Family Ties

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

18 Responses

  1. I’m not sure the cynic is right. The cattle tend to blame the rancher for all sorts of things. But since this is about armistice day, I suppose he or she is right.

    Still, if the cattle do stampede, there’ll be a lot of collateral damage to the cattle who don’t wish to stampede or just happen to be on the wrong side of the leaders of the stampede. Again, though, in the context of armistice day, I don’t think we should be praising the rancher or the ranch.

    To the extent that this dialogue is an origin story about the state and not about one of the most horrific wars ever or war in general, I think the capitalist has the better of it here. Just because the state originated in predation doesn’t mean it can’t have evolved into something good. Of course, at least one of the states in question in WWI–Germany–was of such recent enough vintage that the landlord-warrior class that ran things was still in many obvious ways a landlord-warrior class.

    The humanitarian is a bit naive in insisting on family ties. The Kaiser had a lot of power to make decisions in Germany. The Tsar, too. The English monarch not so much (not sure about Spain and Austria-Hungary because ignorance). Still, as the Stoic said, they might have done something.

    Great post!Report

  2. Guy says:

    Nicely done. I question whether we can hit zero bandits, but perhaps we can asymptotically decrease the total number 🙂Report

  3. Alan Scott says:

    Yay! Dialogs are Back! Jason, I’ve missed you on this blog for lots of reasons, but this was maybe the most important one.Report

  4. Damon says:

    The capitalist is wrong when he says ” like the rancher who makes sure that his cattle are protected and given water”. The state IS a predator and does not protect the “cattle”. It just camouflages it’s predation by using words like “social contract” and “democracy”. But the worst of it is that the “cattle” BELIEVE the lies of the bandit.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    The Capitalist is wrong — assuming his just-so story is right in the first place — to ignore the evolution of the means of attaining power that history has left us.

    Power was, perhaps, originally simply imposed from atop by force and without pretense of legitimacy or moral right. This changed over time as the bandit leaders became kings and claimed to wield authority by the blessing of the gods, and then stopped being kings and became Presidents and Prime Ministers and claimed authority and moral legitimacy from the selection of the people and the requirement that over time, they step down and peacefully allow others to succeed them, thereby rendering themselves subject to the rules they created when they were in power.

    The Capitalist ignores that the government’s of the modern industrialized west, at minimum, spend most of their effort redistributing tax dollars to the populace in the form of social welfare, education, and infrastructure. He focuses much by implication on the part that is used to pay for the government itself and — given the solemn commemoration of the day — to create violence.

    Better, I think, to examine why the violence is made, given that the leaders of the industrialized west are not bandits anymore but instead charged by law, culture, and political pressure with promoting the welfare of the people they govern.Report

    • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

      When war is the natural outcome of promoting the welfare of the people they govern, we had all best prepare for it.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Burt Likko says:


      (Hypothetical) Evolutionary roots are not deterministic of present purpose.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        That’s where I am (insofar as I get that really cool sentence). I prefer the stationary bandit theory of the origins of government since it’s not only more plausible than the Hobbesian social contract theory, but because even tho it’s the worst case starting point in terms of legitimizing government, it can still be done. And Burt pretty much outlined how it happens: as social institutions become more complex the power which was once held by perhaps a single individual (literally!) unilaterally evolves into shared domains of power and protection extending to every citizen within that society.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I get into these considerations in my book.

      The origin story is mostly correct, I think, in that today’s states are the successors to tribute-based empires. I could however tell a somewhat different and less meliorist story about the change from the one that you’ve just told: Tribute-based empires made few demands on subjugated peoples other than paying tribute and behaving meekly. Modern nation-states (heck, even feudal states) demand both loyalty and physical services, as perhaps they did in the Great War. (We’ll bracket the question of whether they were only responding to the people’s demands for now. That’s certainly true for volunteers but only questionably true for conscripts.)Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    As much as I like the romance of the tale of the bandits, my thoughts on the evolution of government has them growing from some vague amalgam of some sort of meritocracy (the best hunter is going to have a seat at the table of decision makers which includes the best warriors) and some sort of religious leadership (the shaman as tribe leader sort of thing).

    Some weird high trust relationship has to exist between everybody for this to work.

    The whole bandits narrative doesn’t really include a mechanism to move from low trust/collaboration to high (or higher) trust/collaboration.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      This is a racially biased tale, biased against magical thinking and toward a more functional perspective. As such, it is much more valid with some peoples than others.

      You may look to the Magyars in how they encouraged trust in a multifaceted, multiethnic environment. Not everyone managed that, of course… Arthur killed the death cults, didn’t he? Sometimes beating people into submission isn’t the optimal solution.Report

  7. A few random thoughts:

    Many of Queen Victoria’s descendants were linked by blood in more ways than one.

    Rulers being related doesn’t prevent wars: it causes them. The 100 Years War began because Edward III of England had a claim to the French throne through his mother. James I of England had the sense to stay out of the 30 Years War, but there was real temptation to do otherwise, because his son-in-law was the most aggrieved party.

    In principle, capitalists should oppose wars that are bad for business. The only example that comes to mind is the shipping interests in New England opposing (and almost causing secession because of) the War of 1812. Far more often, they see war as a business opportunity.Report

  8. Kathy says:

    Renal Disease – exactly what a excellent physician should inform you about it