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In Defense of Anarchism, Part I

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In his recent article, “Strategic Alliance between India and the US Begins to Materialize,” dealing with an impending arms deal between the US, Pakistan and India – the latter two “natural enemies,” one is inclined to say, but hey, why should that stop us while there’s dough to be made? – Sekhar raises an interesting distinction. He speaks of “rogue states.” On the one hand, our own being cited as a prime example, and forms of government on the other (again, ours being billed as the most democratic of the bunch.)

Offhand, this ought to raise a flag – a rogue state and a democracy aren’t exactly like ham ‘n eggs – but we’ve learned to live with incongruities, I suppose. (“Cognitive dissonance” is the scholastic term.) What’s of equal interest, however, the article was barely noticed by the usually astute BC crowd: as of now, the comments thread has been unusually sparse, thirteen in all. It’s not exactly surprising since it’s a well known truism that most of our blind spots are under our very noses. Well, the article at hand is a case in point and in vein perhaps, but try I must, I’d like to remedy this oversight and draw attention to some of the implications. Unwittingly perhaps, whether by sheer happenstance or divine intervention, Sekhar had stumbled upon a truly revolutionary proposition in the annals of political philosophy, a proposition I was literally stunned by because it’s so patently true and yet so elusive for the fact: the state and the government aren’t the same.

Never mind definitions! Etymology is misleading too because concepts, as C.S. Lewis (Studies in Words) has ably argued, change over time, acquiring different meanings and connotations. Definitions and etymology, contrary to what our esteemed grammar editor might say, are of limited usefulness, only a starting point, telling us what we already know. A more radical approach is needed.

Turns of phrase aren’t reliable either and are apt to mislead. “Head of state,” for one, is a synonym for the executive. And yet, we do speak of a “government being formed” while the state, nominally at least, is believed to exist. The hung Parliament in this year’s UK’s election cycle is a case in point. The present Iraqi stalemate, seven-months old and counting, is another. And then, we may also recall the Clinton presidency during which, for budgetary reasons, “the government” was suspended for a week or so (which time period, by the way, coincides with the Monica Lewinsky incident). So there’s definitely meat to the distinction; what remains is to work it out.

In the interest of brevity while far from pretending of doing justice to so complex a subject, I shall limit this presentation to a number of loosely connected remarks.

(1) The notorious quote attributed to Louis XIV, L’État, c’est moi, may well serve as a starting point. And yet, the same Sun King was reputed to say on his deathbed, “I depart, but the State shall always remain.” Both aphorisms reflect a rather complex notion we’ve come to recognize in modern parlance as the State. The first suggests that the state exists by virtue of special interests – a point well taken and repeatedly hammered down by Sekhar – and there surely are no special interests more epitomized than those which are personified by the interests of the King; the second, that even without special interests at play, the state is likely to exist in perpetuity, if only by inertia.

(2) Contrary to what may or may not be a popular belief, the notion of the state is, relatively speaking, a modern conception. Some analysts trace its origins to the Roman Republic, citing Cicero. My hunch is, the institution of the state was in direct response to the power and influence of religion; I’m therefore more comfortable with Thomas Hobbes rather than with Cicero or Machiavelli. Whatever the case may be, the concept is firmly engrained in modern-day thinking, whether tacitly or less so, reflecting the secular tenor of the times.

There are obvious anomalies. We speak of Greek city-states, for instance; and likewise, of the Italian ones, most notably, Florence and Venice; and then, of nation-states if only by way of contrast. But this is a throwback, I say, a projection of modern-day thinking into the past. In order to make our past more understandable, we imbue it with a modern conception.

(3) What, then, is the essential difference between a government and a state? Let me be blunt and state my case outright: if “state “denotes an institution, “government” connotes a style. (It’s the age-old distinction between form and substance.) Indeed, we do speak of a totalitarian or a fascist state, or of a socialist one, even of the more “benign” version, otherwise known as democratic. But don’t let these distinctions fool you. The forms are many and variegated while the institution remains.

