This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.
There are many statists who actively fight against totalitarianism. This may not seem inherently contradictory, but the key to understanding totalitarian ideology is completely ignored by them. The very machinations of the state require totalitarian control over the population. To say that there can be a state without totalitarianism is a contradiction. Totalitarianism originates largely from early fascist theory but has similarly been associated with authoritarian communism. This seems simple enough; a state that attempts to control all parts of society is totalitarian, while a state that does not is just liberal or conservative. Therefore, there is a distinction between a good justifiable state and an evil unjustifiable state. People can make more distinctions based on economic and political systems, but the vast majority agree that totalitarianism is ultimately what determines whether or not a state is ethical. Very few people act as if the Third Reich was a valid exercise in statecraft, and only a few more similarly defend the actions of the Soviet Union. There are also other such regimes, various authoritarian socialist experiments, and lower profile fascist states.
Control Through Law
It is physically impossible for a state to control the lives of everyone. This problem is solved by having the state legislate and regulate, then allowing the enforcers of these laws and regulations to have special privileges, so as to give the state the ability to convict any person the state wants to convict and punish in any way the state deems appropriate. In this manner, one may create a totalitarian state. For obvious reasons, these sorts of states have no regard for human rights or basic decency. Rather, they are directly opposed to the civilized nature of man. Although most people understand this, they do not understand that any state is inherently totalitarian. There are historical exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between and have long since disappeared. Because this is the case, we cannot act as if the historical possibility of a non-totalitarian state is a valid argument. Even if a state can be free of or largely lack totalitarianism for a limited time, this can never last.
Citizenship and Personhood
At the heart of the issue is the very thing that defines the state for all individuals: the aspect of citizenship. Every person under a state is the citizen of that state, which means that they have a relationship with the state in which the state is in a privileged position of control over the citizen. The relationship is even more integrated as without the state, no one can be a citizen. Due to the form of citizenship practiced in modern states, the ability to delegate citizenship gives the state the power to delegate legal personhood. In this system, a non-citizen is as good as a non-person, as they are without the legal protections that other people enjoy.
Because the actions of the citizens affect the relationship of the state with other states and the rest of the citizenry, the state has an interest in subjugating the people under it. This is because the people who live under a state are by necessity people whom the state must control and is expected to control by the rulers of other states and the citizens of that selfsame state. If the state does not control its people, then the state will lose perceived legitimacy as it fails to curtail adverse social effects that result from individual actors who act contrary to a state’s domestic and foreign policies.
From this, any actions taken in a statist system must not only require the consent of all parties involved, but also the consent of the state. The state effectively becomes a secular god, in that it can arbitrarily decide who is or is not legally a person and how people must or must not act. This must be the case with any state, no matter its size, scope, form, or ideological position. The state must hold a monopoly on law in a certain region, as failing to do so would both run afoul of the definition of a state and allow agents of the state to be held accountable for the crimes they commit under color of law. In order to do this, the state needs to make the people within its claimed territory into its citizens. The modern statist system relies upon citizenship, and the states within it would have no justification without such subjects.
By this reasoning, there can be no state without totalitarianism. However, this is not the form of totalitarianism that was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. This is a casual totalitarianism, which is far more insidious than any explicit totalitarianism. In this totalitarianism, the state allows people to sell their labor to a crony capitalist who has swindled for himself special privileges from the state in what is called rent-seeking behavior. Thus, the worker has to either accept terms that no person would rationally accept if given a real choice or work in the black market. This is seemingly voluntary, and most people can get hired to work somewhere, so there can supposedly be no complaining. However, if a person actually tries to do the job that one wants to do as one wants to do it, one runs into mountains of regulations and legislation that an entire team of lawyers must review for compliance. They are also faced with licensing requirements and other privileges that the state keeps for itself and only distributes as the ruling class sees fit. Due to the involvement of the state, we cannot say that there is any legal voluntary economic activity in the current system, as there is no legal economic activity without the state. This is only possible because the state maintains a monopoly on law.
Furthermore, the state can legislate with regard to any relationship, whether interpersonal or political. One cannot engage in any activity without first getting the consent of the state. The state replaces faith and culture when it comes to marriage, as the state decides which marriages and types of marriages are valid and which are not. The state replaces any sense of morality when it comes to law through the doctrine of legal positivism. What matters becomes what is legal rather than what is morally righteous. The state assumes full control over one’s life without arousing suspicion in most people. The state even takes control over what happens between a citizen and himself. That is, the state replaces free will. In the modern world, the state may allow one to engage in any sort of degeneracy under the sun, but the moment the state is harmed or lessened in influence from whatever a person does with himself, the state will forbid it. The state is thus omnipresent, and for many people, this is enough; if they are forbidden from doing something by the state, even when it affects no other persons, they will not do it. People will actively avoid anything illegal, as the state has replaced morality and thinking for oneself.
Because of this, there is no such thing as individualism in the presence of the state. There is effectively only one real person, and that person is the state. No one other than the state can act in any meaningful manner without the consent of the state for fear of being shut down. The state will always make all decisions, even if we do not realize it. Neither will the citizens have a choice in their own minds, as the state has replaced them as people. Thus, we are stuck in a form of totalitarianism, which only differs from place to place and from time to time in the degree of apparent restriction. Some will claim that democracy counters this tendency towards totalitarianism, but if anything, liberal democracy only enables the total state. Without the apparent will of the people, the state cannot designate who the people are without breaking the casual nature of its totalitarianism. The citizens give up their own rights as humans and give the state the right to decide for them. The state needs some sort of mandate, as it needs the citizens to listen to its commands and the government agents to enforce these commands. This may be more or less explicit, but it is always present by necessity. Mass democracy demonstrates this better than any other system.
The single greatest show of submission is to beg for the state to lengthen one’s leash, as no matter what happens, one will still be collared. The state will not be changed by begging, as the state is by necessity a totalitarian institution. The only meaningful exercises of power by the people are to subvert the state or overthrow it. The state is antithetical to morality, freedom, and humanity by design, and it cannot be designed otherwise. It is therefore necessary to create an alternative form of governance and defend it against the state. The precise nature of stateless organization will vary from place to place and must be decided by the organizers in each locality.
It is vital that we remove totalitarianism from society if we wish to ever achieve real human liberty. If one believes this, then the precise details become less relevant as it creates an entirely new paradigm of political theory. The alliances and conflicts of previous theories are subordinated to the point of irrelevance. This is not to say that we should support those who call themselves anarchists but simply want global socialism; rather, it is to say that regardless of whether people organize along socialistic, capitalistic, progressive, or reactionary lines, it will be of secondary importance because the highest priority for any living person today should be the elimination of the inherently totalitarian state. Personal preferences about the actions of others will only take precedence once we have freed ourselves from the state and created a society of distinct and free persons. If we do not do this, then we will necessarily choose totalitarianism.