The Hobbesian “state of nature”, as a war of all against all, and the social contract theory, which romanticizes the origins of state monopolies in a way utterly incongruent with logic and history. These are the worst assumptions in the study of political economy.
I’m thrilled because I just pre-ordered two new books by two of the clearest thinkers that land big punches against these dumb assumptions. Both released in the same week! Something must be in the air.
The first is a new book by James Scott, whose work is a devastating blow to the social contract story of the origin of states. States originate in conquest, subjugation, and slavery. They require massive violence beyond the scale of any mere criminal, and propaganda and ideology to sustain. No one holds hands and peacefully agrees to form a state for some notion of the greater good.
The second is a new book by Peter Leeson, whose work is a devastating blow to the Hobbesian idea that, absent a central monopoly on violence (“Leviathan”), humans would be in perpetual violent conflict. Leeson “pokes Hobbes in the eye” over and over with his phenomenal examinations of the myriad ways humans have sought peace and harmony over violence in the absence of central control. Hobbes is wrong. Humans choose cooperation to violence whenever possible, and peaceful exchange is a more natural social behavior than armed conflict. It requires a massive indoctrination effort to normalize mass violence as states do.
What makes this all so fun is that the mechanisms that emerge to reduce conflict are often bizarre and unlikely, which drives rationalist central planners nuts.
Once you scrap the assumption that humans would all murder each other absent a state (note: this doesn’t require humans to be naturally “good” or naturally “bad”, just self-interested), and that states emerged in some magical kumbaya contract that you signed before you were born, you realize institutions that monopolize violence are as unnecessary as they are evil.
This is a trip worth taking. Check out these new books to dive in.