Dr. Pierre van den Berghe on the state

I was giving away books recently and within a text on anthropology found an essay called, “The Modern State: Nation-Builder or Nation-Killer?” by the anthropologist/sociologist Dr. Pierre L. van den Berghe. I’ll transcribe a fun passage here:

“…States are not inevitable. They have only existed for about 7,000 years of human history. We have done quite well as a species for millions of years without states. Why should we all of a sudden need them? It is true that states have been devastatingly successful in recently human history, because they constitute an effective way of organizing coercive violence. State-organized societies have generally won over stateless societies, and have grown rapidly through conquest. Once a state emerges in a region, it typically conquers its non-state neighbors, or forces them to develop states in self-defense. And of course, big states gobble up small states, so that the general trend of history has been toward bigger and bigger states. The only inevitability in all this is the advantage to those who organize collective violence better. States, far from keeping the peace, wage external war on their neighbors, and parasitize their own citizens through intimidation.
Let me offer, if not a definition of the state, at least an apt description of what many states do much of the time: States are killing machines run by the few to steal from the many. A state is really a big gang or mafia that extracts booty from its rivals and ‘protection money’ from its own citizens through the use or threat of violence. Conversely, gangs or mafias are embryonic states.”