by Albert Jay Nock, 1935
Back: Our Enemy, The State, Ch. 2
Aristotle, confusing the idea of the State with the idea of government, thought the State originated out of the natural grouping of the family. Other Greek philosophers, labouring under the same confusion, somewhat anticipated Rousseau in finding its origin in the social nature and disposition of the individual; while an opposing school, which held that the individual is naturally anti-social, more or less anticipated Hobbes by finding it in an enforced compromise among the anti-social tendencies of individuals. Another view, implicit in the doctrine of Adam Smith, is that the State originated in the association of certain individuals who showed a marked superiority in the economic virtues of diligence, prudence and thrift. The idealist philosophers, variously applying Kant's transcendentalism to the problem, came to still different conclusions; and one or two other views, rather less plausible, perhaps, than any of the foregoing, have been advanced.
The root-trouble with all these views is not precisely that they are conjectural, but that they are based on incompetent observation. They miss the invariable characteristic marks that the subject presents; as, for example, until quite lately, all views of the origin of malaria missed the invariable ministrations of the mosquito, or as opinions about the bubonic plague missed the invariable mark of the rat-parasite. It is only within the last half-century that the historical method has been applied to the problem of the State.  This method runs back the phenomenon of the State to its first appearance in documented history, observing its characteristic marks, and drawing inferences as indicated. There are so many clear intimations of this method in earlier writers--one finds them as far back as Strabo--that one wonders why its systematic application was so long deferred; but in all such cases, as with malaria and typhus, when the characteristic mark is once determined, it is so obvious that one always wonders why it was so long unnoticed. Perhaps in the case of the State, the best one can say is that the cooperation of the Zeitgeist was necessary, and that it could be had no sooner.
The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner.  On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origin.  Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution "forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group."
An American statesman, John Jay, accomplished the respectable feat of compressing the whole doctrine of conquest into a single sentence. "Nations in general," he said, "will go to war whenever there is a prospect of getting something by it." Any considerable economic accumulation, or any considerable body of natural resources, is an incentive to conquest. The primitive technique was that of raiding the coveted possessions, appropriating them entire, and either exterminating the possessors, or dispersing them beyond convenient reach. Very early, however, it was seen to be in general more profitable to reduce the possessors to dependence, and use them as labour-motors; and the primitive technique was accordingly modified. Under special circumstances, where this exploitation was either impractical or unprofitable, the primitive technique is even now occasionally revived, as by the Spaniards in South America, or by ourselves against the Indians. But these circumstances are exceptional; the modified technique has been in use almost from the beginning, and everywhere its first appearance marks the origin of the State. Citing Ranke's observations on the technique of the raiding herdsmen, the Hyksos, who established their State of Egypt about B.C. 2000, Gumplowicz remarks that Ranke's words very well sum up the political history of mankind.
Indeed, the modified technique never varies. "Everywhere we see a militant group of fierce men forcing the frontier of some more peaceable people, settling down upon them and establishing the State, with themselves as an aristocracy. In Mesopotamia, irruption succeeds irruption, State succeeds State, Babylonians, Amoritans, Assyrians, Arabs, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Parthians, Mongols, Seldshuks, Tatars, Turks; in the Nile valley, Hyksos, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks; in Greece, the Doric States are specific examples; in Italy, Romans, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Germans; in Spain, Carthaginians, Visigoths, Arabs; in Gaul, Romans, Franks, Burgundians, Normans; in Britain, Saxons, Normans." Everywhere we find the political organization proceeding from the same origin, and presenting the same mark of intention, namely: the economic exploitation of a defeated group by a conquering group.
Everywhere, that is, with but one significant exception. Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impractical or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never. The American hunting tribes, for example, whose organization so puzzled our observers, never formed a State, for there is no way to reduce a hunter to economic dependence and make him hunt for you.  Conquest and confiscation were no doubt practicable, but no economic gain would be got by it, for confiscation would give the aggressors but little beyond what they already had; the most that could come of it would be the satisfaction of some sort of feud. For like reasons primitive peasants never formed a State. The economic accumulations of their neighbours were too slight and too perishable to be interesting;  and especially with the abundance of free land about, the enslavement of their neighbours would be impracticable, if only for the police-problems involved. 
It may now be easily seen how great the difference is between the institution of government, as understood by Paine and the Declaration of Independence, and the institution of the State. Government may quite conceivably have originated as Paine thought it did, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Rousseau; whereas the State not only never did originate in any of those ways, but never could have done so. The nature and intention of government, as adduced by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer, are social. Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.  So far from encouraging a wholesome development of social power, it has invariably, as Madison said, turned every contingency into a resource for depleting social power and enhancing State power.  As Dr. Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime. In Russia and Germany, for example, we have lately seen the State moving with great alacrity against infringement of its private monopoly by private persons, while at the same time exercising that monopoly with unconscionable ruthlessness. 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.
Next: Our Enemy, The State, Ch. 2, Sec. III
..  By Gumplowicz, professor at Graz, and after him, by Oppenheimer, professor of politics at Frankfort. I have followed them throughout this section. The findings of these Galileos are so damaging to the prestige that the State has everywhere built up for itself that professional authority in general has been very circumspect about approaching them, naturally preferring to give them a wide berth; but in the long-run, this is a small matter. Honourable and distinguished exceptions appear in Vierkandt, Wilhelm Wundt, and the revered patriarch of German economic studies, Adolf Wagner.
..  An excellent example of primitive practice, effected by modern technique, is furnished by the new State of Manchoukuo, and another bids fair to be furnished in consequence of the Italian State's operations in Ethiopia.
..  The mathematics of this demonstration are extremely interesting. A resume of them is given in Oppenheimer's treatise, Der Staat, ch. I, and they are worked out in full in his Theorie der Reinen und Politischen Oekonomie.
..  Except, of course, by preemption of the land under the State-system of tenure, but for occupational reasons this would not be worth a hunting tribe's attempting. Bicknell, the historian of Rhode Island, suggests that the troubles over Indian treaties arose from the fact that the Indians did not understand the State-system of land-tenure, never having had anything like it; their understanding was that the whites were admitted only to the same communal use of land that they themselves enjoyed. It is interesting to remark that the settled fishing tribes of the Northwest formed a State. Their occupation made economic exploitation both practicable and profitable, and they resorted to conquest and confiscation to introduce it.
..  It is strange that so little attention has been paid to the singular immunity enjoyed by certain small and poor peoples amidst great collisions of State interest. Throughout the late war, for example, Switzerland, which has nothing worth stealing, was never raided or disturbed.
..  Marx's chapter on colonization is interesting in this connexion, especially for his observation that economic exploitation is impracticable until expropriation from the land has taken place. Here he is in full agreement with the whole line of fundamental economists, from Turgot, Franklin and John Taylor down to Theodor Hertzka and Henry George. Marx, however, apparently did not see that his observation left him with something of a problem on his hands, for he does little more with it than record the fact.
..  John Bright said he had known the British Parliament to do some good things, but never knew it to do a good thing merely because it was a good thing.
..  Reflections, I.