Quidditative essence

In a remark on my last post on Iraq, Sam Haque points out:

The situation is that occupation forces have taken for themselves the role of guardians by and large without the consent of those who they are ostensibly protecting.

— Sam Haque, comment (2006-05-10) on GT 2006-05-08: Why We Fight

This is true, and not just of the situation in Iraq. It is as accurate and concise a description as you could make of what governments do for a living, always and everywhere. It’s war that brings this into the sharpest relief, because the normal restraints on brutality are released, the beneficiary-victims are strangers in a faraway land, and the public intellectuals and the official press line up to shout down any serious challenge to the progress of war aims. But war and occupation are only the starkest and most explicit expression of what State power essentially means, not just with bombers and soldiers and tanks, but also with every spook, cop, G-man, prosecutor, jailer, and hangman whose paychecks we are forced to cover. Consider, for example, the local cops in New Britain, Connecticut, who protected the hell out of an 11 year old boy and his mother in the name of serving a drug search warrant without interruption, or last week’s riot and reign of terror by Mexican police asserting their authority to protect and serve the people of San Salvador Atenco, whether they like it or not.

The State is, as Catharine MacKinnon says, male in the political sense. But not only because the law views women’s civil status through the lens of male supremacy (although it certainly does). It is also because the male-dominated State relates to all of its subjects like a battering husband relates to the household of which he has proclaimed himself the head: by laying a claim to protect those who did not ask for it, and using whatever violence and intimidation may be necessary to terrorize them into submitting to his protection. The State, as the abusive head of the whole nation, assaults the innocent, and turns a blind eye to assaults of the innocent, when it suits political interest — renamed national interest by the self-proclaimed representatives of the nation. It does so not because of the venality or incompetance of a particular ruler, but rather because that is what State power means, and that is what the job of a ruler is: to maintain a monopoly of coercion over its territorial area, as a good German might tell you, and to beat, chain, burn, or kill anyone within or without who might endanger that, whether by defying State rule, or by simply ignoring it and asking to be left alone.

Or, as Ezra Haywood once put it, A cruel kindness, thought to be friendly regard, assumes to protect those who, by divine right of rational being, are entitled, at least, to be let alone. We are not among wild beasts; from whom, then, does woman need protection? From her protectors. And so it is for us civilians, facing the doorkeep before the Law.

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  1. Sam Haque

    that is what State power means, and that is what the job of a ruler is: to maintain a monopoly of coercion over its territorial area

    As much as you might detest it, Weber’s definition of state is grotesquely libertarian. He defines it as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” One might simplify this to “a monopoly on the use of force within a given territory.”

  2. Rad Geek

    Sam,

    Provided that one only means by legitimate what Weber means by it, I don’t detest the Weberian definition of the State. I think it’s an accurate description of what all States aim to become, insofar as they can. My disagreement with Weber doesn’t have to do with his description of State processes, but rather with the value that he attaches to them.

  3. labyrus

    One thing that I find eternally frustrating is how definitions of the state are so amorphous (including Weber’s, because “legitimate” is pretty vague concept). An anarchist argument against a Marxian State is often met with a defence of a Weberian State, for example.

    I don’t really like to use Weber’s, because all sorts of human communities that aren’t really “States” in any other sense can claim that monopoly. From an Anarchist perspective, it’s important to draw a distinction between societies where force is rarely used at all and the State system, which institutionalizes it.

    Some Anthropologists will go so far as to call any human society with a unified political system a State.

    A lot of people also categorize poitical entities in terms of “Westphalian States”, although I’m not really sure that that is a particularily good definition, either. The modern State interferes in the average person’s life on a far broader scale than the fledgling States that existed when a bunch of European warlords carved up the map.

    Plenty of proposed political systems that most Anarchists would call “Anarchist” could, by at least a couple of the definitions be called States, although they’d be massively different from anything that’s ever called itself a State in History.

    Over the past little while, I’ve begun to think that “The State” is a concept that doesn’t do nearly a good enough job of describing the real world. Is a State-Run medical system in any way a part of a Weberian State, by virtue of being funded out of the same coffers as the forces that hold a monopoly on the use of force, or is it some other, different kind of social institution that happens to be lumped in with the State?

· December 2006 ·

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