(4) The state, otherwise known as polity, is a political construct; it’s no less real, however, for being a construct. Perhaps the concept of corporation provides the most useful analogy. Just like corporations, states, too, are chartered or, shall we say, declared by fiat: Magna Carta and state constitutions, whether in writing or merely implied, are some of the examples. Just like corporations, states have rights, rights which, how well do we know, transcend the rights of persons. (The powers of eminent domain, which trump personal property rights when push comes to shove, derive from and constitute such rights.)

We speak of course of states’ rights in the context provided by a federation of states; and such talk asserts and validates the rights of individual states as members of the federation, rights which are relative to the assumed rights and powers of said federation. But this usage is a derivative one and parasitic upon the absolute rights and powers of the state per se, rights and powers reserved by the state within the territorial domain under its control.

Consequently, if there be any limitations to the absolute rights reserved for the state, they’re a direct consequence of the condition of dependency on, or subservience to, other states: “satellite states,” which formed the communist bloc during the former Soviet Union, serve as an example. But even this condition, severe as it may be in its practical implications, doesn’t impinge on the theoretical rights and powers of such states and their assumed status of a sovereign.

These considerations should leave no doubt that a political construct or not, a state constitutes and defines a political reality, a reality that is no less impinging than the reality of persons.

(5) What, then, is “the state” in layman’s terms? A number of metaphors come to mind, each having to do with cognate uses borrowed from the physical sciences: a “steady state,” for instance, popularized by Fred Hoyle by way of a cosmological theory at odds with the Big Bang; a “state of equilibrium” or a “state of inertia,” both Newton’s contributions; a “state of atrophy” (or of entropy), and the examples abound. In the political realm, one thinks of an “order of things,” an “established order of things,” more precisely. A Wikipedia entry speaks of a “legal/political system in place.” One term suggests itself which captures all of the above: “the Establishment.”

(6) Which raises an interesting possibility. Sekhar is quick to point out that the interests of the state are defined by the interests of the ruling class. While there is no question there is some truth to this hard ‘n fast appraisal, I’m no longer certain it does full justice to so complex a notion. One tends to think instead of a variety of interests which perpetuate the political entity known as “the state,” the least of which being the interests of the gatekeepers to keep it afloat as an ongoing concern. Like all bureaucracies, and the state is a bureaucracy on the grandest scale, it acquires a life all its own; it is perpetuated ad infinitum by all those who have a stake in it and for no other reason that it exists. Its interests are therefore self-serving and inimical to the interests of We the People, the duly constituted members or constituents or subjects, whatever the case may be.

It’s for these reasons mainly that the institution of the state is to be distinguished not only from the government but also from what is commonly referred to as “political community.” Indeed, to conflate the two is not only an example of sloppy thinking; it’s also an effort on the part of the architects at obfuscation.

(7) These remarks on the nature of the State presuppose that it’s an efficient institution. It’s been further assumed that it’s a necessary one as well, necessary from the standpoint of its constituents. The thinking goes that if not the state, then what other agency, one may ask, could possibly protect the citizens from physical or mental harm. To that end, Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State, and Utopia) invokes the notion of “the dominant protection agency” to justify the existence of a “minimal state, to serve thus as an antidote against all manner of abuses. I would include here corporate abuses as well.

(8) Both are reasonable assumptions for theoretical purposes, if the object is to outline the contours of the State as an ideal type. Those conditions, however, rarely obtain in real life, and inefficiency rather than efficiency is the rule. Consequently, neither is Sekhar’s thesis concerning the rationality of the State (because it is presumed to represent the ruling class interests) applicable: it’s overly simplistic if not downright naïve. Nor is it the case that the State, again, because of its resulting irrationality, can be counted upon as an effective counterweight to any and all anti-societal tendencies and interests.

For all intents and purposes therefore, this signifies a failure of the political as represented here by the failure of the State, supposedly the pinnacle of human accomplishment in the realm of political thought. In the following segment, I’ll continue with the exposition, this time however from the vantage point of praxis.

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • You might at least have hyperlinked your reference to Sekhar’s Strategic Alliance between India and the US Begins to Materialize.

  • Doug Hunter

    Interesting, I’ll give you my thoughts.

    The state is religion stripped down without the mythical trappings. Like religion, it’s a buffer and an interface between humanity and the absolute power and awesome responsibility that we possess. The power that was formerly personified in god, is now held by the state. Ultimately, the state has used every horrible device and facet dreamed up when necessary to preserve itself and will again.

