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.
(1) 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’s a noble undertaking both in concept and in practice, because the State can be posited thus as the ultimate authority to resolve all manner of important 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 it task seriously), pay lip service to all divergent and potentially conflicting interests. This is more true of the so-called democratic regimes than of the 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 militaristically, no doubt because of Hitler’s charismatic leadership and especial 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, a theater wherein said conflict has become legitimized (so at to form a leitmotif) and is continuously being re-enacted on the grandest possible scale. All of which seriously undermines the rather simplistic proposition that the State is governed by the ruling class alone, or that the State interests are therefore 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 being excluded.
(2) Aside from the domestic pressures which keep the State forever on its toes lest it be perceived by any dissident group or faction as anything other than impartial, there are international pressures as well. Indeed, no state can rightfully exercise its intended function unless it is perceived by all its subjects 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 edicts, 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 with respect to 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.
(3) The existing paradigm, along with the conditions which seem to preclude any other, makes for certain pathology (because of the erosion that inevitably sets in and corrupts what may have started out as a perfectly innocuous and well-formed, if not well-intentioned, concept). For let’s face it, the (institution of the) State is in a bind both from within and without. In the former instance, there is this constant pressure always having to appear fair-minded and just by means of a fine balancing act between ever-conflicting interests; but it’s the latter, I’d say, which circumscribes the inescapable dynamics of international relations, that sets the ship of state, 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 is 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 but 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.
(4) Needless to say, the attendant results, whether anticipated or not, are anything but promising. The bottom line is that all states, regardless of intention, are required to act in a manner of speaking 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, but it pales into insignificance when some such description is applicable, and accurately, to behavior of impersonal entities such as the corporation or the state.
I suppose 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 which have a far greater axe to grind, their very survival as an institution.
(5) The constrains placed on the State, pressures both internal and external, to play the part of a good sovereign (so as to fulfill its designated function) have the effect of turning even a democratic state into a tyrannical 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 his or her case v. the State – each is emblematic of an institution that is hell-bent on maintaining its sovereignty by hook or by crook; if you stand in the way, you do so at your own 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 in fact 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 are denied the usual protections that come with acting on behalf of another state. It is thus that acts of espionage or open warfare between the states are conveniently distinguished and set apart from all manner of terrorist activities by denying the latter the legal status that comes with statehood. Again, the irony is that the most terrorist organization ever reserves for itself the sole right to act as an aggressor: violence is deemed legal but only if sanctioned by the State.
(6) Julian Assange, the face behind WikiLeaks, provides another, albeit more subtle example. Understandably, Assange justifies the WikiLeaks’ raison d’être in terms of 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 isn’t lost is evidenced by the vast array of adverse reactions ranging from outright denial, minimizing the significance of the leaks, to outcries calling for his head. Just as interesting is the fact that the sense of outrage is shared by all and all alike: even the “rogue states” have joined the chorus. But this shouldn’t surprise us since for reasons already alluded to, which stem from a defect in the original concept, all states devolve into rogue states: it’s only a matter of degree.
(7) 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 although 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, property 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.
(8) 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. Consequently, nothing more was called for than mere extension of what already obtained in the realm of the personal and the individual to the political and the social.
Well, the experiment backfired In the process, it led to the formation of the State, the most tyrannical institution ever; and the notion of sovereignty is the culprit, the root cause of what’s essentially a flawed concept. It’s time to disavow ourselves of this notion and look for solutions elsewhere.