“Both creationists and socialists distrust invisible-hand processes and cannot conceive of order emerging except through some sort of centralised top-down control.” —Roderick Long

A statheist is an atheist statist. In other words, statheists reject supernatural explanations of the world but believe that the state is necessary for creating social order and managing society. Now, anti-statism (aka market anarchism or libertarianism) is relatively obscure compared to atheism—and much less obvious—so statheism is nowhere near as egregious an error as creationism. Yet it’s very important to point out the statist error to atheists, who claim to be proponents of reason, since it’s in many ways similar to the errors of creationists.

There’s a certain incongruity of being an atheist and a statist, namely that many atheist arguments are closely related to anti-statist arguments. As atheists, they have no trouble rejecting top-down creationist explanations of the universe. They laugh at the idea that the universe was centrally planned by a supernatural being (“Cosmic Socialism”). They see clearly that the order and complexity of the universe and of life has emerged through bottom-up natural processes. As Dan Dennett would say, they don’t need a skyhook because they have a perfectly good crane.

But when it comes to the order and complexity of large-scale society, statheists balk at the idea of emergent order. They are “Political Creationists”, holding that social order can only come down from a powerful state. They employ faulty “state of the gaps” logic in their feeble attempts to rule out the possibility of a stateless society (e.g., “Only a state could provide roads/education/laws/courts/etc”). As usual, the problem boils down to a lack of understanding of economics. Don Boudreaux writes:

While there are some exceptions – Indur Goklany, for example – of natural scientists who understand economics, far too many of them see the world as posing physics or engineering problems rather than as posing economic ones.  The two problems are very different from each other.

Economics explains how social order emerges through the decentralized market price system, a “crane” theory. Statists keep their heads in the sand, content with a top-down “skyhook” theory of social order. They cling to an almost supernatural conception of the state: all-powerful, wise, and benevolent. In reality, the state is none of these: its power is derived from the support of its subjects, who could easily overpower the state if they revolted; its wisdom in managing society is extremely primitive compared to the information aggregation of markets, as seen by the utter and universal failure of central planning (and the spectacular success of free markets); its benevolence is largely a myth, as policy makers usually have more incentive to favor special interests at the expense of the general public.

Ultimately the problem of social order boils down to this: There are only people, all imperfect and selfish to some extent. There are no super-people to rescue us from this anarchy and selflessly govern society. So how can we find a way to cooperate amongst ourselves, to avoid conflicts? Is it really best to give one group of people a bunch of guns and tell them to enforce social order while hoping that they won’t abuse this power? That’s a terribly uncreative, skyhook solution. No, a much more sensible position would be to reject the monopoly solution and look for a crane, a bottom-up, competitive, polycentric solution. And as economists have long insisted, markets are just the crane we need—incredible decentralized systems for coordinating cooperation among billions of people and directing production so as to best satisfy the wants of consumers.

If statheists wish to fly the banner of reason, they should seriously re-examine their belief in the skyhook we call the state. They will find that there’s a perfectly good crane to replace it.

About Autor

I’m an undergrad student ultimately aiming for an economics PhD. In a nutshell, I’m an atheist, market anarchist, and paleo health enthusiast. In other words, I reject God, Government, and Grain.
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5 Responses to Statheism

  1. Michael Wiebe says:

    "its power is derived from the support of its subjects, who could easily overpower the state if they revolted;"

    This is overstated. The second part may be true, but revolution is really hard.

    Also, why no comment preview?

    • says:

      Right, the point is that the state has to be careful what it does, lest it incite a revolution. It can't do whatever it wants.

      No preview in default WordPress comment system. Maybe there's a plugin.

  2. Another great post Toban–I'm a fan of Cafe Hayek myself.

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