Between posts here I tend to argue in comments on other blogs whenever the subject catches me enough to quickly reply. Lately one of those arguments has been an on and off three-way of sorts concerning U.S. militarism and left-wing attempts at stopping it between me, CK Macleod, and whichever anti-war (yet not anti-state) liberal chooses to step in at the moment. The roots of this were a post CK made back in May about comments I made over on League of Ordinary Gentlemen concerning war crimes committed in the name of anti-terrorism, and the obviously non-existent likelihood of perpetrators of such being brought to justice due to the self-reinforcing nature of state power. At the time, my closing comment was this:
No one wants to set the precedent that abuse of power will be punished, because it’d bite them. I’d say though that if that fact brings anything into question, it’s the overall human worth of allowing such power to continue.
In other words, the assumed arrangement by which the “representative” state exists — final power in the public with clearly marked Void If Crossed lines for those in power — falsifies itself, as the powerful do not regulate themselves. Inevitably, the claimed limits reveal themselves to be window dressing, & the thuggery that was always there shines through. Hence my conclusion: it can’t be limited, only dismantled.
CK’s immediate words to that remark follow:
The problem that the “overall human worth” question gets to is that government on any level, not just the modern state, always implies investment of the power of life and death in authority, in Hobbes’ Leviathan. The “overall human worth” that b-psycho is questioning is in this sense overall human worth itself: If having Leviathans able to kill is wrong, then there is no political right, because concretely humanity as we know it is constituted by the wrong so understood.
He goes on to describe the particular bone he has to pick with anti-war sentiment from liberals. In short, he sees them as attempting to place a frame over particular policy that if recognized calls into question way more than they’re willing to admit: that they’re not questioning, say, drone strikes or torture so much as they’re questioning the authority of government itself to make such decisions, yet without actually doing so.
If that’s to say the problem is not being radical enough, I couldn’t possibly agree more. CK doesn’t leave it there though, over time growing to an argument that as the power of death defines the state, militarism defines (and represents accurately) the body politic of the U.S. such that critics of it are ice-skating uphill: there is war because the people want war. This is where the line Joe Biden used at the Democratic Convention “Bin Laden is dead & GM is alive!” is aimed. CK again on that:
At the DNC they were accepting, and proclaiming the acceptance, that American democracy – born in violent revolution; assembled amidst genocidal war; re-born in civil war; shaped and brought to global political-economic ascendancy by world war – still requires and receives sacrifice of life from its defenders and from its enemies, potentially from any of its citizens, and even from the innocent.
Much as he refers to the challenge/response of national myths and reinforcement by the spokespeople of the ruling class over the course of these kinds of posts and in comments, the contrast between my view and his emerges: he sees those myths as useful for stability and worries what would emerge without them, I see them as inherently harmful because of what they hide & want them all exposed to sunlight ASAP. What troubles me about those myths, and more concretely the gulf between what “our” government does and what we’re allowed to know about, is the implication of decision making authority where there in practice really is none. For example: one of the central premises behind the 9/11 attacks is that the foreign policy pursued by “our” rulers was by proxy our decision, that we’re complicit in what pissed off that part of the world. Yet the knowledge of the average citizen about U.S. actions abroad is lacking to say the least. If “we” didn’t know, “we” didn’t decide, they did, leave us out of it.
Of course, if you actually say that, you basically get called a traitor. Despite it being, y’know, true.
Eventually, the open-ended nature of the Authorization to Use Military Force is pointed out, returning to the counter-critique CK provides towards anti-war liberals by essentially saying “if you’re really against the war, then call to end the war, drones are just a symptom”. He’s uncharitable about it, but he’s got a point. I don’t complain about drones and the death of civilians merely because that itself is bad, but because they are part of a stance of perpetual war & self-fulfilling prophecy about the danger of an enraged Other — I ask “have you considered not bombing them?”.
If how CK Macleod describes the necessity of feeding those myths is correct, that simply throwing them out isn’t enough, then I’d hope the liberals would be open to a suggestion from my big black anarchist ass: Bin Laden is dead, al-qaeda is crippled, say “we won”. If it works, then the war footing ends at least in that capacity. If it doesn’t, then…have you considered rejecting the state?