    It is indeed our fear that keeps us beholden to these institutions. We may say it’s fear of what others would do without guidance from above, but I think it’s just as much fear of having the power and responsibility ourselves, what we might do and how we might screw it up. These construct, formerly religion and now the state, create tidy little safe slots with clearly delineated channels of power.

  • Trying to think of a single word to describe this article, I came up with bloviate, which in its way is perfect. However, one word alone does not suffice. After all, considerable effort must’ve been expended in this enterprise.

    I therefore enter into evidence H.L. Mencken’s immortal critique of President Warren G. Harding’s inaugural address on March 4, 1921:

    “On the question of the logical content of Dr. Harding’s harangue, I do not presume to have views. But when it comes to the style of the great man’s discourse, I can speak with somewhat more competence, for I have earned most of my livelihood for 20 years past by translating the bad English of a multitude of authors into measurably better English.

    “Thus qualified professionally, I rise to pay my small tribute to Dr. Harding. Setting aside a college professor or two, and a half dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, he takes first place in my Valhalla of literati.

    “That is, he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges … of tattered washing on the line … of stale bean soup … of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.

    “It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”

    Actually, I don’t think Roger’s article is quite that good. But then, we haven’t yet seen Part Two. (Good lord, how many parts are in store?)

  • I am India’s expert in strategic defence and the father of India’s strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan means the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S. by India; see my blog titled ‘Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.’ which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title.
    Russia and the U.S. are allies.

  • Whoa, check out the dude’s web site! Satish Chandra Curriculum Vitae (what follows is directly quoted, with omissions for brevity):

    Highlights of Achievements

    1. He can reasonably claim to be the foremost behavior scientist in the United States.

    2. Laboratory research with rats, using operant conditioning procedures, discovering a new effect drastically modifying biological clocks..

    3. A new theory of relativity.

    4. His theory of money is in the process of revolutionizing Economics and public finance.

    From 1975 on, he informally advised Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on India’s domestic policies and international affairs. He is India’s expert in strategic defense and the father of India’s strategic program including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program.

    He is particularly interested in seeing people who have been in psychotherapy before but whose issues have remained unresolved.

    Can Roger bring ’em out of the woodwork or what?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    I’ll heartily agree that the state and the government are not the same – after all, Germany was still Germany from the Weimar Republic to the ending days of National Socialism. Come to think of it, that’s not so different (other than the amount of time involved) from the evolution of the Roman Republic to Imperial Rome. Remember Rove’s hoped-for “permanent Republican majority”? Such a prospect should keep anyone with a decent understanding of history nervously awake at night.

    But are you honestly trying to suggest the existence of a state based on anarchy? I hope not. Such is every bit as impossible as the supposed communist utopia or the supposed libertarian utopia.

    “Death and taxes”. Such will always be, right? Roger, you will always, always, always be subject to a government of some type (unless you’re an all-powerful dictator). Such is a fact of human nature. Why? It’s not because we want other people to have power over us, but because there are those who have a insatiable need for power…and nature abhors a vacuum.

    Unless you’re a hermit unknown to any other people, you will always be subject to a government. That is an immutable fact. You have the option of trying to change the form or function of that government…but you will be subject a government nonetheless.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Alan #5 –

    Humility is a concept to which Mr. Chandra has never been introduced, obviously.

  • Interesting intro, Roger. I await Part II.

  • Ruvy

    Roger, even a year of law school answers most of the problems you seem to raise. The state, as represented by the government, is the “sovereign”. While “modern” countries usually do not have kings, the sovereign represented the authority of the state, usually a king, usually backed up by religion and priests, and the sovereign’s most important function was to be commander of the army and navy in war.

    You see this when, in the Bible, the Children of Israel demand a king, “like all other nations have”. Samuel, after some heavy jawing with the Almighty, gets His sanction to find a king for Israel. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Bloviating…. Nice term, seems to do the job.

    I’ve seen such by Satish Chandra in the past elsewhere. If it indeed turns out that Indians nuke NYC, I’ll tell my wife to wear a saree in his honor from then on.

    In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this Sufi tune by Kailash Kher.

