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.