Lately, there has been a buzz of stories attempting to discredit one form of government philosophy over another as being more dangerous. Some organizations are pointing to the horrors of Communism. Others are claiming that the greatest threat to humanity is Fascism. The conclusion we’re meant to draw is that if we only avoid a particular type of totalitarian government, then things will be fine. Unfortunately, even if we do avoid the worst totalitarian regimes — those that existed under famous despots like Hitler and Stalin — we still find that states have a particular penchant for killing immense numbers of innocent people.
Let us take, for example, the United States. The latest fear gripping the US is the danger presented by a recent string of large scale shootings. These incidents are viewed as existential threats to the safety and security of those living in the US. Further, between 1960 and 2016, 105,915 people found themselves a victim of a homicide. This seems like a tremendous number. However, when compared against the number of civilians killed between 2002 and 2006 in Iraq as a result of US operations, which are estimated at around 655,000, we begin to see a stark contrast between the ability of private citizens to inflict large scale death when compared with a State apparatus. In four short years, the government of the United States did what street gangs and church shooters would take an estimated 350 years to do to the population of Iraq alone. When we pile on Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (not to mention all the other small bush wars the US gets involved in all over the globe), 21st century America already exceeds private homicide totals for major regions over the course of multiple centuries.
Of course, this is perhaps unfair to the United States, since once we start including other nations and their warmaking, the body count piles up all the more. It was the British government, after all, that thought it was a good idea to kill 904 people in two months fighting over some small, remote islands.
We also haven’t touched on the destruction caused by two factions going to war over who gets to be the exclusive government of a region. Various rebellions, revolutions, coups and civil wars, all of which fought by one party in power and another wanting to be the next guy in power, have littered the planet with the bodies of tens of millions since the beginning of the 20th century.
It does not particularly matter if the political philosophy is modern left or modern right in nature, the underlying problem is the basis of how the State operates. As Rothbard noted, a State is little more than an organization that lays exclusive claim to inflict force and violence within a given territory. Because of this fundamental nature, the State’s language will be couched in terms of violence. Even what is referred to as diplomacy tends to revolve around threats, be they direct threats of physical conflict or threats to use the power of the State apparatus to forcibly reject another jurisdiction from markets and migration channels, to engage in deals. To gain monopoly control over violence requires violence, hence the perpetual exercising of that monopoly power and the need to exercise it to be the new monopolist.
Often, arguing over which version of the State is worse is like having a debate as to whether it’s better to be kicked in the groin or gouged in the eye. Due to the State’s ability to control immense amounts of resources through its power to tax, the very presence of the State, not the form it takes, can be the impetus for violence.
Moreover, it may very well be that Communism only managed to have a bigger body count than other forms of totalitarianism simply because Communism won (for several decades). Had Hitler won, we might be having the opposite debate today as the only reason that National Socialism doesn’t have 100 million deaths to its name is because it wasn’t in power long enough to make it happen.
Ultimately, the State itself, not the form it takes, is the problem. Premature deaths from all other sources pale in comparison to the violence inflicted by organized governments; and as the correct answer to the question of getting hit in the groin or gouged in the eye is saying you’d rather have “none of the above.”