Let’s address the vagaries of statehood from the vantage point of practice. I’ll continue with the original formatting (see Part I) by way of random remarks.
One would assume that the formation of the State was precipitated by a desire to deal with and effectively resolve inter-societal conflict. And indeed, given this premise, it was a noble undertaking both in concept and in practice. The State could be posited thus as the ultimate authority to resolve all manner of essential disputes.
But therein lies the rub. Since the State has been charged thus with this all-important function, it must, nominally at least (and provided of course that it takes its task seriously), pay lip service to all divergent and potentially conflicting interests.
That’s more true of the so-called democratic regimes than totalitarian ones; however, even the totalitarian states, such as the former Soviet Union or the present-day People’s Republic, can’t help but yield at times to international or domestic pressures resulting from the perception of state-generated injustices.
The Third Reich represents a short-lived exception: the Nazi state was firing on all four, politically, economically, and militarily, no doubt because of Hitler’s charismatic leadership and the vulnerability of the German people.
The irony is that whereas the State was conceived with the idea of doing away with or at least reducing the intensity of inter-societal conflict to manageable proportions, it turned into a crucible. It had become a theater wherein that conflict has become legitimized, to form a leitmotif, as it were. And it’s continuously re-enacted on the grandest possible scale.
It seriously undermines the rather simplistic proposition that the State is run by the ruling class alone or that the State interests are expressed by, and confined to, the ruling class interests. A far more reasonable hypothesis would be that just like a good neighbor, the State, especially a welfare state, aims at being all things to all people.
No one is excluded!
Aside from the domestic pressures which keep the State forever on its toes lest any dissident group or faction perceives it as anything other than impartial, there are international pressures as well. Indeed, no state can exercise its intended function rightfully unless all its subjects perceive it as commanding a modicum of sovereignty.
And that means, of course, a measure of independence from other, more powerful states. Without which quality, if the State is perceived, that is, as weak and subject to other powers – think of the lord-vassal relations from our feudal past, for instance – none of its mandates, just and reasonable as they may be, are enforceable. Simply put, there is no projection or exercise of power from a position of weakness.
North Korea’s recent, what some might call “belligerent attitude,” is a case in point: bolstering its dwindling authority at home could well be the basis for its bellicose attitude and posture vis-vis other nation-states. Of course, our State Department officials can’t bring themselves to think outside the box: life outside of statehood is something they cannot possibly consider.
The existing paradigm, along with the conditions which seem to preclude any other, makes for a pathology (because of the erosion that inevitably sets in and corrupts what may have started as a perfectly innocuous and well-formed, if not well-intentioned, concept). Let’s face it, the institution of the State is in a bind both from within and without.
In the former instance, this constant pressure has to appear fair-minded and just by a delicate balancing act between ever-conflicting interests. But it’s the latter that circumscribes the inescapable dynamics of international relations and sets the ship of state on the road to perdition. For indeed, every state, large or small, powerful or weak, must vie for comparative advantage not only for reasons already mentioned but just as importantly perhaps, lest it not be consumed by another.
It’s thus that the condition of ongoing conflict is part of the setup, a built-in feature of the dominant paradigm, and there’s no escaping the fact. Diplomacy is only a gloss we put on what is, at bottom, mortal combat, a zero-sum game. Aggression is the order of the day, and war the ultimate solution. Machiavelli and Metternich both had it right. Both were realists to an extreme.
Needless to say, the attendant results, whether anticipated or not, are anything but promising. The bottom line is that all states, regardless of intention, must act like bullies, assuming thus personal characteristics, qualities of character we tend to associate with real-life persons.
There is a caveat, however. “Acting a bully” is a bad enough trait in the realm of personal relations. However, it pales into insignificance when some such description applies, and accurately so, to the behavior of impersonal entities such as the corporation or the state.
The point I’m making is that real-life persons always have the prerogative to walk away when faced with an act of bullying; nothing but pride stands in their way of so doing. Well, pride needn’t enter the decision-making processes on behalf of such impersonal, legal constructs as the state or the corporation, entities with a far greater ax to grind since their very survival as an institution.
The constraints placed on the State, pressures both internal and external, to play the part of a good sovereign (to fulfill its designated function) affect turning even a democratic state into an oppressive institution and a ruthless adversary.
On the home front, terms such as “the enemy of the state” or the FBI “most-wanted list,” the War on Drugs and the Sedition Act of 1918, the Pledge of Allegiance, the RICO Act, and the IRS tax code — indeed, the very foundation of our criminal justice system whereby every defendant must plead their case v. the State – each is emblematic of an institution that is hell-bent on maintaining its sovereignty by hook or by crook. And if you stand in the way, you do so at your peril.
The usual suspects cover a broad spectrum, from members of organized crime to all who engage in illegal activities – “not sanctioned by the State” is another way of putting it – anything that tends to challenge or undermine the authority of the State in all matters of life and death. And it’s all couched in legalese, the idea of due process, law & order, and the like, but don’t let this veneer fool you. The State is bent on upholding its supremacist position, all who disagree beware.
Likewise with the state’s foreign enemies, except that nowadays we call them terrorists, a term reserved for perpetrators of hostile acts against the state, overt or covert — perpetrators who have no recourse to the usual protections that come with acting on behalf of another state.
It’s thus that acts of espionage or open warfare between the states are conveniently distinguished and set apart from terrorist activities at large. And it’s done by denying the latter the legal status that comes with statehood.
Again, the irony is that the most terrorist organization of all reserves for itself the sole right to act as an aggressor.
Violence is legal, but only if sanctioned by the State!
Julian Assange, the face behind WikiLeaks, provides another, albeit more subtle, example.
Understandably, Assange justifies WikiLeaks’ raison d’être in that it’s promoting government transparency, in accord with the best in the journalistic tradition, but make no mistake about it. The larger point is to degrade the institution of the State. That this point was lost is evidenced by the vast array of adverse reactions ranging from outright denial, minimizing the significance of the leaks, to outcries calling for Assange’s head.
It’s just as interesting that all share the sense of outrage. Even the “rogue states” have joined the chorus. But this shouldn’t surprise us since, for reasons already alluded to, reasons which stem from a defect in the original concept, all states devolve into rogue states.
It’s only a matter of degree.
In the closing segment of this three-part series, I will lay out the foundations of anarchism as a political philosophy, the only viable political philosophy for our times.
The movement of history is already favoring some such development. though it’s less-than-clearly defined, operating more on the level of the subconscious than in terms of any human design.
Consequently, I’ll address the present manifestations and where they might lead. I’ll also address the common confusion conflating anarchism with anarchy. Contrary to popular opinion, anarchism, correctly understood, is not devoid of administration, management, and structure. It’s not at all the kind of situation where anything goes. I’ll address these misconceptions too.
Let’s face it. We’re experiencing a crisis in the realm of political philosophy and thought. Politics, as understood by the ancient writers, Aristotle and Plato, has failed.
The original idea was to imbue the body politic, the emerging political and social institutions, with morality. It was a simple idea since morality was already part and parcel of human relations, the standard. What remained was to extend what was already obtained a pro-pos the individual, to the political and the social.
Well, the experiment backfired. And in the process, it led to the formation of the State, the most oppressive institution ever. And the notion of sovereignty was the culprit, the root cause of what was, from the get-go, a flawed concept.
It’s high time to disavow ourselves from this notion and look for solutions elsewhere.