[A]s we have learned from La Boétie and Hume, state power does not and cannot maintain itself by force alone; as rulers are typically outnumbered by those whom they rule, states of any kind – democratic or otherwise – can maintain their claim to authority only so long as most of their subjects continue to act in ways that reinforce that claim.1 Hence while all states do in fact make threats of violence against their subjects (as is entailed by their status as territorial monopolists of the use and/or authorisation of force), the survival of the state system requires inducing acquiescence in the subject populace by means other than such threats alone. (...)*********************
The inadequacy of violent means for the state’s maintenance might be doubted, of course. After all, while La Boétie blithely tells us, “Resolve to serve no more, and you are once freed,” this advice might seem to run up against a collective action problem: if only a few individuals withdraw their support while most of their fellow subjects maintain their compliance, the force of the state will ordinarily be quite sufficient to bring them in line. It might thus seem as though the state could compel all by force, simply by compelling each. (...) But the effectiveness of collective action problems by themselves in preventing mass disobedience is probably overstated; when the public mood is strong enough, collective-action constraints seem to melt away, as for example with mass resistance to the Ceauşescu regime in Romania in 1989.
We can now add another example: the Mubarak regime in Egypt in 2011. (We should also add the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, whose overthrow helped to inspire events in Egypt.)
Of course Egypt’s not out of the woods yet. While the people have in fact been maintaining order anarchistically for the past few weeks, they are not ideologically anarchist, do not yet understand the extent of their power and potential for autonomy, and so will doubtless end up supporting the replacement of the Mubarak regime with some other state regime – and what sort of regime they will get remains to be seen. But it is to be hoped that they have learned this much: if they tire of the new regime, they know how to get rid of it.