  • Ruvy (#9), you seem to take Satish Chandra lightly. But I’ve been reading his web site, and his apocalyptic visions seem right up your alley. Except, of course, for this statement from June 2, 2010: “I have always held that India should use its nuclear weapons to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth.”

    Otherwise, though, I’d have thought you’d be in accord with his plan to run all of India’s nuclear reactors in the military mode in order to produce ten thousand thermonuclear warheads, which would give India enough “to destroy the territory of the United States from coast to coast, from New York to Los Angeles and everything in between and from Chicago to Houston and everything in between.”

    While said arsenal is being assembled, he proposes that as a deterrent to U.S. preemptive attacks, India’s special forces should preposition nuclear weapons in American cities. “This can be done in a matter of days and weeks,” he advises, and “will serve beautifully.”

    Mr. Chandra seems to have thought this through pretty thoroughly, Ruvy. You know, we ought to give credit to somebody where it’s due.

  • Ruvy

    The question, Alan, is not whether Satish has thought this through thoroughly. I’m sure he has. The question is, “can he pull it off?” The answer is, from the best that I can see, “no”. Why? Because, to my knowledge, he has no position in the Indian government that will allow him to.

    I take India and China very seriously. Together, they have over 2.7 billion people, or a over a third of the earth’s population. And China ha s threatened the United States with nuclear attack, and those threats should be taken very seriously. They come from the People’s Liberation Army. But while some Indians might have good reason to want to eliminate America from the world scene (but where would Sanjiv get his customer complaint calls if that happened?), it does not appear that Mr. Chandra has a popular base in India, either in the government or elsewhere. That he publishes his CV is proof of that.

  • Ruvy (#11), you’re right. Satish Chandra has no position in the Indian government and no popular base in that country. Although born in India in 1944, he came to the U.S. at age 22 and is a legal permanent resident here, living in what he calls “enforced exile” in Buffalo, NY. (I’ve heard that most Buffalo residents think of it that way, especially during wintertime.)

    But he openly scorns the Indian government and believes no popular base is necessary. “I have said what will be done to destroy the United States from coast to coast and exterminate its entire population. No one in India has the ability to think of this or bring it about. But this is what justice requires and this is what will be done. All the others have to do is obey India’s legitimate ruler because they neither have the knowledge, nor intelligence nor courage nor character to do anything on their own. With nuclear weapons, a very few people can bring this about, that is, a very few people need to obey.”

    And to avoid any confusion as to whom they must obey, he adds: “They can only obey India’s legitimate ruler, which is myself.”

  • And did I mention that he’s particularly interested in seeing people who have been in psychotherapy before but whose issues have remained unresolved?

    Oh, yeah, I guess I did. Sorry to repeat.

  • The article by Sekhar was hyperlinked; the editor must have missed it.

  • I’m glad you’re confirming my hunch, Doug Hunter, as to the origins of the concept of “the State,” as a secular response to the reign of religion.

    Ruvy, contrary to what they thought you in law school, and contrary to the infinite wisdom of Mr. Pedantic, Alan Kurtz himself, the concept of the state is an intricate concept which tends to be elusive.

    A question for you: if it’s such a common knowledge that the state is by its very nature tyrannical, how come the law students and eventual practicioners of law do the state’s bidding rather than become the state’s enemies (as they ought to have)? Why does the astute BC crowd, including our reknown Mr. Kurtz, keep on wasting their time discussing meaningless and partisan-ladden issues, issues full of distinctions without a difference, if, as you have rightly pointed out, we all living under tyranny? What good are Mr. Nalle’s articles calling for liberty and smaller government, or articles by any of our liberal friends who oppose Mr. Nalle’s viewpoint, if the state is the culprit and the main cause of our discontent? What good are Mr. Kurtz’s serial “Military Watch” articles, occasionally invoking logic, occasionally his idiosyncratic verion of morality, at other times merely an appeal to our sense of patriotism, if the distinctions that are being made are spurious because they fail to question the very premises of the corrupt and closed system? What good are these things other than for their entertainment?

  • Roger Nowosielski, in trying to read your article, I was stymied by the impenetrable thicket of your prose. By contrast, your comment #15 is easy to understand. It’s not simply that one is long and the other short. Rather, your comment is spontaneous, whereas your article is labored.

