When he was still making the rounds on the debate circuit, the late Christopher Hitchens addressed many a “skeptical” audience with an old English plebeian satire:

We are the pure and chosen few
And all the rest are damned
There’s room enough in hell for you
We don’t want heaven crammed!

Hitchens would use this pithy rhyme to point out not only (1) the absurd sense of entitlement professed by many human beings but also (2) to illuminate the want of justice in its crudest forms: that human beings wish to see the righteous rewarded and wicked punished, depending of course on one’s definitions of what is righteous and what is wicked.

In an even cruder form, we wish to see “us” hailed on high while witnessing “them” being thrown to the fires. This “us and them” type of thinking has been with humanity time immemorial.

No doubt, questions such as, “who should be entitled to what?” or “what is your standard of justice?” are perfectly necessary concerning how we should live individually and in relation to others. Unfortunately, history has shown the answers to these questions have too often been along the lines of, “we are the pure and chosen few” rather than, “and after all we’re only ordinary men.”

Such thinking pervades not only individual relationships, but more so “our” human institutions, where people’s individuality, morality, and creativity is squashed for the sake of upholding a given institution’s ends or reputation. This sense of self and/or group entitlement in the context of an institution can lead to selfish, exploitative behavior whether it be sexual violence in the shadows, bellicose threat making on a global scale, or an insidious culture of dependency on government privilege.

It is by now an old truism to say what motivates people and runs the world is self-interest. This can be shown through logic and argument as self-evident, for even the most altruistic person among us would fall into a gross contradict if they tried to argue, “I am only concerned for others.” Notice they must say “I” for their statement to make any sense in human terms.

We, human beings, are creatures of action, i.e. we are self-sustained and purposive, and thus we each have no choice but to choose a particular set of means to achieve the ends we seek.

The question of when innate self-interest becomes selfishness comes into play not only in regard to one’s chosen end (the typical caricature of a selfish person being one that never thinks of others) but also occurs concerning one’s choice of means.

When one seeks one’s own ends at the expense of others by using coercion you have now certainly entered the realm of selfish, exploitative behavior.

Thus, to behave selfishly is to use coercion in some form against your fellows; it is to treat your fellow human beings as a means to an end–a cog in “your” or “our” machine–and it is immoral to do so no matter how benevolent, well-intentioned, “selfless,” or “in common” a particular end may be.

I contend these standards hold true no matter if one is dealing with an individual relationship or an institution; for what is an institution other than a rule-based organization manifest through the actions of the individual people who support and run it?

With this being said, I would like to shine a light on an institution that breeds selfishness and exploitation by definition: the State.

When we talk about human action, especially in the context of the State, the bottom line is this: most individuals who wield and/or cheer on the use of state power–politicians, bureaucrats, corporations, partisans, and other politicos–only “cry wolf” when their own state power is forbidden, diminished, or used against them because state power is by definition self-serving at the expense of others.

Thus, the state should rightfully be called the Selfish Institution.

The Selfish Institution is first and foremost concerned with its own authoritative existence, i.e. its ability to maintain a monopoly on predatory force (as well as other things) in a given geographic area as the final arbiter in all disputes including those disputes which involve the state as a party. The selfish state, being this self-appointed final judge, jury, and executioner, sees itself standing above the law through its ability to arbitrarily make, enforce, and dispose of positive law as it sees fit.

However, a problem for all States (and all the “pure and chosen few” for that matter) is that such unchecked power cannot be claimed outright or through force alone. Though the Selfish Institution is founded upon predation and the threat of force, it must spend much of its time and energy perfuming its own putrid nature. In the modern era, the stinking core of the State has been potpourri-ed by a soothing egalitarian odor of “the common good” alongside a domineering, onerous musk of democratic entitlement that comes from ruling over other human beings.

Now here’s the rub. State apologists have turned the matters of entitlement and justice on their head, and deem those who love liberty as selfish and anti-social when it is exactly the other way around. It is a sort of perverted version of “agape love” that has dangerously been unhitched from its roots in non-violence. I cannot think of a more chilling ideology or institution than one that charges you to “love” people for their own sake without respecting their dignity as individuals to be left alone if they so wish, and I am fearful of those demagogic individuals who take this charge to heart, for here you have the making of a happy-faced tyranny run by “democratic” moral busybodies.

Is it any wonder the Selfish Institution would attract self-serving agents? Lying politicians? Rule based and tinkering bureaucrats? Domineering and over-zealous police offers? Crony corporations? Partisan operators and their worshipers? An entitled and dependent populous? Prying “intelligence” agents?

The list goes on and on.

Hitchens, himself once some sort of socialist ending up in bed with the neoconservatives, advocated for the imposition of the state in many facets of modern life, but I wonder if he would still support such imposition if he could see today how many of the “pure and chosen few” have seized the reins of state power to make sure and see, “all the rest are damned.”