Summary- The Rise and Fall of Society by Frank Chodorov

Humans must consume to survive, but no consumption can happen without production.  No loaf of bread was ever produced through desire alone.  Without production, man ceases to exist, and without man there is no Society.

In “The Rise and Fall of Society,” Frank Chodorov sets out to explain what the foundation of Society is, what allows it to grow, and what causes it to decline. To understand Society you must first properly understand its parts, which is individual man. There is no more appropriate means of understanding man’s actions than through economic reasoning.  At all times, men are first and foremost economic men concerned with producing goods to sustain life and satisfy desires.  Man is always concerned with making a living.

Man purposively acts to be able to achieve subjectively valued ends. Man prefers to fulfill the most satisfactions with the least costs, so once his basic needs are met, he can begin to fulfill other satisfactions with his unused abundance of means (time, goods, etc.).  Throughout history, man has always yearned to live, to satisfy his ever growing list of desires, rather than simply make enough to get by and prolong existence.

The evidence of this is all around us.  From wedding dresses to children’s toys, we see individuals producing to satisfy desires that have nothing to do with fulfilling the basic needs of existence. An abundance of capital is what generates wealth and allows men to live and not merely exist. The desire to create an abundance of means, to produce more than what’s needed now, is the defining characteristic of man.

By producing an abundance of goods now, men free up their time for other desires later.  Man is always looking for a way to increase his general wage level (the amount of satisfactions he is able to fulfill) and in most cases, abundance is the cause of this, because it makes the good cheaper.

The cheaper things are, the more an individual’s effort is worth, and the richer the man becomes.  Man’s wealth is measured by how much he is able to consume or trade, which is necessarily determined by his level of production and the ability for him to keep what he produces.  Men everywhere always want to find a way to get more with having to do less.  This aversion to labor and desire for an abundant life is the igniter of Society; its fuel is production and trade.

Society is a label for an economic phenomenon.  It is the collective cooperation of individuals each seeking to better their own circumstances through production and trade in order to consume more and thereby meet more non-essential desires.   Through trading and cooperating with other individuals, man has access to more goods with the same amount of labor.

Every productive individual sees an increase in their general wage level because of the larger abundance of available goods within the marketplace of Society.  Society is then simply a labor saving institution.  It is not designed or planned, it happens through spontaneous interactions enabled by production, and fueled by a desire to hopefully fulfill more satisfactions through less effort.

This growing abundance leads to the opportunity to specialize.  When man is alone he produces whatever he needs to survive, but when man is surrounded by others, he can produce what he is best at, and trade for other goods.  Rather than be a jack-of-all trades, a man can labor according to his advantage and produce the most he can with his effort.  This increase in production and decrease in effort cause his wages to rise.  He is able to satisfy more desires as a result of specialization.

The goal of Society then, is to provide individuals with access to more goods by interacting with more people through trade.  It is a unifier, and it knows no boundaries.  Through the process of specialization, producers become interdependent.  Their consumption depends on the successful production of others.  It brings people together through their mutual insistence to make up for their own lack of satisfactions.  It seeks to eliminate scarcity in order to raise the general wage level by reducing the price of valuable goods.

Unfortunately, this creation of abundance and interaction with others also sets the stage for people who are obsessed with getting something for nothing to begin pilfering from the producers.

Thieves believe they can save time and effort by stealing.  Theft is their labor saving device.  This behavior acts in contradiction to Society.  It halts Societies’ progress away from scarcity.

In order to fight this anti-social, predatory behavior producers begin to use their time defending their property rather than producing more.  The threat of theft causes accumulated capital to be used to pay security specialists.  These specialists produce no goods of their own, and do not directly add to the wealth of Society. This can only happen once Society accumulates enough capital to be used for non-good producing activities.  This is the root of Government.

Chodorov defines Government as a social service established by members of the community to protect their property rights.  It is supported by the capital accumulation of producers, and saves producers from having to waste time constantly fending for themselves.  By this definition, Government is merely a voluntarily established and funded institution to protect property rights.  It can be a number of different arrangements.  It does not have the power to tax.  That power is reserved solely for the State.

The State is a predator.  It is a Government that begins to use its monopoly on force to collect taxes from the members of Society.  That is its only way of acquiring goods.  It cannot produce, so it must steal.  The State’s activities are restricted to that which it can fund through theft.  It never produces wealth.  Its interventions/projects are never demanded by the market and are unable to pass the test of profit and loss.  The State is an outgrowth of people’s obsession with wanting to get something for nothing.  It is a short cut; coercion is always easier than production.

It is the labor saving institution of non-productive thieves.