    Be that as it may, you pose the rhetorical question, “Why does the astute BC crowd … keep on wasting their time discussing meaningless and partisan-laden issues, issues full of distinctions without a difference, if, as you [Ruvy] have rightly pointed out, we all living under tyranny?”

    For my part, I do so because I categorically reject your absurd argument that we live under tyranny. From where I sit (California), democracy is flourishing.

    You also ask, “What good are Mr. Kurtz’s serial ‘Military Watch’ articles … if the distinctions that are being made are spurious because they fail to question the very premises of the corrupt and closed system?”

    Again, I reject your premise. Distinctions need not be radical in order to be valid. When I exposed the fear-mongering liberal lie about 79,160 Military Rapes in our armed forces, you complained that I “missed the larger point, about acculturation. … Alan’s article is moot, conveniently bypassing the larger issue.” But I was not writing about acculturation, Roger. A 1,200-word blog cannot be all things to all people. It must have a focus. My focus was to expose the fear-mongering liberal lie. My article delivered exactly as intended.

    As to “what good” are such articles, I submit that whenever someone Googles military rapes, they now have a slightly better chance of discovering an up-to-date, factually informed article that did not previously exist. This is good.

    And I hasten to add, if they click on the link to my article, they will also find your pooh-poohing of it as moot. This too is good. For people looking to inform themselves, more sources are better than fewer. You, of course, haughtily dismiss this as a waste of time, involving issues full of distinctions without a difference.

    Well, you’re wrong. The difference between 79,160 purported military rapes and 575 actual military rapes is 78,575. That may be trivial to an amateur philosopher in his imaginary ivory tower, but it’s significant to those of us down here in the real world.

    Finally you ask, “What good are these things other than for their entertainment?” Roger, you sadly underestimate the value of entertainment. Humans, like many other species, are playful. It’s one of our finest qualities. Yet you insist, “I’ve always made it a point to write only about things that matter rather than to expose BC readers to what I consider, relatively speaking, unimportant.” Roger, you are one stuffy fella.

  • Ruvy

    I see, Roger, that you manage to miss simple and elemental concepts. How you got beyond high school is beginning to puzzle me.

    The sovereign was the military commander who defended the country and the functions he gave his government were the state. When sub-commanders or tribal chiefs got dissatisfied with how the sovereign was running his roads show, civil wars or rebellions broke out. Sometimes, as in ancient Israel, the power of the king was limited; sometimes, as in ancient Sparta, the power of the king was limited by a council of elders – this was true also in Germany and later England. Sometimes the only limits on a king’s power was his ability to physically kill off rivals.

    But this is not all that complicated. The state was pretty much what the sovereign wanted it to be. All the philosophical bullshit that followed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were a result of dissatisfaction with the way sovereigns and their flunkies ran things. And as we have seen at Blogcritics, philosophers and lawyers can fuck things up royally.

  • Alan, I have a variety of writing and talking styles, each suited to the audience at hand. And since you say this last piece of writing appears labored and contrived, I take it as a compliment: it was meant to come across in that way, and I worked very hard at it.

    You see, most folks don’t give a thought to words, terms and concepts they’re quite facile with in terms of use. And why should they? It’s the philosopher’s job to make patently obvious what by all means should be patently obvious if we only gave it a thought. That’s what grammatical remarks (as per Wittgenstein) are all about, to let the fly out of the bottle for all the fools to see. And once it’s done, there is no longer a mystery, only a sigh of understanding: “How could I’ve been so stupid?”

    Consequently, by virtue of your comments, I’ve succeeded.

  • Ruvy,

    It’a well known to all and sundry that you’re the brightest light to have even graced the pages of Blogctics, so let’s just take that as a starting point: you’re brilliant.

    I’ll still say, however, that your truck-driver’s education is showing. Keep on plugging though, buddy. “Welcome to my world” ought to be your motto.

    At least you’ve got one thing going for you. Your world may be bat-crazy, but it’s surely interesting.

  • Ruvy

    Roger, I’m not a truckdriver, never have been – and most likely, never will be. I did manage to get out of a university with a degree, and managed to live on the streets in the cold climate of MN for a year or so with minimal damage. And that was one hell of an education.

