Statism (or Etatism) is a very loose and often derogatory term that is used to describe:
- Specific instances of state intervention in personal, social or economic matters.
- A form of government or economic system that involves significant state intervention in personal, social or economic matters.
- The belief that a political group should maintain a monopoly on the use of force in a given geographical area.
There is no precise definition of how much state intervention represents statism. Thus, at one extreme, some anarchists consider that the mere existence of a state is enough to make a country statist, while at the other extreme it is argued that only the most rigid totalitarian systems are truly statist. Usually, however, the term "statism" is used with a negative or derogatory connotation, in reference to something that the speaker considers to be an example of too much state intervention.
The term tends to be used most often with respect to economic policies. For instance, Merriam-Webster defines statism as a "concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government." Advocates of economic liberalism typically use the term "statism" to refer to any economy that does not conform to the standard of laissez-faire capitalism. "Statism" is also used to refer to specific policies in countries that would not be identified as statist overall (for example, the state monopoly on mail delivery in the United States).
Usage in relation to other concepts
are often accused by their opponents of being "statist". However, a few observations need to be made:
- Most forms of socialism are opposed to state intervention in matters of personal freedom (though some forms of socialism favor a strongly regulated or even entirely state-controlled economy; see state socialism). The definition of "personal freedom" is often contested between socialists and anti-socialists, with some opponents claiming that economic intervention inherently infringes upon it and some socialists claiming that economic intervention actually enhances personal freedom.
- There are branches of socialism that reject state intervention altogether, such as libertarian socialism.
- In some branches of communism, the final goal of communism is a classless, propertyless and stateless society. Communists see the state only as a necessary evil until the creation of that society is possible. See anarchist communism for the branch of communism that rejects government completely.
Opponents of statism often use the term as a synonym for collectivism. However, there is no necessary connection between the two. It is possible to have a commune or some other form of collectivist society that is entirely stateless (indeed, this is the kind of society advocated by most anarchists, and the final goal of the communists). Conversely, it is possible to have a strong central state which does not implement any policy that may be regarded as collectivist.
On another note, Fascist Italy openly espoused statism as its centerpiece, and it based its ideology around a positive conception of an absolute state to such a degree that the system of Italian Fascism was even accused of statolatry.
Criticism and advocacy
Opponents of statism usually argue that state intervention restricts individual freedom, and that this is immoral. They also tend to reject statist economic models in favor of a more liberal economic policy because they believe decentralized
economic activity at the level of individuals and private organizations in a free market
produces superior economic results. By way of contrast, supporters of statism argue that centralized
economic planning, produces greater economic benefits for everyone than free market economics (see also planned economy
). Both theoretical arguments and historical examples are used by both sides in the debate. Communist states
, which are widely considered to be statist, are often the focus of such debate. Opponents of statism usually argue that Communist states have performed much worse than their free market contemporaries over the same time scale, that they failed to address the problem of poverty and that they created similar class divisions to those which exist in less statist countries. In response, most statists simply reject the economic model used by the Communist states and propose a different one. But there are also those who defend the Communist states by arguing that their economic performance was superior to what could have been achieved by free markets in similar circumstances, and that comparisons with the industrialized West are unwarranted.
With regard to individual freedom, some statists argue that statism provides more positive freedom than a market-oriented economy, by giving some individuals (especially the poor) options and choices that would not have been available to them under a strictly capitalist system. In contrast, many opponents of statism, notably Friedrich Hayek, argue that any move away from a market economy leads inexorably to loss of political freedom.
There are also many who believe that a limited degree of statism is beneficial, but only as long as it does not become excessive. This view is held by most supporters of a mixed economy or various middle-ground or third way ideas, such as the American School.
- Mikhail Bakunin (1873), Statism and Anarchy
- Nejatullah Siddiqi (1968), The Ideal of Statism. Islamic Public Economics.