Monday, July 28, 2008

The evolution of the modern state is a tough one

There's one big issue that is hard to deal with and that causes me to think that libertarian alternatives are more post-state than just anti-state. Maybe pre-state, but I'll get to that in a little bit.

The thing is that in certain countries in Europe the State machinery was put up as an alternative to feudalism, which was very decentralized and focussed on particular lords. Even when the machinery of the State was put up by the rulers it functioned as a lever that they could use to reduce the power of the other aristocracy and enrich themselves. This is what happened with Absolutism in England, France, and elsewhere: one royal house consolidating power and reducing the threat of revolt by cutting the decentralized nature of feudalism out from under the competing aristocrats. When the machinery of the State was captured by the people, particularly in the French Revolution, the people in charge used it as an alternate power source against the remnants of the aristocracy that were still there as well as the rulers that they usurped themselves. There was never absolutist statism in the U.S., which continues to develop in a substantially decentralized fashion, although recent events plus the general rise of the "Imperial Presidency" may make you think otherwise. But when people got their chance to establish their own Republic in Europe it meant imposing a whole new structure of social organization on top of the feudal structure, of having a social revolution of one sort or another where remnants of the feudal bonds were outlawed or made illegal. In that sense the State has been used for powerful movements for equality and justice.

Being against a centralized concentration of power seems to imply that the people have the same rights that are guaranteed through the State but that those rights are ensured in a decentralized manner. I think that this is post-Statist because although the centralized nature of the State is opposed there's usually no call to go back to what existed before during feudal times. It may have been decentralized but of course was...well....feudalism. Some people do advocate that, but it's a topic for another day. To really be against the State in a way that looked for some sort of alternative based on what came before would have to involve getting to either the aspects of feudal society that were in fact communal or pointing to pre-feudal modes of living, which is the basis of course for many, many, Green ideas as well as Primitivism in general. But even if you do this, by looking at things like the Commons that were seized during the enclosure movement or hunter-gatherer societies that have loads of leisure time while living in a very basic way, the perspective is still post-State, because you aren't a person who has used the commons and probably have not lived in a hunter-gatherer fashion, although people are working on that one, but even so it's a recreation and not generated from extended contact with tribes that live like that.

The difference is essential because it points out the revolutionary nature of a lot of thought that's not necessarily emphasizing that aspect of itself. Simply supporting these things could be seen as some kind of conservatism, because things that have slipped through the cracks in certain ways don't necessarily see themselves as the sort of alternative that you may see them as.
And that actually gets back to the pro-feudal people, who were plentiful during the 19th century, in the UK and elsewhere, with Benjamin Disraeli writing medieval romances and supporting the "Tory Democrats", people from the old ruling class who were right wing and who made or attempted to make pacts with workers in order to weaken the capitalists. Interesting stuff, but nonetheless that's conservatism and wouldn't really be seen as what people are after these days. But that's an example of pre-statist thought.

So many of the alternatives that people think up and try to implement are either totally modern in the sense of taking place in a context where the modern state exists along with the laws and systems that go with it, or they're modern reinterpretations of pre-modern experience. The only possible alternative to this comes from societies in Italy and elsewhere where there seemed to be a tradition of free people living opposed to both the feudal lords and to the later statist capitalists, who emerged in one sense or another when the labor movement started, forming a sort of alternative that was autonomous within working class culture.

There's always the question of class struggles during the pre-modern feudal phase and during the reign of absolutist monarchs, because there's always a negotiation of sorts with power. Protests against injustice didn't just start with capitalism.
But anyways.

If you really, really, want to be anti-statist as well as anti-capitalist to the core and you have a modern worldview instead of a more traditional, tribal, mindset, it's really hard not to put the heritage of the State back into things in an unconscious way. And this is because there have been positive, revolutionary events that the modern State has been involved with, that work, and that people still remember and cling to....the liberals versus the conservatives in the traditional sense. So post-State.

By the way, when you hear about traditional culture, realize that it's traditional in the full sense of the term, which includes conservatism. Just because you meet people who may have a similar outlook to what you think you want doesn't mean that they're coming from anywhere near where you're coming from. In fact, they may be opposed to some of the radical things that you advocate, and I would guess that honesty and discussion would be the way to deal with that rather than passive romanticization.

Be anti-State but know that some of the structures of thought that make us freer than we've been before has been the product of movements that have either seized or created States and have declared themselves to be supporters of Republican Democracy, the democratic system of a Republic as opposed to that of a pure monarchy or feudal system.

No comments: