JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Nation State is Obsolete
by Johnny Reb, September 2014
Every state has been an instrument by which a privileged few have wielded power over the immense majority. And every church has been a loyal ally of the state in the subjugation of mankind. Governments throughout history have used religion both as a means of keeping men in ignorance and as a “safety-valve” for human misery and frustration - Michael Bakunin
The highest levels of political institution have always been sources of coercion and violence. With the exception of theocracies and monarchies, most political scientists and historians would likely agree that the most modern and centralized political system called the "STATE" has achieved unprecedented heights in mobilization and infliction of violence. It was the great sociologist Max Weber who defined the state precisely as "a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory." In other words, not unlike the rigid authoritarian theocracies and monarchies of the Middle Ages, the primary function, if not the very essence of the state is to control, coerce and inflict violence. Within the state, but by no means exclusively within the state, are specific institutions of control, coercion and violence such as the police, military and prison systems. The draconian prison systems are mechanisms for state sanctioned incarceration, discipline, punishment, torture and murder (for those states with the death penalty). People must pay for any and all "crimes", misdemeanours (or even minor indiscretions such as possession of the wrong type of narcotics or driving while impaired by alcohol) against those who control the state and make its laws - the wealthy, the conservative power elites and big business interests. We're told that the police, military and prisons exist to "serve and protect" - but serve and protect whom? The answer should be apparent to all but the delusional.
Sports and the State
Capitalists, militarists and ecclesiastics co-operate in education because all depend for their power on the prevalence of emotionalism and the rarity of critical judgement - Bertrand Russell
I think it might have been fundamentalist Christian and neo-conservative Reagan era ideologue George Gilder who referred to competitive sports as akin to religious ritual (whether as participant or spectator), an activity he deemed the single most important rite in modern capitalist societies. Others have cited sports (ideally the professional variety in which the athletes are generally worshipped as deities by the working classes) as an ideal of truth and beauty having untold political, patriotic and military propaganda value for power elites. Have you ever wondered why national anthems and other patriotic rituals such as the grotesque presence of the military are tolerated at sporting events? Many societies have gone so far as to praise the beauty of death from the Spanish bullfight to the Japanese samurai.
It's should come as no surprise that in a world of endless imperialistic wars (a key accessory and facilitator of global capitalism), torture and violence, we now have included as sport the bloody barbarism of cage fighting. I believe it's called UFC (Ultimate Fighting?) in which two men are confined to a circular metal screened pen like feral animals with seemingly no rules and proceed to beat the crap out of one another until one or the other is so bloody and brutalized he ultimately submits. It's difficult for anyone with any moral sensibilities to watch this disgusting blood thirsty spectacle for longer than a few seconds. Can anyone explain how and why we have regressed to this moral low point of gratuitous violence, sadism, masochism and cruelty? Can we culturally and ethically descend any lower than this?
Last week two stories vied for first place in newscasts all over the world: Scottish independence and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
For the Scots, as well as for the striking teachers in British Columbia (a minor side story of betrayal and deceit in global comparison) the stories ended in victory for fear mongering, coercion, betrayal, intimidation and humiliation - and a predictable defeat for freedom and justice. Most disconcerting for conservative elites and global capitalism with their austerity measures and imperialistic wars was the fact that the forces against Scottish separation came despite, not because of, the huge propaganda campaign by the major parties that included Conservative, Labor and Liberal Democrat, all of which are conservative despite the deceiving party labels. It was they who formed the backbone of the “No" campaign against Scottish independence. The majority of young people who showed up to vote were decidedly with the "Yes" campaign.
As is their habit the left wing was divided and fragmented on the issue with some on the left promoting the "No" vote. Is there such a creature as a socialist monarchist? Wake the fuck up lefties! Can't those on the political left see what and who are their real enemies: global capitalism, neo-liberalism and other forms of economic and political conservatism in all its vile variations and the reactionary sycophantic reptilian power elitist pimps who promote it such as David Cameron, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama and Attila the Hun. These leaders are authoritarians and have never believed in freedom and democracy, except for themselves of course. They represent the war loving wealthy investor classes and big corporations who finance their campaigns and bribe them and the other political hacks within their exclusive cabal. These bastards don't give a rats ass about working people, including the enigmatic so-called middle class; they never have and never will. Brush up on your world history for Odin's sake, the real history, not the air brushed horse manure written of, for and by conservative elites.
Those on the political left including anarchists, radical liberals, social democrats and doctrinaire Marxists need to cease bickering over fine points of political theory. The dissension within the ranks of the left has been going on for at least 150 years and it's time to kiss and make up. Solidarity and power to the people! We desperately need a bottom up grass roots political movement before the whole system created by these self-serving conservative vultures of greed implodes (and it will; it's just a matter of when) and while there still some value left within the public domain that hasn't been plundered by these insatiable bastards. The neo-liberal/neo-conservative global capitalist system is a gargantuan monopolist Ponzi scheme financed by phantom money.