    I’m not brilliant at all. But my one lousy year of law school taught me to think all around all those pages of bullshit you called an article. Keep on plugging, Roger. Maybe, one day before the messiah comes, you will manage to make the mud of philosophy as clear as clean glass. I figure it will happen as soon as pigs fly. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for the wild boars of Samaria to come rocketing over a hedge any day now. I’m nothing if not an optimist.

    Love and kisses…

  • Let’s get to the meat of your critique, Alan. My response is, “been there, done that.” This isn’t a private forum for relating our personal experiences and concerns but a public one. So of course I applaud your concern with rapes, military or otherwise, and any form of aberrant human behavior one can think of. Just like you, I abhor it. Only trying to put things in perspective.

    You say you live in California and that tyranny is the furthest from your mind. Well, so have I for over thirty years and I can’t wait to get back. But the thing is, you and I are out of the fray so to speak, because we’re both our own persons. But make no mistake about it. Cindy speaks of acculturation as the main culprit and the chief cause of our discontent. I say it’s the state.

    So that’s what it all amounts to. You speak of injustice within a closed and corrupt system. I choose to speak of the corrupt system itself. You tell me which is more relevant or meaningful.

    And lastly, I don’t hold any BC participant in contempt. Ignorant of the basic facts of life we all are, that’s a given. And educating the lot of you I must, because ignorant you do appear or at least claim to be. We all, after all, have to make a difference. But it was a cheap shot on your part and you know it. In the future, don’t let ego stand in the way of common sense.

  • Mark

    Rog: It’s the philosopher’s job to make patently obvious what by all means should be patently obvious if we only gave it a thought.

    “Our only task is to be just.”

    That you are willing to play with Alan’s game at all shows you for what you are.

    Pity the philosophers.

  • Philosophising is not a job, just an excuse for waffling at great length to no purpose. That is patently obvious…

  • Only gave him the benefit of the doubt, Mark. Obviously, he’s motivated by a sense of hostility for “past offenses.” The game’s over.

  • Ruvy

    Philosophising is not a job, just an excuse for waffling at great length to no purpose.

    Quoted for truth.

    Never thought I’d quote anything Chris Rose said for truth, but there it is – I can’t believe it myself!

  • Mark

    Gotta go with Ruvy and Chris. You won’t find the like of us trying to be all just n’ shit.

  • Anarcissie

    I think the government-state distinction is a useful construction, a way of looking at things. One might say the state is the shell of the government.

    My historical myth is that government began as an agreement between property holders, especially slavemasters, to recognize and defend one another’s property (an ongoing and laborious task, since others desiring property may attack property-holders and the property itself may revolt or run away) and to band together with them in attack other property-holders outside their association. In this stage of social development the government was simply a social instrument of war and coercion which acted directly at the behest of and in the interests of its rulers. If there was a state it was the same as the government.

    As human communities became territorially permanent and complex through the development of agriculture and industry, rulers would find it advantageous to surround themselves with permanent institutions and relations of social control, for example they might order their higher-ranking subjects into marriages and families. (The word family comes from Latin famulus, meaning a household slave.) Multiple layers of property in land and buildings could be set up. Certain religious practices would be officially instituted and supported by the rulers, partly to placate the gods and partly to bemuse the lower orders. From these, offical arts could be developed. Money might be invented and the rulers would see the profits in issuing it and controlling it. Trade in certain goods could be monopolized. Taxes, fees, tribute could be exacted upon private transactions. Along with these arrangements, usually associated with the religious institutions, would go an ideology which declared that such things had always been and always would be, and were good. In general, the people would now subject themselves ‘peacefully’ and ‘voluntarily’ to the rulers; force, the explicit intervention of the government to coerce compliance, would be required only on special occasions (although it might be exercised for entertainment as well). This social structure, outside the explicit government, along with the government, could be called ‘the state’, status in Latin, ‘the way things stand’.

    Complicating this picture is the fact that humans in or out of states live in dense social networks and have always done so since before they were humans. In order to enhance its grip on a community, the state organization conflates itself with many of these relations. For example, as noted above, states have constituted a state form of marriage and family, which would overlie and obscure the natural bonds between lovers and between parents and their children. These bonds could then be regulated and used to further attach people to the state structure. As a result, while governments are seen (rightly) as foreign, adverse bodies, states may be misidentified as the community, the society itself.

