoid pain and seek contentment and flourishing. And from this we can generalize to see that life is a possible continuum from a miserable life, on the one end, to  a happy one, on the other. Peterson saw this as the religious distinction between hell and heaven.

Although Peterson agreed with Harris’ grounding of morality in the distinction between good and bad, he wanted a more solid grounding in some a priori structure. When pushed to elaborate, he insisted on what both of them called a “metaphoric truth.” The example Harris gave was of how one should handle a gun. The proper or heuristic manner of handling a gun is to pretend that the gun is loaded even if you know it is not. In other words, handle the gun as if it were loaded. [To the reader: Hans Vaihinger wrote a book, The Philosophy of ‘As If’]

Peterson tried to use this idea of metaphoric truth to make, what he claimed to be, a deeper insight into human behavior, namely, that people — including Harris, and other so-called atheists, in fact, act as if God existed.

When pushed to give a definition of God, it turned out to be a prescription or recommendation of how to understand the concept of God. God, as Peterson understands it, is some kind of a priori evaluative apparatus whose tendency is, like that of Medieval scholastics, to strive for the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. [I hope I did not misrepresent.]

Harris’ reply was that people normally do not think of God in this way.

During Peterson’s search for a grounding of morality and religion in an evolutionary framework, they found themselves focusing on the widespread practice of human sacrifice by primitive people. Peterson pointed out that historically, because of harsh living conditions, people had to sacrifice babies, especially crippled one, as well as useless old people — all for the sake of survival. And he tried to extract from this the principle that a sacrifice brings some greater good, and he offered the example of parents sacrificing things for their children.

By contrast, Harris’ position on the religious narratives was that they reflected a vacuum in knowing how nature worked, but a vacuum which, I may add, was filled with an imaginary narrative — using the technique of “as if” thinking.

Here is my answer:
What is the nature of this as if? Appealing to anthropology, primitive people have a picture of the universe as if totally composed of persons — a radical animism. Using the model of humans as well as animals, it is evident that all living things must eat to live, and that at some point when hunger is satiated, the animal will stop eating. There are visible animals like crocodiles, wolves, and lions which kill humans to eat them, and there are other tribes which kill human beings in order to take their possessions, and some of them are even cannibals.

Given the power of imagination, humans can envision by a process of extrapolation,  generalization, and idealization that there is a chain of beings — an evolutionary continuum — stretching from insects to some beings even superior to humans. These extraordinary beings are heroes and gods. Since humans eat and want goods, these superior beings — primarily, the gods — must want to eat also. Being choosy, they want the best of food — humans. And they do not want to eat old human meat, but young and tender children, just as we prefer suckling pigs.

I saw no disagreement between Peterson and Harris — but a difference in interest. Harris, believed that regardless of the origins of a belief or practice, it could be judged on its own merits on the basis of our present knowledge and practices. Peterson did not disagree with this, but insisted on finding an explanation in both evolution and a priori structures — a structure which he called God.

My disagreement with both of them concerns the foundations of morality. Both dismiss ethical relativism. This is their mutual error. What Harris describes is the ethics of Robinson Crusoe on an island without Friday. But by adding Friday to the island, the nature of ethics cannot be limited to what is good and bad for one person because there are different hardships being avoided and different goods pursued by different people; so, it must include inter-personal behavior. There is even a position that holds that morality is exclusively social — and what a person does with his own life is irrelevant, except when it impinges on the lives of others, which almost invariably it does.

The foundation of morality is to be found in agreements. These are either implicit composing customs and traditions, or explicit as formulated in moral precepts and laws. [Without further elaboration I send you to the writings of Gilbert Harman.   Here is one piece: Moral Relativism Explained. Here is another: Moral Relativism Defended The Philosophical Review, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Jan., 1975), pp. 3-22]

Given the history and taxonomy of ethical theories, and the strain between the good and the right, Harris is giving priority to the good. Talk of what is good and bad is totally intelligible for a Robinson Crusoe on an island without Friday. Even talk of right and wrong is intelligible relative to things pursued, what Kant called Hypothetical Imperatives.  These are things which are prescribed on the condition that you want to achieve some goal X. For example, projects can be more easily and efficiently done by the use of tools, and even better by the proper or “right” use of tools.  However, on the island, Robinson Crusoe, in my view, has no Categorical Imperatives, despite what Immanuel Kant would say.

My reason for grounding morality in human agreements can be gleaned from sports and even games involving mortal combat. In these activities there are injuries and deaths. But the person who does the injury or causes the death is not held to have done anything immoral. Why? Because as long as he did everything by the agreed to rules, the consequence is irrelevant. The Categorical Imperative is to abide by your agreements.

Sincere Bullshitters or True Believers

As I was watching the Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris discussion, which, by the way, had some very important examples of methods to use in a discussion; and as I tried to understand what Peterson was after, the idea came to my head that a person could very well be sincere but deluded. To put it in another way, a person can be the victim of a myth or illusion.

When I first started thinking about bullshitters I took as my models sales people, politicians, and lawyers. From one perspective, they are all con men, trying to win by whatever strategy will work. They are all insincere in what they are doing. And so, I was not thinking of people who are sincere in what they are selling or advocating, but who, however, are mistaken — who are advocating something erroneous.

My model for the sincere bullshitter, or true believer, is the religious guru — the priest, the minister, the rabbi, the mullah. I say this because they are making incompatible religious claims, and I know that incompatible religious claims cannot be true together, and therefore, most of them — if not all of them — have to be wrong. By the same line of reasoning, most philosophies are erroneous as well — inasmuch as they are incompatible with each other. As to theologies, inasmuch as they are trying to systematize a set of dogmas or axioms, they are innocuous, but trivial, having the same status as an attempt to systematize Greek, Babylonian, or Scandinavian mythologies.

I believe that most religious apologists and most philosophers are sincere in their endeavors. But as it is said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem with sincere bullshitters, or true believers, is not in the fact that they are trying to propagate what they think is true or correct, but the fact that what they are, in fact, propagating is bullshit — error.

An interesting question to ask is: What are the psychological factors which lead one to erroneous beliefs? I have in mind — among other factors — cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.

P.S. Here is the Peterson-Harris discussion. The admirable methodological point is that each of them — call them A and B — was to restate what the other claimed.  Thus, A was asked to state what A thought was B’s position, and what B objected to A’s position. And vice versa. They did not debate; instead they tried to understand what each was claiming.