I have been accused by anarchists of being a statist by virtue of not being an anarchist. It was clear that their intention was to lump me into a category with authoritarians, totalitarians, and other types of megalomaniac persuasions. Obviously that would be a horrendously inaccurate misrepresentation of my beliefs and political positions, but it made me decide to look into exactly what different groups of people and different sources understand statism to be. One of my motivations to do this was to identify the different definitions so that I could catch when anarchists are equivocating with the definition. The .org website Logical Fallacies defines equivocation as using “misleading terms of more than one meaning without clarifying which definition is intended in the scenario.”
Most dictionary definitions for “statism” specify a government-planned control economy and general micromanagement by an all-powerful central government.
Concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government often extending to government ownership of industry.Merriam-Webster
The principle or policy of concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty.Dictionary.com
Being from common dictionaries, these are the colloquial ways in which most people understand statism to mean. It is the way which I generally refer to and understand statism to mean. These definitions do not accurately describe most first world people, anarchist or non-anarchist. They do not describe me.
Let us see what the far-Right Conservapedia’s definition of statism is.
The civil government (or man via civil government) is the ultimate authority in the earth and as such is the source of law, morality, and righteousness (that which is right and wrong)… The state is therefore not subject to God, the Bible, natural law, or any other religion or ethical system. A statist government need not be accountable to its own citizens.https://www.conservapedia.com/Statism
This is interesting because I don’t think any source they mentioned is the authority, in the ultimate sense, of morality, “righteousness,” or law. I don’t believe in God, the Bible (and Qur’an) include a lot of very immoral and unrighteous things in them, and I believe law is a perpetual work in progress that will never reach “ultimate” perfection. The funny thing is that it seems Conservapedia is fine with authoritarianism if it is theocracy (generally by their religion of course), but are only against it by non-religious people.
In any case most people in the West don’t fit Conservapedia’s definition of statist. Many of the religious people in America may be highly complicit towards religious statism by the more fanatical among them, but overall it is unlikely most outright hold the position.
Aynynrandlexicon.com (referencing the far-Right libertarian sweetheart Ayn Rand) has an interesting definition.
A statist system—whether of a communist, fascist, Nazi, socialist or “welfare” type—is based on the . . . government’s unlimited power, which means: on the rule of brute force. The differences among statist systems are only a matter of time and degree; the principle is the same. Under statism, the government is not a policeman, but a legalized criminal that holds the power to use physical force in any manner and for any purpose it pleases against legally disarmed, defenseless victims.http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/statism.html
That definition contradicts itself. It defines a statist system one in which the government has ultimate power, then says some statist systems exhibit this to different degrees. The word ultimate means by definition “the best or most extreme of its kind.” So a state cannot have ultimate power to different degrees. Additionally, this definition would seem to equate systems as extreme as Nazism and Stalinism with countries that are quite free but with a robust welfare safety net like Denmark or Sweden.
Even the part calling the government a legalized criminal that holds the power to use physical force in any manner and for any purpose it pleases is false, at least in America. That isn’t to say the government in American doesn’t hold the power to use more force than it should, but it is certainly limited. In the United States you can literally sue the US government and win. Microsoft sued the US. government for the right to tell its customers when a federal agency is looking at their emails, which led to the US government backing down on it. Even going back to the US’s early years, the famous case of Marbury v. Madison was an example of a high government official, Secretary of State James Madison, being successfully sued, by William Marbury. People can debate whether the US government has too much power or not enough, but either way it certainly doesn’t have ultimate power to do what it wants.
The Ayn Rand definition seems typical of most anarcho-capitalists in that is is self-contradictory, in many ways false, and leaves enough ambiguity for the doctrinaire using it to always claim plausible deniability whenever backed into a corner. Any time a person dissects the person’s meaning, they simply change their meaning (equivocate) mid discussion in order to make it look like they are actually winning and their opponent is just too dumb to understand.
But let us move along to Wikipedia’s definition.
In political science, statism is the doctrine that the political authority of the state is legitimate to some degree. This may include economic and social policy, especially in regard to taxation and the means of production… Opposition to statism is termed anti-statism or anarchism. The latter is characterized by a complete rejection of all hierarchical rulership… Statism can take many forms from small government to big government.
This is probably the most reasonable definition of statism. Going by this definition I freely declare myself a statist. Thomas Jefferson and miniarchist libertarians would also be considered statists. But using this definition, it makes no sense to sneer at someone and call them a statist because with this definition statist is really saying very little. It could refer to a Jeffersonian Classical Liberal or a Nazi. It is for this reason that when an anarchist hurls it as if a pejorative, they are generally preparing for a bad-faith equivocation. They sneer at you with the word implying you’re an authoritarian, then if you deny it they will cite this more general definition that does not imply authoritarianism. And that is usually the beginning of a series of them equivocating back and forth. Needless to say, it is not an honest way of discussing.
So in closing, if by “statist” a person is calling me an authoritarian, a person who favors a command economy, unlimited governmental power, and micromanagement in the everyday life of the citizens, then I could not be further from a statist. But if by statist someone simply means not an anarchist, then I emphatically and happily will accept being called a statist in that sense. I would have not problems having a discussion based on either definition, but that definition must be explicitly stated and agreed upon from first usage. I will not have a discussion with a dishonest person who tries to equivocate the definitions to win an argument.