Is the State the progenitor of societal development? The correlation certainly seems, on the surface, to hold. No society that has remained stateless has developed significantly, and there has been little economic, cultural, or technological development outside of societies with states. Prima facie, it would therefore seem that the State causes development. I hope to show that this is incorrect. The State is not a cause of, but an enemy of development. Civilization arises not because of, but in spite of the State. The State is a parasite on society, and must be starved, removed, and destroyed for the sake of the individual and of humanity as a whole.

If this is the case, why is it that many tribal societies have existed for millennia with neither an oppressive state nor significant societal development? Shouldn’t these (virtually) stateless groups thrive? Why do all of the successful civilizations have coercive states?

Parasites do not prey on the weak. When a parasite’s host weakens, it will leave (if it can) to find a stronger host. While a lack of an oppressive state is a boon to society, it is not a sufficient condition for societal advancement. There are many factors influencing development, and the things that make a society successful are the same things that make them attractive to predators and parasites.

In the most primitive stages of development, people groups exist at a subsistence level. Most of their time is spent gathering what is needed to continue living. It is only through the expansion of the division of labor and the invention of new technologies that groups such as these may advance from abject poverty to higher stages of development. In this substratal condition, these budding societies cannot support parasites. The extraction of any significant portion of their resources would be fatal, and the parasite would die with the host. It is therefore no great mystery why these atrophic societies neither have states nor develop economically. There is a factor present (or in some cases many factors) that is keeping these groups from evolving even to the level where the State could be supported.

While numerous, these factors are not unknown, and any survey of undeveloped societies (both contemporary and historic) is quick to reveal them. First and foremost among these factors is the relative recognition and protection of private property rights. Societies without strong cultural notions of private property (independent of their enforcement by state or non-state actors) develop much more slowly than propertarian societies, if at all. Contrary to popular belief, the academic literature (especially in anthropology) shows many strong non-state protections for property rights. In primitive societies, it is these informal institutions and cultural norms that guide individual actions. If the society is “egalitarian” (in the sense used by anthropologists) and communal, it will see markedly less growth and development than otherwise identical groups with protections for private property rights. This factor is key in nearly every modern and historic instance of a developmentally-stagnant people group.

The second factor influencing the evolution out of pre-civilization is the environment in which the people group exists. While the macrodevelopment of large societies may in some circumstances be hindered by the “resource curse” (a result of parasitic infection by the State), people groups require a basic level of available resources to advance out of the Stone Age. Groups in fertile areas (particularly with river access) develop relatively quickly, while those in barren regions develop more slowly or not at all. This can influence the other factors as well – nomadic tribes that cannot settle in one place due to environmental conditions are less likely to develop traditional, static private property rights than are their agrarian counterparts. Natural predators or high rates of disease (perhaps due to humidity, mosquito density, or other factors) can have a huge detrimental effect on the development of societies.

Cultural and ethical norms other than dispositions toward private property can also play a large role. How do the people of the society see “work?” The “Protestant Work Ethic” is no joke – societies that place a value on production will produce more (ceteris paribus) than societies that do not. Cultural values discouraging jealousy and envy result in more propertarian norms, which in turn play a role in the development of society. Conversely, cultures that encourage jealousy (or forcefully promote “egalitarianism”) will have fewer protections for property rights, and will develop more slowly as a result.

Finally, one cannot discount the role of external coercive actors in the development of a society. A people group with private property rights, natural resources, and cultural values that promote production and expansion of the division of labor may still find itself stagnant as a result of proximity to external marauders or previously-existing states that find it more convenient to plunder than to extend official jurisdiction to include the region inhabited by the emergent society.

These factors, alone or in combination, can make or break an entire cultural group. Any view that takes the one-dimensional factor of the existence of the State and uses it as a proxy for determining the long-term failure or success of societies will not only fail in its goal, but will miss the point entirely. The more significant and pressing question is whether a developing society can prevent infection by the parasite. No surviving group has managed to do so without remaining so weak that the parasite cannot survive. Statelessness is not enough; growth and development require the cultivation of useful ethics regarding property and productivity. The correlation between societal advancement and the existence of the State is not causative, but rather comes from a shared source. Without the conditions for societal advancement, the State cannot survive. For its existence, it must attach to a host that can endure without the share robbed from it. For society to truly thrive, however, the parasite must be excised and smashed once and for all.

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