Scotland on the Tigris
If you reason instead of repeating what is taught you; if you analyze the law and strip off those cloudy fictions with which it has been draped in order to conceal its real origin, which is the right of the stronger, and its substance, which has ever been the consecration of all the tyrannies handed down to mankind through its long and bloody history; when you have comprehended this, your contempt for the law will be profound indeed – Peter Kropotkin
There could not be a greater difference between Scotland and Iraq. The former is damp and cold whereas the latter is arid and hot. Scotland is a predominantly secular country often noted for its whisky and tolerance while for Iraq and ISIS insurgents, religion dominates, intolerance is the norm and drinking alcohol one of the hallmarks of sacrilege by infidels who ought to lose their heads in the name of Allah.
There is however, one common theme in both crises; they signify the anachronism and impending demise of the large nation-state.
Nationalism and its ugly offshoot patriotism are, like any popular ideas in history, born out of a new set of circumstances: economic, military, cultural, religious and so on which made older ideas obsolete. But they also have become toxic influences on both the political and social environment. They must be rejected by any political or social order that aspires to civility and peace. Moreover, the hierarchical social and political arrangements of both religion and the modern state are anathema to democracy and must be dismantled.
Toward the end of the 17th century, existing states could no longer cope with new demands. Small states were destined to assimilation and extinction, much like what is happening to corporations globally today. Apple and Google, to cite just two examples, have now become massive economic conglomerates that have far more power than many countries. They have devoured many of their competitors, thus creating monopolies simply because monopoly of markets is what the capitalist game is all about.
Small as a Political and Social Ideal
The history of sensible politics also tells us that economics is a domain particularly given to mysticism, romanticism and to sudden optimistic enthusiasms followed by equally sudden depressions. Fashion and economics are often interchangeable terms - John Ralston Saul
As many anarchist philosophers from Mikhail Bakunin to David Graeber have argued, scale, hierarchy and bureaucracy have always been problems for the possibility of real democracy. Economic thinkers such as E F Schumacher (1911-1977) and Leopold Kohr (1909-1994)* warned us fifty years ago that the burgeoning global economic system would continue to grow until it devoured all competitors until it imploded on its own gluttony, narcissism and internal contradictions. We should have listened to these men. Bigger is NOT better. The global financial meltdown in 2007-09 was the first ominous warning; now another global financial asset bubble is nearing its implosion point, namely, the bloated stock markets. Governments throughout the world at all levels are bankrupt from ever increasing tax concessions to the big corporations and the wealthy (those who have not moved their assets to immoral offshore tax havens), in addition to the last government bailouts of criminal banks and other corporate gangsters. Consequently, following the next financial meltdown there will be no invocation of phony ruses such as "too big to fail" complete with corporate welfare and bailouts from the conservative corporate welfare state. This time around the state piggy bank is empty. The entire global economic order is a con game and pyramid scheme. To quote Canadian philosopher John Ralston once again: "Central governments everywhere are in a long-term funding crisis, in good part because they get less and less tax revenue from the large corporations who, in a global marketplace, play one country off against another."
* Leopold Kohr was born in 1909 in the small Austrian town of Oberndorf. This small town childhood, together with his critical study of economics and political theory at the London School of Economics, his experience of anarchist city states during the Spanish civil war, which he covered as a war reporter, and the fact that he was, as a Jew, forced to flee Austria after the Nazi invasion contributed to his growing suspicion of power and its abuses.
Settling in the US, Kohr began to write the book that would define his thinking. Published in 1957, The Breakdown of Nations laid out what at the time was a radical case: that small states, small nations, small communities and small economies are more peaceful, more prosperous and more creative than great powers or super states with massive hierarchical bureaucracies. It was a claim that was as unfashionable as it was possible to make. This era was the dawn of the space age – a time of high confidence in the progressive, large scale, technology fuelled destiny of humankind. Kohr, when asked, liked to refer to his political position as a "philosophical anarchist". Kohr died in 1994.
It was clear that by the end of the 19th century, capitalism was demanding safe domestic and foreign markets large enough for the development of modern industries that would accommodate their expanding surpluses of "stuff" due to over-production of superfluous commodities.
But by that time, this idea was already becoming obsolete. The realities which had created it were changing rapidly. If I am not mistaken, it was Gustave Le Bon, the French sociologist, who a century ago in his book The Crowd, asserted that every new idea is already obsolete by the time it is adopted by the conservative power elites and the indoctrinated masses. The process perhaps follows the following pattern: someone conceives what he perceives a brilliant idea and many in positions of political and economic power agree with it. In a generation or so the idea becomes accepted by both conservative and liberal intellectuals. It takes another generation for the intellectuals to inform and convince their bosses in business and government and inculcate the masses. By the time it attains acceptance by power elites and the state, the conditions that gave it credibility have already changed, and a new idea is required.
