Some years ago, I read a very interesting article by Dan Sanchez entitled The Cycle of the State, and given the state of affairs in the U.S. today, I think the concept is more relevant than ever, so I felt compelled to share it here.

Essentially, this is the cycle of the state: more freedom/less government creates domestic prosperity; domestic prosperity enables the government to project its power abroad (empire); the government’s empirical expansion begins to impoverish the nation domestically; the people begin to dissent, protest, revolt; the government implements tyranny (police state) domestically; eventually domestic totalitarianism ensues, along with economic collapse, and the empire collapses along with it.

So liberty funds the state, the state becomes wealthy and imperialistic, uses crises abroad to justify and expand its own power domestically, thus stifling liberty, which stalls the economy, and the state eventually goes bankrupt.

The tumor grows and grows until it kills its own host.

And unfortunately (and, to many of us, incredibly), this cycle has repeated itself throughout human history, which Sanchez quite appropriately likens to the story of Sisyphus:

“In Greek myth, the eternal punishment of Sisyphus was to forever push a boulder up a hill in Hades, only to see it roll down from the summit each time, and to have to start over from the bottom. This well portrays the hopelessness of striving for “limited government,” as can be revealed by bringing together the insights of two libertarian anarchist scholars.”

Sanchez also references the book Crisis & Leviathan (which I also read years ago), in which author Robert Higgs illustrates how crises and emergencies are used by the state to excuse expansions of state power; he then couples that concept with Hans-Hermann Hoppe‘s insights expressed in his article The Paradox of Imperialism explaining how less tyrannical states become imperialistic due to the wealth generated by their citizens via liberty, then become domestically tyrannical as the very crises they stir up abroad is used to expand their own power domestically, until bankruptcy/economic collapse ends the entire process.

Combine the two concepts, and you have Sanchez’s “The Cycle of the State”.

From Dan’s article:

“See, for example, how the quintessential “Lands of the Free” (Great Britain and the U.S.) also became the “Homes of the Inappropriately Brave (Belligerent)”; in other words, they have been, in their heydays, the greatest, most expanionist empires. Even the dirigiste Nazis supported their aggression by expending the wealth and manpower that Germany built up in its liberalized industrialist years.

The obverse of this coin is true as well. More domestically (internally) tyrannical states will tend to be economic basket cases that are less able to afford or competently undertake foreign power projection. See, for example, how the dirigiste Soviet Union was always on its back foot vis-à-vis the U.S. throughout the Cold War.

Since the ideology of its own subjects is the only other chief constraint on state power, and since people are chiefly concerned with their own plight, and very little with the plight of foreigners, it is often only bankruptcy that will seriously limit foreign belligerence. When was the last time an economically thriving empire voluntarily contracted? Even the British Empire’s “Splendid Isolation” phase was at best a slow-down in expansionism (if that), and not a contraction.”

The Paradox of Imperialism debunks the Myth of Minarchism.” [See also my article  debunking minarchism, or limited-government libertarianism: The Fundamental Flaw in Non-Anarchistic Libertarian Thought].

“There can be no stable victory in the battle for limiting the state through revolution and reform. And, therefore, the State cannot be progressively reformed away, whether by an existing regime or a new, post-revolutionary one. The only winning move against the State is not to play its game.”

…and we desperately need to stop playing its game.

(Read Sanchez’s full article here).


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