The Insanity of the State
my lifetime, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Mao, and Castro,
have each been labeled a "madman" by one critic or another.
More recently, Miloslovic, Qaddafi, Khomeini, and Mugabe have had
this diagnosis thrust upon them. And now we find Osama bin Laden,
Saddam Hussein, and George Bush being referred to as "madmen"
by one faction or another, depending upon which side of the battlefield
you are on.
Because such depictions are usually reserved for those responsible
for the deaths, torture, or other maltreatment of tens of thousands
of individuals, the label is not wholly unwarranted. Those who preside
over governments during relatively peaceful times are almost never
regarded as insane, however delusional they might otherwise be.
But when men such as George Bush embark upon a course of action
whose principal purpose is to foment war, there is good reason to
question the sanity of the proponents of such actions.
On the other hand, confining our focus on the demented state of
mind of tyrants and war-lovers is to overlook the more important
consideration: the insanity of the state itself. Most
of us have so merged our personal identity with the nation-state
that we see any major imperfection in the state as a flaw in our
own character. This is why it is so distressing to most people to
be told that their political system can be just as vicious
and butcherous as others. After pointing out to my students how
FDR manipulated the Japanese into an attack on Pearl Harbor in order
to get America into World War II, I often hear the response "our
government wouldn’t do that!" The implication is
clear: other governments do all kinds of wicked things, but
We have been conditioned to believe in the desirability as
well as the necessity of political systems. Most of us utter
the mindless mantra that government is a "necessary evil,"
then take comfort in believing that the system established in our
country has effectively foreclosed the possibilities of tyranny
arising in our land. Americans continue to exalt the Constitution
as one of the "wonders" of civilized society, deluding
themselves that dividing government into three "branches"
has, through some unexplained alchemy, transmuted inherently dangerous
and volatile state power into more benign, inert processes.
The reality is that all political systems are, by definition, grounded
in a monopoly on the exercise of lawful force, and there
is no document, no magical incantation, no external authority to
prevent any state system from expanding upon the scope of
its power should it, and its supporters, choose to do so. Constitutions
may yet abound, out of ritualistic habit, but constitutionalism,
as a formal system of limiting state power, has no credibility.
The 20th century’s record of constitutionally directed
state butcheries and tyrannies has given the lie to this presumed
method of restraining the exercise of coercive power. Most people
are disinclined to give up their illusions, even though this doctrine
– and the belief in a "social contract" from which it
derives – has about as much plausibility as the "divine right
Faith in constitutionalism derives from a failure to understand
the basic nature of words: they are subject to interpretation.
Words are abstractions and, as such, can never be what
they purport to represent. Because most of us equate the
word with the thing itself, we are content to believe
that writing words on paper – or parchment, to give it added significance
– can somehow assure a continued respect for the meaning we
attached to such words when we wrote them. But whether we are construing
the provisions of a constitution, or seeking the explanation for
a line of poetry, words must always be interpreted in order
to be understood. The problem we experience with political systems
arises from the fact that the effective "meaning" of the
words in a constitution is determined by the state itself!
The courts, a branch of the state, have provided a fairly consistent
expansion of the allegedly "limited" powers granted
to the state, and a restrictive definition of the "rights"
it was the announced purpose of this scheme to "protect."
Nor does the state feel obliged to exercise its established powers
as they have been spelled out. Article I, Section 8 grants to Congress
the "power to declare war," but not since December 8,
1941, has the government insisted upon this formality in the conduct
of the numerous wars and other military actions it has undertaken.
If the state enjoys a monopoly on the use of force, and there is
no device or principle that can restrain the scope of such authority,
what would we expect government officials to do with such power?
Much what we would expect a group of children to do if a bowl of
candy was placed before them: grab as much of it as they can! Their
appetites are further nourished by those who would like to have
such coercive power employed on behalf of their interests. A feeding
frenzy quickly occurs, with various groups crowding and shoving
one another for a more favorable position at the government trough.
It should be evident to any thoughtful person that politics mobilizes
the most vicious, socially destructive attitudes and practices known
to mankind. Lies and deceit, coercion, intimidation, the forcible
taking of property, killing, the setting of people and groups against
one another, the imprisonment and punishment of individuals, the
manipulation and control of the behavior of people and, above all
else, the arrogant assumption that such power is "rightfully"
exercised by those who possess it and the moral condemnation of
those who resist.
