The state problem and the issue of defense

I’ve been listening to the arguments against state power and, for the most part, I think they are perfectly valid and reasonable. Unfortunately, I think there is one serious issue with them that makes all such theories moot. In order to explain that, I will use the example of the ancient Rome.

You see, the reason why Rome became powerful and why it spread across the known world is that it had an organized state that could maintain a steady army that was well organized and could indulge in prolonged military campaigns. Other nations, that didn’t have an organized state, that didn’t have an organized government that could implement laws and levy taxes, they simply didn’t have a chance against a country that did those things. Their army needed to disband quickly in order to work for a living. There was no state infrastructure that could support prolonged campaigns of a large standing army.

So, let’s say that America returns to its small-state origins. One of its main problems during those times was that its military was very small and unable to wage major wars. Essentially, Mexico had a better organized army. It’s perfectly understandable why – in a capitalist, market-oriented society, military is an unwarranted expense, and could make sense only if you want to make your country into a predator that robs other countries of their resources and you finance yourself that way, as Islam did from the days of Mohammad, for instance. Otherwise it’s a dead expense. But if you don’t have a well organized modern army, you are defenseless against countries that do.

So, want it or not, you need to increase the state in order to arm your country, but then you empower the military industry and the people who decide where the money goes. You also incentivize borrowing or printing money, because this way you delay and defer the financial impact of war. Once you get defense as a valid reason for taxation, some people will come up with ideas about better ways of spending all that money, such as fighting poverty instead of waging war. So, essentially, in a few logical steps you get where you are now.

But is there really an alternative? I certainly don’t see how a civilization could shun defense and survive – the imperial China and its fall under the Mongols is a great warning. Wealth attracts predators. You need to have defense. In a modern world this doesn’t mean pitchforks and swords, it means intercontinental nukes and strategic submarines, networks of satellites and a conventional armed force. Someone, of course, needs to pay for this. You can say, let’s make them mercenaries. Yeah, that went well historically. So keeping a democratic control over the military is preferable, and this means government, which means either taxes, borrowing/printing money, or simply invading and robbing other countries in order to pay for your army.

Essentially, if you want to have a modern army you need to dedicate a significant portion of the GDP to that, and you need to dedicate a significant portion of the industry to military production. You can avoid financing this with taxes if you simply invade and rob other nations, but sooner or later you’ll run out of countries to invade, like Rome did, and then the cost of the military will be directed inwards, in form of taxes and government regulations, or inflation. This will very quickly result in destruction. An alternative is to do what the Imperial China did, to demilitarize to the point of only having a small mercenary force at the borders for token defense. Then the invaders come and make the mercenaries a better offer: “Let’s kill all those wealthy folks, take all their gold and divide it between us”. We know what happened to imperial China at that point.

So basically, you either have a country that collapses under the foreign invaders or under the burden of the expense of its own military. The state does seem to be part of the problem, but there are no obvious ways of getting around it in a way that doesn’t result in the other extreme, of having no borders and protections against invaders.

The situation is a direct consequence of the equality of all men in power. From this, it follows that the only way to get greater power is to organize men into larger groups and/or arm them with better weapons. Other human groups are then forced to respond with symmetric measures or risk being violently conquered; basically, when one human group invents the state, other human groups need to organize into states as well, in order to be able to deal with external pressure. It’s like the nukes: when one nation invents them, everyone else also needs to invent them or be bullied, invaded or destroyed. If anything is to be done, those basic parameters need to change.