    In any case, the state developed to the point of making totalitarian claims on all of its constituents and the territory they inhabit, although it was many centuries before it could really enforce that claim.

    The distinction becomes important in the modern world industrial world, where non-governmental state institutions like corporations can be used as an alternative to overt government, thus partially masking the exercise of ruling-class power. Nevertheless the state is based on and imbued with the power of the government to coerce through its ancient instruments of violence, terror and fraud.

  • An incisive and detailed analysis, Anarcissie, far beyond my own skeletal presentation. What you’re offering, in effect, is an archeology of the concept.

    The myth you speak of is of course the myth of “social contract” and different variants thereof, as per Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, and it’s a convenient way of imagining the formation of the State from humble beginnings. What you’re arguing for, in effect, that somehow, somewhere along the line, a kind of formalization was required in order to transform an administrative body from its main function of acting as a dominant protective agency/association to a full-blown apparatus known today as the State, Mind you, though, we can’t speak of a government just yet, not in these early, formative stages, for do to so is to already presuppose the existence of the State as an institution, so closely associated those terms have become in modern-day parlance, Besides,” the government” is a rather fickle concept because governments themselves are fickle and subjects to change, but the institution of the State remains,

    By formalization I mean a corporatism of sorts, a process of embodying an institution with certain qualities – such as personhood, for instance, as exemplified by the concept of the corporation – , it was likewise with the formation of the State concept, conceivably as an antidote and a counter measure to the power and the influence of the Church. Just as the individual churches were established during Paul’s travails throughout the Greek peninsula, so it was with the institution of the state, as an antidote perhaps or a counterweight to the power and influence of the Church, the institution. Something along those lines, I’m inclined to believe, took place.

    Welcome to BC, BTW. The quality of the articles isn’t exactly comparable to that featured on the pages of Truthdig, but I think you should find this site challenging enough to raise thought-provoking questions. And just as Truthdig, you shall find that we, too, are populated by all sorts of personalities, good, bad and indifferent. I’m certain you shan’t have any trouble navigating this site or making informed decisions as to who is and who is not deserving of response. My next project, to bring Shenon into the fold. I haven’t quite given up on her.

  • Amend first sentence, second paragraph, to its completion as follows: – “for the purpose of endowing it with certain powers.”

  • Anarcissie

    I’m not giving the usual referents of ‘state’ and ‘government’ a lot of ontological status. The most primitive deals between slavemasters might have been ad-hoc and only gradually have come to be seen as permanent institutions. For me, my somewhat artbitrary distinction between government and state is most valuable in penetrating the rhetorical thicket cast up by modern capitalist institutions in which gigantic, powerful corporations are said to be ‘private’ and are (falsely) said to be distinct from what I call the state.

    In the modern world, religions which are established by the government or even given favorable tax breaks and corporate status are part of the state. The curious position of the Roman Catholic Church between the end of the Roman Empire and the rise of modern nation-states in Europe as a sort of superstate, or one might say ghost of the Empire, seems to be unusual in other times and places.

  • I have less of a problem, Anarcissie, discussing this topic than the concept of class. I think you’re underestimating the importance of the transition from ad hoc arrangements defining the conditions of societal dominance and economic exploitation to a full-blown development of an institution which makes those conditions a way of life. Institutionalization of a practice carries grave consequences,

    I’m also skeptical of your ready-made identification of statehood with capitalism – and this in fact is going to be my main thrust in what’s to follow, It’s “statism” to be sure, but statism comes in a variety of forms, and capitalism is just one of them. Socialism is another, and so is fascism. All are hybrids, different versions of statism.

    It’s for those reasons, mainly, why I consider the institution of the State is being a primary one, more primary, perhaps, than that of capitalism itself.

    Marx may have had it wrong. While he same the demise of the capitalist system as a means to the withering of the State, the actual relation may well run then other way. The State must go before capitalism can be put away.

  • Anarcissie

    My history of the world shouldn’t be taken as comprehensive, but rather as a little fable illustrating what I mean when I use the words government and state.

    Capitalism as we know it did not appear until the late Middle Ages, when strong national states began to come into existence.