The most savage and inhumane of all statist practices is, of course,
the conduct of war. But most of us have become so enamored
of state power that, ironically, it is this most destructive expression
of its nature that is most revered. Conservatives who, a scant two
years ago, could have been counted upon to rage against a tax increase,
affirmative action, or the enforcement of some code of political
correctness, have suddenly become frenzied drum-beaters for war,
any war, against whomever their current rulers identify as their
enemy! Out comes that most jingoistic expression of state belligerence:
the flag, and any who refuse to shout "hurrah!"
have been labeled as traitors, appeasers, terrorist-supporters,
and even communists!
Recently, an estimated thirty million men and women marched throughout
the world in opposition to the Bush administration’s planned war
against Iraq. Many of these protestors were Europeans, deriving
from a culture that was the cradle of Western civilization. In the
eyes of the war-lovers, however, such opposition is unforgivable.
While the English poodle, Tony Blair, is unwavering in his bootlicking
habits, many – perhaps most – of his countrymen favor peace. So,
apparently, do most Scandinavian, French, and German people. The
vitriol heaped upon the French and Germans by members of the War
Party is, perhaps, the clearest evidence of the obscene character
of this administration. Perhaps it is because these nations provided
the battleground for two bloody world wars in the 20th
century that makes their anti-war sentiments more credible than
the caterwauling call to arms coming out of the mouths of those,
in Washington, who have never heard a shot fired in anger. Nor have
I yet reconciled myself to the spectacle of Jews berating the current
German government for not being sufficiently warlike!
To the extent we identify ourselves with the state, we are distressed
confronting the destructive and vicious nature of how all governments
– including the one under which we live – behave. The state represents
the "dark side" of the human character, and so we are
disinclined to stare it in the face, out of a fear that we might
see something of ourselves reflected back. In an effort to exorcise
such attributes from our political system, we project
any negative qualities onto others, against whom we then
take a morally righteous stance and insist upon punishing them
for our inadequacies of character. If the United
States has created chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons,
we will go to war with Iraq for allegedly trying to acquire
such weapons for themselves. America will condemn North
Korea for having nuclear missiles, even though the United
States is the only country in history that has actually used
such weapons against civilian populations!
No matter how strong or deserving the criticism of any foreign regime,
statists can never allow the censure to rise to the level of an
attack upon the idea of the state itself. If the state is
to be regarded as an imperative, then the warfare, genocides, torture,
and other tyrannical practices can never be allowed to be seen as
intrinsic to statism. To allow such a thought to even cross a synapse
in the brain is to call all of politics into question. If we venerate
the idea of the state, the wholesale slaughter and brutalities practiced
even by foreign despots must be explained in terms that do
not infect the mindset upon which domestic rule depends.
To accomplish such ends, statists resort to the psychological device
of "displacement," which involves the transfer
of an emotion, such as anger, from the original cause
to a substitute one. Displacement is ordinarily resorted
to when the source of the anger is considered too dangerous
to criticize directly. To condemn politics, systemically,
for the horrors perpetrated by various nation-states, might endanger
the popular sanction upon which all governments ultimately
depend. And so it is that the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos, Pol Pots,
and other tyrants, must be marginalized and isolated as
aberrations of an otherwise wondrous system. What better
way of accomplishing such state-saving ends than to declare them
to be "madmen," "crazed lunatics" who managed
to get into power by some untoward means?
it is not madmen who turn states into the brutal systems
they are: it is the state itself that mobilizes our "dark
side" energies into destructive practices, an end brought about
only through our willingness to lose our individuality in the mass-mindedness
that is essential to all political systems. In the language of "chaos"
theory, the state becomes an "attractor" for the kinds
of people who are disposed to use violence and intimidation against
others; people who are willing to exploit the sociopathic nature
of all political systems. It is not madmen to whom we must
look for explanations of the genocides, wars, "terrorist"
attacks, and other collective atrocities, but to our perpetuation
of insane systems that amass those dark forces that
we deny or repress at our peril.
© 2003 LewRockwell.com