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INSTEAD OF A BOOK.
 

THE NATURE OF THE STATE.

[Liberty, October 22, 1887.]

Below is reprinted from the London Jus the reply of F. W. Read to the editorial in No. 104 of Liberty, entitled "Contract or Organism, What's That to Us?"

 

To the Editor of Jus:

Sir,—Referring to Mr. Tucker's criticisms on my letters in Jus dealing with Voluntary Taxation, the principle of a State organism seems to be at the bottom of the controversy. I will therefore deal with that first, although it comes last in Mr. Tucker's article. Mr. Tucker asks whether the State being an organism makes it permanent and exempt from dissolution. Certainly not; I never said it did. But cannot Mr. Tucker see that dissolving an organism is something different from dissolving a collection of atoms with no organic structure? If the people of a State had been thrown together yesterday or the day before, no particular harm would come from splitting them into numerous independent sections; but when a people has grown together generation after generation, and century after century, to break up the adaptations and correlations that have been established can scarcely be productive of any good results. The tiger is an organism, says Mr. Tucker, but if shot he will be speedily disorganized. Quite so; but nobody supposes that the atoms of the tiger's body derive any benefit from the process. Why should the atoms of the body politic derive any advantage from the dissolution of the organism of which they form a part? That Mr. Tucker should put the State on a level with churches and insurance companies is simply astounding. Does Mr. Tucker really think that five or six "States" could exist side by side with the same convenience as an equal number of churches? The difficulty of determining what "State" an individual belonged to would be practically insuperable. How are assaults and robberies to be dealt with? Is a man to be tried by the "State" of which he is a citizen, or by the "State" of the party aggrieved? If by his own, how is a police officer of that "State" to know whether a certain individual belongs to it or not? The difficulties are so enormous that the State would soon be reformed on the old lines. Another great difficulty would be that the State would find it impossible to make a contract. If the State is regarded as a mere collection of individuals, who will lend money on State security? The reason the State is trusted at all is because it is regarded as something over and above the individuals who happen to compose it at any given time; because we feel that, while individuals die, the State remains, and that the State will honor State contracts, even if made for purposes that are disapproved by those who are the atoms of the State organism. I have, indeed, heard it said that it would be a good thing if the State did find it impossible to pledge its credit; but good credit seems as useful to a State as to an individual. Again, is it no advantage to us to be able to make treaties with foreign countries? But what country will make a treaty with a mere mass of individuals, a large portion of whom will be gone in ten years' time?

But apart from the question of organism or no organism, does not

history show us a continuous weakening of the State in some directions, and