Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Reminder that the State Requires Justification


Though the reasons why aren’t mysterious, most people think the burden of proof is on those of us who believe that the state is illegitimate to demonstrate such a contention, rather than the other way around. When this issue is considered from a conventional perspective (states dominate the world, there aren’t any stateless societies in which one would want to live, I have been taught to love the state since birth, etc.) then it might seem logical that the burden of proof is on the other side. But when we try to get past our preconceived notions and accurately define what we’re talking about, we might find that the burden of proof ought to be on the other side. And really, this fits in with our conventional ideas of justice: the prosecution has to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, not the other way around, before they deprive him of life, property, or liberty. My question is, why not take this a step further and apply it generally, not only in criminal prosecutions? The state deprives people of these three things on a regular basis: it kills people in Yemen with no declaration of war or any other form of due process, it forces people to serve in its jury system and register for selective service, and demands its pound of flesh every April 15th. And yet, if you are to be exempt from any one of these things, the burden of proof is placed on you to show why. What we have here, I submit, is a miscarriage of justice.

And let us not get bogged down in any nonsense that we tacitly agreed to this subjugation or that “we are the government.” There are few things so obviously untrue that public figures can say and still be treated seriously. Consider this excerpt from a recent piece by John Whitehead:

…the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but those who dare to return the favor, even a little, by filming potential police misconduct, get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes.

As George Carlin said, the state is made up of a club, and you ain’t in it.

It should be clear to everyone that what defines the state is its legitimacy in doing things that if done by anyone else would be seen as illegitimate. This presents a prima facie case that justification for such legal privilege is required. And yet, most of us go on as it wasn’t.

So the next time you should feel inclined to correct someone who claims the state holds everyone’s salvation for health care, safety, wealth, etc., gently ask them to justify the state (that is, violence in pursuit of their ends) in the first place. This unspoken premise largely goes unchallenged. Challenge it.