The State and Society are always diametrically opposed.  One grows by producing, the other through theft.  By stealing, satisfactions of producers are left unfulfilled and the level of trade is diminished.  The State breaks apart bonds within Society because people have less to trade and therefore interact less.  It is an anti-social institution.  It creates scarcity and lowers the wage level of the members of Society.

The State has to be careful with what it steals.  No one would continue to support an organization that stole their property and then wasted it away on parties or extravagance.  The only way for the State to continue to prey on the producers is to veil itself with a moral justification by pledging to be a doer of “great things.”  These great things come in many varieties but they all have the same effect, they create a dependent class of non-producers and scarcity.  They always take from the producers and give to the non-producers.

Each of the “great things” it does is an attempt to regulate human behavior and is an interrupts Societies’ constant drive to produce more value.  It disrupts and distorts the activities of producers.  Each intervention, every plan to do a great thing, is always flawed and leaves dependent people wanting more.  The State creates its own justification for further intervention through this failure and seeks to take more.  An economy cannot remain half free.  Every plan or regulation of human behavior requires enforcers and punishers.  This group of people is the true strength of the State.  This is the Bureaucracy.

The Bureaucracy is the actualization of State power.  The size and scope of the Bureaucracy is determined by the amount of theft from Society.  Without an enforcement mechanism, the State’s plans would never come to fruition.  The Bureaucracy is the enforcer and the punisher. It specializes in regulating human behavior.

Law makers may forget the laws they pass, but it is the job of the Bureaucrats to remember and continually enforce each one.  The more there is to do, the more their jobs are justified.  They hope for their plans to be reformed.  Reform means more oversight, more work, and more expansion of responsibility.  Bureaucrats give evidence, estimate costs, implement, and execute every law or reform regulators pass.  The net profit from reform is an increase in State power, and the net loss is what is taken from Society. This is the true growth agent of the State and it is always at war with Society.

Ultimately, it is the growth of the State that causes Society to fall.  With the ascendancy of State power and the increase in predation more and more people turn to the State to get what they want.  They ask for more ways to get something for nothing instead of relying on their own productive capacities.  To ask for political action to satisfy desires or needs requires abandoning self-reliance and living in fear of facing the unknown.  Society requires individuals to produce and cooperate with one another to create more goods and services that ultimately raise the level of fulfilled satisfactions for all members of Society.  There is no place in Society for a State.


10 Takeaways:

1)      In order to survive man must produce goods to consume them and satisfy his needs.  The point of production is consumption.

2)      Whether man is inherently good, bad, or neutral is not provable.  The fact that he must produce to live and that he has subjectively valued desires above and beyond mere subsistence has been proven throughout history and is thus the true nature of man.

3)      Every human being is inclined to want to get something for the least personal expenditure.  All men would prefer to get something for nothing, if it is possible.

4)      Society is the collective effort of individuals who produce value and choose to cooperate with one another through trade in order to fulfill each person’s own lack of satisfactions.

5)      Specialization of labor must be preceded by capital accumulation.  The result of specialization is an increase of the general wage level and unification between the producers of Society.

6)      Society’s goal is to eliminate scarcity and allow men to live the fullest life they can by diversifying its productive capacities to meet the many subjective desires of each consumer.

7)      There are only two ways to acquire goods: through production or through theft.

8)      The State exploits producers through the legal use of force and the outcome for the producer is the same as if a band of robbers had stolen from him.  The State is always at war with Society and always produces scarcity.

9)      The power of the State is found within the actions of the Bureaucracy.  The size of the Bureaucracy demonstrates the size of the State.

10)  A Society rises through production and cooperation and falls with the disappearance of those values from the individuals within Society.  All States throughout history have all fallen after these principles are abandoned.

Important Quotes:

“So then, freedom in Society is not the absence of restraints, but the management of one’s affairs by a code of self-governance. The price of the benefits of cooperation is self-restraint”

“The expenses of the State are the expenses of the bureaucracy, just as the powers of the State are realized in the functions of the bureaucracy. It is the size and importance of this aristocracy of office that actualizes the State”

“Thus, the freedom of the individual is commensurate with the amount of his property he is able to dispose of, as he sees fit, and the power of the State is commensurate with its confiscations”

“Since the keystone of the social structure is man’s everlasting struggle to avoid shortages and to achieve abundances, the shortage-producing consequence of the State’s interventions stamp it as an antisocial institution”

“Pillaging, slavery, and conquest are the primitive forms of predation, but the economic effect is the same when political coercion is used to deprive the producer of his product, or even when he accedes to the transfer of ownership as the price for permission to live”


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