Monday, January 07, 2013

Is the state inherently elitist?

The other day I tried to explain to a liberal how libertarians can value public goods but still oppose taxation. In doing so, I described the state (and ruling class) as an "elitist syndicate". I felt clever, but I'm wondering if this is accurate. Leaving aside the use of "syndicate", I've been wondering if the state is inherently elitist.

I can definitely think of elitist policies of the state -- for instance, I consider pretty much any lifestyle regulation as elitist (i.e. based on the assumption that the ruling class possesses a superior understanding of the basic issues of life). However, there's no need for state policies to be elitist, and they can even be anti-elitist.

But the issue isn't the policies of the state; instead, it is the structure of the state. Is the basic structure of the state elitist? If Congress and the President assert authority over us, is it because they think they are better than us? Could they really just be administrators of the public will, as their populist rhetoric would have us believe? Do they naturally isolate themselves from regular people, such that they only pay attention to the thoughts and concerns of other influential people, and thereby create an elitist ruling class? Will they necessarily lavish resources upon favorite protegees in the younger generations, while ignoring the development of the bulk of that generation?

My suspicion is that the state is inherently elitist. We do not live under a simple government of the elite -- where we have selected the most capable administrators/representatives to do a specific job. Instead, we have government by an elitist class that self-consciously selects its membership by providing advantages to specific individuals and then claims broad powers over the population as a whole. While elections and anti-nepotism laws provide opportunities for social mobility and prevent the elite from becoming excessively insular, they do not change the fundamental elitist nature of the state.

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