The nation-state grew in power and popularity from the 17th century onward owing to its gradual conquest of the historical roles of religion, family, and civil society.
That much is beyond dispute. What’s more interesting is how its own growth in power and authority winds up undermining its own stability. What Hans-Hermann Hoppe illuminates is that, by breaking down family and religious ties with the crowding-out effect of social security programs of all types, the modern total state does permanent damage to the underlying culture.
Conservatives, particularly those in the Pat Buchanan mode, tend to want to save the state from the consequences of its own assumption of authority over civil society. This is by no means limited to talk radio — it’s actually quite common on the alternative right, also. Libertarians, outside of Hoppe, tend to dismiss the importance of civil society, instead stressing the rights of individuals.
Identitarians and other nationalists tend to argue that the total state which began flexing its authority in the 18th century can be restored to its former glory by eliminating the complicating influences of foreigners and people of other religions. While there’s nothing all that wrong with such a proposal — deporting and importing foreigners has been a political tool for millennia used in all political systems for various purposes — it also ignores the long term, multi-generational effects of the usurpation of civil life by states and the consequences of that.
Social security tends to be extremely popular among ordinary people because of how much it does to liberate the individual from bonds of family, community, and religion. What it does is free parents and children from the traditional reciprocal duties owed between the parties. It also weakens the economic incentives underlying the marriage bond — if everyone can fall back on the mercy of the state rather than maintaining family relations, we shouldn’t be surprised when civil society breaks down, people find that they have little in common with anyone, much less their own countrymen, and then move to support various destructive political measures in frustration.
Just to reiterate, parents have few incentives to be sufficiently dutiful to their children in order to command enough respect for them to receive care in their old age, and children have fewer requirements to obey parents when their position within the community is much less relevant to their status within the meritocratic-bureaucratic system that begins with early schooling.
The total state has to be a short lived phenomenon for this reason. While the neoliberal variant may be more stable and productive than Communism, it still runs into problems from the crowding out of the incentives to raise children within strong families. In fact, the ‘strong families’ which characterized the most civilized parts of the world until recently tend to be condemned in the harshest terms by intellectuals, and the means by which those families enforced order also tends to be condemned by religious and civil authorities.
Faced with the problems, and having no direct experience with anything outside life under the total state, thinkers try to come up with patches to the overbuilt system. The most popular patch to the mass self-absorption and demoralization represented by demographic decline is the commencement of ever more ambitious mass immigration programs. As immigrants assimilate to greater and lesser degrees to the system, they come to be afflicted by the same demoralization that results in a dropping birth rate. While to some extent, the importation of new people contributes to the demoralization and difficulty in coordination within the original population, those problems existed before the immigration began.
This demoralization makes it more challenging to deliver greater quality of life to the masses, which is the top legitimating principle used by democratic governments. Inability to facilitate even the plausible appearance of greater prosperity provokes political instability. But the state itself can’t create such prosperity — only civil society can.
A program to end social security and other forms of insurance (like health insurance) would not find supporters in significant numbers, in large part because the impacts of those programs are irrevocable. The depleted and thin relations that people have within their families, to one another, and to their religious groups (should there be any) are so weak that, for most people, to turn away from the bureaucratic system would mean turning back on not just their livelihood but their entire way of life and thought.
It’s better to focus on causes of political problems than it is to focus on treating symptoms. Diversity becomes non-objectionable to most people when the differences between individuals and groups have been filed off by the state. The people who have gone through this leveling process then naturally come to see other people in general as mainly only differing in terms of height and which pages they’ve liked on their Facebook profile, with religion only having an influence on whether they celebrate Hannukah, Diwali, Christmas, or Ramadan during the winter. This ecumenicism precedes the great breaking down of borders between private and civic life, which precedes the breaking down of even more divisions between people and nations.
All this being said, it’s still sensible to support efforts to curb immigration and deport foreigners when the political, social, and economic situation within a country becomes unmanageable. To pick a noncontroversial historical example, France was essentially correct to deport the Huguenots when they did to head off a religious civil war. And the Protestant countries that took them in as refugees often realized some benefits from the process. Such events shouldn’t be used to illustrate general operating principles as if politics were physics — when America invaded Iraq for the second time, the political architects of the postwar occupation believed that the postwar occupations of Germany and Japan could be used as templates for the occupation of Iraq. They were mistaken because the situations were far more difficult and different than they had wanted to believe.
This is really the trap that states find themselves in. In order to legitimate themselves and ensure that society is sufficiently ‘visible’ and predictable enough, they must socialize childhood. By socializing most of childhood, they destroy the incentive to procreate and maintain civil order. As civil order decreases and the upkeep of the disabled increases and becomes more and more a burden of the state, it reaches a crisis that it can’t survive — and neither can the people who have become reliant on the way of life that it represents.
To make the problem worse, the state penalizes middle class earners who have children while subsidizing poor, unmarried women who have children — and then taxing the former group to pay for the political formation and disciplining of the results of the latter group. This just accelerates the crisis and makes it more pervasive.
The French Revolution and the eruptions that followed culled the aristocrats who had lost the capacity to rule. The collapse of the popular state will cull the common people and the remains of the degraded bourgeoisie. In the same way that we can say that the late aristocrats lost the strength and adherence to virtue before they were destroyed, we can say something similar about the decline of middle class values and the consequent political upheaval that must follow it.
The new rights of man were supposed to liberate people from the yoke of aristocracy and class. What it wound up doing was yoking people to each other, with some opportunities to swap positions in the cart every once in a while, while submitting to the all-seeing-eye of the total state all the while, searching for deviation from the grand plan to make men equal.
States will tend to put up the pretense that they expect to survive as independent institutions up until the moment that the tanks roll up to the capitol building — and so the nation-state is in ‘Baghdad Bob’ mode, particularly in the West. ‘Baghdad Bob’ believed that the Republican guards were pushing back the Americans because he needed to believe it, and because his job was to transmit that authentic belief in falsehood.
No series of minor legal reforms can resolve this fundamental issue, nor is it possible to craft a popular packaging for what needs to be done.