Reality changes much more quickly than the ideas of the human mind.
The European nation-state was one such idea. When it achieved its final victory following the War to End all Wars, the world had already been transformed. European armies, which had slaughtered each other with machine guns and heavy artillery over the spoils and unmitigated greed of colonialism were eventually facing tanks, strategic bombers, fighter planes and nuclear weapons. The economy was becoming globalized. Air travel made distances redundant. and modern communication created a global village.
Adolph Hitler, Stephen Harper and other Despots
No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world - Michael Bakunin
Adolf Hitler, a hopeless 19th century dreamer, tried to impose the German nation-state paradigm on the European continent - with catastrophic results. But within a generation a small group of economic ideologues spawned the idea of a New World Order in which corporations have more rights than people, farcical free trade agreements that have nothing to do with free trade, the IMF, NATO, the World Bank and the European Union, which spread following another mass slaughter of the 20th century, the Second World War. This idea, now still in its infancy, is generally accepted, but it is already obsolete. The grotesque multinational economy with its offshore tax havens, the mindlessness of social media and mindless distraction, the fight against deadly diseases, the civil wars and genocides, the environmental degradation and global warming that are threatening the entire planet – all these make world governance and cooperation imperative and urgent – yet this is an idea whose realization is still very, very far away.
Can we survive as a species long enough to make the necessary changes? Despite the huge demonstrations (including about 400,000 who marched in New York City) against the refusal of governments to do anything about global warming, I seriously doubt it. Some climate scientists tell us we have reached the point of no return already. Others say if we don't take drastic measures in the next decade, we'll be soon finished as a species. The corrupt politicians throughout the world, including those in our bogus democracies, are bought and paid for by the corporate forces of plunder and profit which they believe ought to override everything, including the survival of life on the planet.
The obsolescence of the nation-state has given birth to a paradoxical by-product: the breakup of the state into smaller and smaller units. But to listen to the deluded economists and political leader at this moment in history is like sitting through a sermon by a priest or parson who has lost his faith but is desperately trying not to admit it, even to himself. Listen to Barack Obama, David Cameron or Stephen Harper spewing out tough-guy conservative platitudes to the party faithful that all will be well with more economic growth, next to zero percent interest rates, more tax breaks to big business, austerity to the wage slave working class masses and more printed trillions (quantitative easing) of phantom dollars to criminal banks and investment houses. Dream on! It's a race to the bottom - and they know it - the pirates on Wall Street and Bay Street and are only trying to fill their pockets by pillaging what's left in the public domain. Who is going to stop them?
While the world trend towards larger and larger political and economic units gathers strength, nation-states degenerate into police states and a deepening moral abyss of corruption, bribery, torture and spying on its own populace. All over the world, people are demanding to be liberated from this venal global system by independence. Many, including most of our young people who should be in the streets raising hell, have become so cynical they have disengaged from the political system, refusing to show up at the polls every four years after which nothing changes. But who van blame them - the political choices to them are mere trivial distinctions without a real difference. Democrats v Republicans, Liberals v Conservatives, Tweedle Dee v Tweedle Dum.
This movements toward political devolution are not quite as utopian as they seem. The nation-state came into being because capitalist realities demanded societies of at least a certain size, scale and strength. All the major functions of the capitalist states throughout the world are moving towards much larger regional unions complete with coercive surveillance technology and prison systems that even Orwell could not have imagined in his prophetic novel 1984 . So why does Corsica need France? Why do the Catalonians and Basques need Spain? Why does Quebec need Canada? In fact why do any Canadians need Canada? Why does Scotland need great Britain? They don't! Why not live within a smaller political and social milieu with people such as yourself, who want real freedom and direct democracy and who at least speak your natural language and embrace your cultural and ethical norms? Make the economy work for you, not you toiling for an economy for the benefit of a tiny conservative elite. Make a clean break with the authoritarian model of political governance that has existed since recorded history.
The Scottish referendum is perhaps one of the opening salvos of this new era of "small is beautiful", to use E F Schumacher's expression. The proponents of independence promised that Scotland could join the European Union and perhaps adopt the Euro. That will be for them to choose. But why would they? Leopold Kohr, the philosophical anarchist of smallness would say nay to coercive behemoths such as the EU that are corrosive to democracy and the autonomy of smaller jurisdictions. And why, Kohr would surely ask, should Scotland remain in the British straightjacket of militarism, imperialism and austerity for the masses complete with a draconian parasitic monarchy, a sickening residue from the Dark Ages? After all, Great Britain is, and never was, "great". In fact one could argue that its former empire, like the US empire today, was racist, oppressive, exploitive, destructive and immoral. The failure of the vote for Scottish independence does not change the course of events. It just slows it down.
