Franz Oppenheimer presents a strongly libertarian view of the State. He neither defends it nor condemns it, but seeks to understand its nature and development. Oppenheimer appreciates the State’s crucial importance, and he emphasizes its distinctiveness. He does this through one of his most important contributions to political philosophy: the distinction between the economic means and the political means. Oppenheimer contends that there are two fundamentally opposed organizing principles of social life. One is essentially peaceful and is what he calls the economic means: the voluntarily exchange the products of one’s own labor for those of the labor of others.
This is a society based on peaceful existence, equality of opportunity and voluntary exchange. The other is essentially violent and is what he calls the political means: the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others for the benefit of the dominating class. This is a society based on violence and the economic exploitation of the subject class by the ruling class. The State is the organization of the political means; it can have originated in no other way than through conquest and subjugation. But even at the moment the State comes into being, forces begin to operate which will eventually, through the long and bloody course of history, wear it away. Oppenheimer enumerates these forces, traces their impact, and projects a future in which the State will have withered away, leaving only a Freeman’s Citizenship; a society without a State.