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Monday, May 21, 2012

An Insurance Company With An Army

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot with Ian, prompted by my post a couple of days ago worrying about a tragic and dangerous failure of the EU premised on the neoliberal error that a monetary union could substitute for a political one, or that a monetary union could even function without a robust underlying political one, to which Ian replied:
Indeed. -- It seems that most (if not all) international unions are built around questions of the economic and seek to purposefully hinder political capacities for cooperation and solidarity (except where 'national defense' is concerned, of course). It's hard for me to imagine an alternative at the scale of the nation-state unless non-state actors are included in the democratic process in some way, ensuring that trans/inter/post-national interests are included in the decision making structures.
This, in turn, inspired this bit of rambling from me:
At one level that sounds right to me, but at another I find myself wondering... I am sure you have heard the cliche that after Bismarck and Lincoln the nation-state has amounted to an insurance company backed by an army. Really, this is just making Foucault's point about the late modern rise of disciplinarity/ biopolitics, right? Is this something simply to bemoan or to grasp about where we are?

Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the decisions that affect them, and it isn't clear to me why biopolitics cannot have a democratic face as well as its awful anti-democratic ones, really. I find myself wanting to pressure your suggestion that "non-state actors" need to be "included" in democratic processes -- of course I agree with this, I think the definition of democracy already implies this even -- but isn't it a bit tricky to imply they are "excluded" too straightforwardly once we get Gramsci's point when he talks about hegemony or Althusser's point when he talks about ideological state apparatuses? Contestations among sociocultural positionalities invigorate and undergird all state agency indispensably.

Part of the problem with too much of the anarchist imaginary is that it tends to reduce "the state" to something dispensable before proceeding to dispense with it, in ways that cause it to radically misconstrue state space both as a multilateral working reality but also as an ongoing democratizing possibility. That given nation-states are suffused with incumbency and hierarchy and routine violation is of course true, just as lamentably as anarchism would have it, but this seems to me a problem for rather than of the state form.

What is wanted is equity-in-diversity, an actually substantial scene of consent to the terms of one's life, which seems to me to demand universal equal rights, healthcare, education, income, and recourse to law -- not so far from the vision of Roosevelt's Four Freedom's or of the UN Declaration -- funded by steeply progressive taxes and administered by actually accountable periodically elected authorities under the terms of universal franchise.

I'm not sure that looks so different from an insurance company with an army again -- provided this is not an army paid for by the people that ensures they remain subservient to private for-profit insurance companies, but the accountable administration of insurance as a public utility and common good. Both are biopolitical governmentalities, the parochial for-profit insurance scam and the insurance that creates a legible scene in which citizen-subjects consent to the terms of their lives, but only one affords abiding and deep democracy.

This is not to say that There Is No Alternative but to say that the people must see to it that authority means what it says (this is for me the act of exposure but also the enactment through exposure at the heart of Occupy) -- another way of saying government must be of by and for the people, just like you thought at age four -- another way of saying the state must not be smashed but democratized.

4 comments:

Dale Carrico said...

The exchange continued on:

ian @ paul said...

I would agree with most of your analysis, and I would have to say that I don't care very much whether we imagine forms of democratic social organization as 'states' or otherwise.

That being said, I have much more of a quibble with the 'nation' part of the formulation, and all of the essentialism, violence and erasure that ultimately are entangled with it. I think many of the hurtles we face today are largely the result of this particular synthesis (nation + state) in the sense that I feel it positions democracy in the negative stance (defined by the social contract, the individual as a territorially bound subject tied to specific responsibilities and freedoms in relation to a singular sovereign, etc), instead of asserting its capacities for positive diverse, open and porous gestures as well.

There's also a way in which contemporary nation states claim a monopoly on governance which forces the plurality of democratic activity always-already-occurring to be subsumed into its singular logic. Does this lead me to feel that we must dispense with nation-states altogether? Not definitely. That being said, I do feel there is a need to carve out and defend spaces which allow for more pluralistic and dynamic forms (ecosystems?) of social organization to coexist which do not necessarily privilege or grant a monopoly to the nation-state-form.

I know that we more or less agree on these points, and this difference largely has to do with how we can think of taxonomies of social/biopolitical organization (when does a state cease to be a state?).
10:53 AM

Dale Carrico said...

The planetarity of environmental crises, of p2p information/organization networks, and of the threats/injustices of global trade/developmentalism (human and arms trafficking, outsourcing late capitalist production onto precarious labor, the post-colonial imperialism of debt and currency manipulation ultimately backed by force) sets the stage for the struggles between democratizing and anti-democratizing transformation of actually-existing regulatory/governing authorities.

Two problems -- so far, human rights/recourse to law have always been conferred through citizenship in nation states and where that citizenship is not secure human status too has been precarious. Also, the nation state is already pseudo-planetary, because to be a nation is always to be part of a nation-state system, an internationalism, the unevenness and totality of which is endlessly befuddling and promising and exploitable. That the nation's citizens are at once "equal" but also "diverse" creates a paradoxical citizen-subjecthood the progressive/democratizing potential of which should be no more underestimated than its endless resources for exploitation and hypocrisy.

Here in the US the struggle is of course to topple anti-democratizing corporate-militarism, to provide for a scene of genuinely informed nonduressed consent through the provision of considerably richer welfare entitlements paid for by steeply progressive taxes, while at the same time supporting planetary initiatives like the International Criminal Court, WHO, UNESCO, the International Labor Organization, the World Parliament, an elected popular assembly to supplement or replace the current appointment to the UN General Assembly (the original distinction in the US Constitution between House and Senate and it subsequent democratic development is possibly instructive here), and so on.

There must be joy in a world that is free, but always be aware that carving out and defending spaces which seem more dynamic and pluralistic easily function as consumer niches posing little threat to real elite-incumbent anti-democratization and are always also doing their bit for hegemony when we least expect them to.

The older I get the more old school education agitation and organization for democratizing reform for equity-in-diversity from below, but addressed to states on which I have a claim through their claim of me as a member, seems like the only way to go, heartbreaking though that is. I worry that every minute devoted to metaphysical questions such as "when does a state cease to be a state" is a minute lost to understanding and useful agitation.

ian @ paul said...

After a few of these exchanges now, I can't help but feel as though our political differences on this point will never be resolved on some level ;-).

When you write:

There must be joy in a world that is free, but always be aware that carving out and defending spaces which seem more dynamic and pluralistic easily function as consumer niches posing little threat to real elite-incumbent anti-democratization and are always also doing their bit for hegemony when we least expect them to.

The older I get the more old school education agitation and organization for democratizing reform for equity-in-diversity from below, but addressed to states on which I have a claim through their claim of me as a member, seems like the only way to go, heartbreaking though that is.


, my own reaction manifests as somewhat of an inversion, specifically something along the lines of:

There must be compromise, practicality and a contemplation of what is actually possible in the struggle for a world that is free, but always be aware that old school education agitation and organization for democratizing reform for equity-in-diversity from below that is addressed to states will always also have the effect of diminishing the imagination of the possible itself to the contours of the state, and what horizons it renders as possible. I fear that the danger of hegemonic thinking here is far greater.

Dale Carrico said...

Yeah, maybe we are at an agree to disagree impasse. I personally see no diminishment of creative imagination in the world at all, but I do see plenty of plutocrats who need to have the law sicced on em. And to me that means people need to be taking back their government from elite incumbents by voting, by running for office, by proposing policies with an eye to stakeholders, by pushing representatives with organizing efforts, while also, you know, also moving the needle through protests and provocations and parties too.