The dual iniquities of nationalism and patriotism never struck deep roots in the arid ground of the Arab world. Even in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it was never quite clear whether a Damascene, for example, considered himself first a Syrian or a Muslim. During the Algerian struggle for independence against French colonialism, the vitriolic conservative French politician never once complained: “Before we conquered North Africa, Algeria was never united! We created the Algerian nation!” They were quite right, though drew the wrong conclusions. Many times we've heard the same from dedicated Zionists about the Palestinian nation.
A century ago the modern Arab nations were concocted by European colonialists for strategic reasons in order to control and pillage their oil resources. It was Mark Sykes and Georges Picot, two mediocre bureaucrats, one British and one French, who drew up the clandestine agreement for the division of the Ottoman Empire. They and their successors created the states of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and others without ever consulting the people of those creations. Conducting agreements and invoking policy by sidestepping the democratic process without consulting colleagues or the populace is a common ploy of conservatives. But when have conservatives ever cared about inconveniences like democracy? This is essentially the modus operandi of neo-fascist Christian fundamentalist Stephen Harper, Canada's control freak Prime Minister.
These Arabic “nation-states” were artificial creations designed for external colonial control. The European planners had generally very little understanding for local circumstances, traditions, identities and culture. Neither did they give a rats ass about the concerns for the locals. Iraq, with its multifarious components, was created to accommodate British interests. The strange eastern borders of Jordan were shaped for a British oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa. Lebanon, created as a home for Christians, was shaped to include Muslim Sunnite and Shiite areas, just to make it larger. Al-Sham was stripped of Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon and became Syria. Later it also lost Alexandretta to Turkey. All these imperialist manipulations ran counter to Muslim history, culture and tradition.
Every Muslim child probably learns in their history classes about the vast Muslim empires, stretching from the north of Spain to the borders of Burma, from the gates of Vienna to the South of Yemen, and then has to look at the map of mini-countries like Jordan and Lebanon. It provided humiliating and legitimate grounds for anger and hatred of Western capitalism and imperialism, which now includes the United States.
First there were efforts to unify the Arabs under the umbrella of nationalism. The Ba’ath party strove (in theory, at least) to create one, single pan-Arab state, and the creed was taken up by the hero of the masses, the Egyptian Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, a secular military dictator. A pan-Arab state could also have created some equality between rich oil-states like Saudi Arabia and poor countries like Egypt.
The huge attraction of the movement now called the “Islamic State” is that it proposes a simple idea: do away with all the senseless borders drawn up by Western imperialists for their own greedy purposes and re-create the classic pan-Muslim state, the Caliphate. This seems like the antithesis of the breakup of European states, but it implies the same a rejection of the idea of the nation state.
The Western response has been almost farcically uninformed and inadequate. ISIS is a grass roots Arab movement that Western leaders cannot fathom as a phenomenon, a reactionary force that they have created by their arrogance, greed, ignorance and wars of plundering imperialism. Ask yourself a simple question: who are the real terrorists? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
Historical know-nothings like Barack Obama, John Kerry and their pompous equivalents all over Europe, are, by their gross cognitive dissonance, quite unable to understand what it is all about. They really don't want to know - or know but don't give a shit. With the traditional European contempt for indigenous populations, they see nothing but head-chopping Islamic terrorists. Although it bothers them not that they demolished Iraq, killing over a million innocents, executing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin laden without a trial. They surely realized that a trial of these two real or imagined enemies would elicit too many unpleasant and sordid details about their own crimes. The Western leaders really seem to believe that they can vanquish a revolutionary new idea by forming a coalition with Arab dictators and corrupt politicians, bombing the rebels and finishing the job by employing local mercenaries.
That is a ludicrous misreading of the new reality. By now, ISIS, with just a handful of fanatical and ruthless militants, has conquered huge territories. Like Vietnam, it's a battle that cannot be won, only create misery and death for all involved and for generations to come.
So what is the answer? One cannot reverse the ignorance and arrogance of the invasion of Iraq and countless other past crimes by the West in the Middle East, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.
Frankly, I don’t know the answer. But the first step for Westerners, as well as for Israelis, is to discard their arrogance and deal with their ignorance by trying to understand the new phenomenon they are facing. They are not facing “terrorists”, the magic fear mongering epithet that seems to solve all problems without the laborious process of critical thought.
Why can't we just mind our own business? Surely we have sufficient problems at home that need solving, like bringing real democracy and justice to the people, rather than restricting it to a tiny wealthy conservative elite. Just remember,
Absolute power corrupts absolutely;
God is all-powerful.
Draw your own conclusions.....
When does the revolution begin? Send me your top ten short list of self-righteous conservative authoritarians will be led to the firing squad first. You can ignore Stephen Harper and Conrad Black because those two despicable assholes will be on everyone's list.