According to John Locke, the state was invented by a group of well-to-do landowners as a kind of homeowner’s association writ large. Natural society before the state, Locke says, is quite pleasant, but a state facilitates settling disputes and organizing collective action. This means that the state must be guided by the interests of property-owners, and when it is no longer useful to those who created it, they may, indeed should, abolish and reconstitute it in a new, more useful form.
Thomas Hobbes disagrees. The state, he claims, arose out of a very violent and chaotic state of nature, one in which property itself, let alone accumulation of it, was inconceivable. People found themselves weak and isolated and so cried out en masse to the strongest man they could find, “Save us! Protect us, we beg you! Rule us, and deliver us from chaos!” The strong man obliged, and the state was born. Rebellion, which Locke condoned, is the height of insanity, according to Hobbes; the state of nature is so horrible that any rational calculation of utility will reveal the indispensability of the state.
Traditionally, these origin myths for the state—and they are myths—are held to be antithetical: Locke advocates a limited, constitutional state, while Hobbes calls for authoritarian absolutism. However, the antinomy of Hobbes and Locke is just as much a myth, a myth justifying Leftism’s ideological ascendancy today.
Notice similarities between the two myths. Both set out to explain why one should or should not rebel against the state; both argue on the basis of utility calculation; both claim that the state was manufactured and imbued with legitimacy by its subjects. These three features are also foundational elements of Leftist political thinking: the key political question is whether or not to accept the state’s authority, and this question is answered by whether or not it benefits “the people,” meaning specifically Leftists themselves.
Long ago, the various races lived in harmony. Then everything changed when the white race attacked. Whites used their superior technology and aggressiveness to subjugate and enslave the other races, and the state is the fruit of their brutal conquest. Only a diverse coalition can defeat the ruthless white people and restore balance to the world. So goes the Leftist account of the origin of the state.
Now, Leftists don’t really want to overthrow the state: they want to seize it for themselves. The problem with the state as it exists today is merely that it hurts good people and helps bad people, or at least doesn’t help good people enough. As soon as the state starts helping the good and hurting the bad, all will be right in the world of politics.
In answer to the Left, the Right proffers its own myth, one jury-rigged out of old, discarded pieces of Leftism and Christianity. Way back in 1776, the Founders, an assemblage of demigods, created the Constitution and the state along with it. The divine wisdom of the Founders grants legitimacy to the state, and so does the republican structure of that state, the “consent of the governed.” The progress of Leftism runs contrary to the Founders’ sage counsel and against the will of “the people,” in this case meaning those on the Right.
Both the Left and the Right look at the issue of the state in the wrong way. The essence of the state is that it is obeyed; if the state is not obeyed, then it is no state at all. The state is merely the greatest authority within a society, the agency who is obeyed more than all the others. That the state is obeyed requires no explanation at all; what requires explanation is how an agency arises to supremacy.
In the Protagoras, Plato gives a myth of the origin of society and the state along with it. The titular character claims that in the beginning, mankind was violent and uncivilized, much as in Hobbes’ state of nature. Zeus, looking down from Olympus, saw that mankind was in danger of dying out, and so dispatched Hermes with the gift of justice. Hermes thus imparted in human nature an instinct toward justice which allowed for the building of society and the state along with it.
Protagoras points the way toward the truth but doesn’t quite get there. The instinct to cooperation is surely critical to the development of society, and the practice of giving men their due necessarily involves grants some men greater authority than others. What it does not explain, however, is the competition for power that constitutes politics. Cooperation is all well and good, and a streak of barbarism, a tendency toward destructive violence, is also present and important, but there’s something missing.
The state arises out of competition, and competition arises from the desire to be better than others. Sometimes competition is destructive, sometimes it is constructive, and sometimes it is a mixture of both. The state came into being when man first strove against man, and it will vanish only when all are equal and content in their equality.
You see, long ago mankind dwelt in a verdant garden. Life was easy, for food was plentiful and predators absent, and so, people were lazy, fat, and indolent; there was nothing for them to overcome, so there was no striving.
Gnon gazed upon man with disgust, knowing that a far greater destiny awaited him. And so, it took a bolt of lightning and with it burned down the garden, driving mankind into the desert. There life was hard, food was scarce, and danger lurked around every corner. Many perished but the strong and cunning survived. Still, no man strove to be better than his comrades for there was no greater prize than survival, which was best won by the tribe as a whole.
In this age, the women were plain, and so Gnon created a woman of surpassing loveliness and presented her to mankind. In her the men saw a great prize, but they did not know how to win her. When they asked to whom she would belong, she refused to answer but merely smiled. Many men tried to win her favor by catering to her every whim, but others practiced the art of the hunt, developed tools to bring down larger beasts, and tried to impress the Woman with the size of their kills. Impressed she was, but still she favored no man.
Now the other women at first paid the newcomer no mind, but as the men neglected them, they grew jealous. At first they spread slanders against her, and no small number of frustrated men returned to them. But the women truly desired the strong and bold hunters, so they lightened their hair with dyes and reddened their cheeks with powders in imitation of the Woman the men pursued.
The contest went on for a long time until the greatest of the hunters, who had devised many cunning traps, discovered the key to success. Pretending disinterest in pursuing the Woman, he focused his efforts on building his power within the tribe. Already he and his boon companions brought home the most meat, but by bringing other bands under his command, the hunter increased his catch tremendously. Recognizing his power and wisdom, other men and women asked him to settle disputes and accepted his judgments. In this way, the Hunter became the first King.
The women now had a prize to seek just as the men did, and so they strove to attract his attention. The fairest among them rivaled the Woman’s own beauty, and they presented themselves before the King. He praised them according to their dessert but refused all of their advances. Then the Woman came and asked to become the King’s mate. The King granted her request, and she became the first Queen.
Many long years have passed since then, and the offspring of the first King and Queen have spread far and wide. Though the bloodline has been diluted, royal heritage still differentiates those suited to seize and hold power from those unsuited. And the same sexual dynamics motivate competition among men for power now as then.