By Jonah Goldberg — In Our Enemy, the State, Albert Jay Nock distinguished between the government and the State. Sadly, these terms have become interchangeable in everyday parlance: “Statism” is simply a more euphonious and serviceable word for “governmentism.” But until the New Deal, while virtually everyone would have recognized that the United States had a government, whether it had a “state” would have been a much more complicated question.
For Nock, the government is the machinery created by the Founders to protect our individual rights, our shores from foreign enemies, and, well, that’s about it. Even a police force was an iffy proposition for Nock. “When Sir Robert Peel proposed to organize the police force of London, Englishmen said openly that half a dozen throats cut in Whitechapel every year would be a cheap price to pay for keeping such an instrument of tyranny out of the State’s hands,” Nock wrote. “We are all beginning to realize now that there is a great deal to be said for that view of the matter.”
The State — properly capitalized — is a different creature altogether from mere government. It is an instrument of will. It seeks to tell people how to live. Worse still, it uses force to do so. Worst of all, its paramount purpose is not answering the question “What’s best for the people?” — that is at most a secondary consideration — but “What is good for the State?”
Kevin Williamson’s new book is quite possibly the best indictment of the State since Our Enemy, the State appeared some eight decades ago. It is a lovely, brilliant, humane, and remarkably entertaining work.
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