I was just watching Crimson Tide on tv and there was a mention of the famous dictum by the Prussian general, military historian, and theorist Carl von Clausewitz: “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”
There is a profound truth in that dictum. It identifies shared characteristics of statist politics and war: anti-social conflict, some imposing their will on others, destruction and redistribution of wealth, etc. When statist political means fail to have the desired result and recourse is made to naked war, the true character of both the aggressors and the statist political process is revealed.
But I think that von Clausewitz got it backwards; the observation would have been more profound and true had he written instead: “Statist politics is the continuation of war by other means.”
Ballots replace bullets within the democratic state but conflict persists with special interest groups vying for the reins of power so that they can use the perceived legitimacy of the state to impose their will on each other. Beneath the sophisms that grant the state legitimacy there lies the same threat or use of initiatory violence that is present in war. Open war is traded for the illusion of peace.
Update 12/11/07: Might this quote from Ronald Reagan touch upon a similar insight? “Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
Update: Revised version at The Libertarian Standard.