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Progressives, Unite -- War is Still the Health of the State

By       Message Robert S. Becker     Permalink
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Like the stuttering hero in "The King's Speech," the American left won't command leadership until establishing our own voice -- and forceful narrative.  The capitulation by this president and the Democratic Party -- now without pretense of progressivism -- is the gift in the wound that mandates leftwing dissent find its own language.  No easy task.  This is not about voting or donating to candidates but disrupting mindsets, as possible, with better framing and messaging -- developing potent terms that dramatize the vast, rightwing array of conspiracies, cronyism, contradictions and unholy alliances.

It's not like rightwing derangement, idiocy, or excesses are hard to find, the supply in full force even when dismissing Birthers, Palin, and Bachmann.  If the left can't expose the most glaring political and economic contradictions, the greatest GOP spectacle in decades, how can we cross over to Main Street, or show skeptics, centrists, or independents today's predators are well under way to picking clean the bottom 80%?

How long, as the Great Recession plods on, can the right treat the bloated, trillion dollar Pentagon budget as sacrosanct?  How long before Joe Sixpack connects his structural unemployment, along with crumbling infrastructures and even worse schools, with nation-building abroad and energy subsidies at home?  How long can the right oppose gun control when young children die visiting members of Congress? How long will climate change deniers stay on message when hundreds of beach houses are swamped, and the farmland that made America rich is washed away or parched by erratic rainfall? 

Rightwing Worship of the State

First task for progressives: let's undermine the rightwing religion and worship of the State by questioning outdated national symbols that reek of the 19th C.  What about the school loyalty oath, called the Pledge of Allegiance, that smugly and incongruously confirms "justice and liberty for all"?  Does the national motto ("In God we Trust") not show its age, or perhaps just anticipates today's flagrant violations of state and church?  Or the nearly decimated Bald Eagle? 

We are awash with religious fundamentalists who translate "In God We Trust" to "In the Imperial State We Trust," totally distorting history and values.  Time indeed to take on the paramount contradiction: extremists worship a perfect State (in which Founders "ended slavery") yet despise elected Government, scorn majority rule and native-born presidents, even scoff at the wondrous diversity of our people, all the racial, ethnic, regional cultures known as Country.

To understand how these big words matter, and differ significantly, I look to a brilliant, political mentor, Randolph Bourne.  With his 1920 essay, "The State," this lucid WWI war protester assailed both the imperial American State and the system of states driving his rightly celebrated cri de coeur, "War is the health of the State."  Bourne shows best how a patriot can love Country, and admire good Government without selling out to the authoritarian, imperial, coercive State.

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Manifest Destiny, Writ Large

For Bourne, the enemy of the people, and the most expansive, global belligerent, is the mystical, symbol-laden, arms-crazed State, concentrating all the "autocratic, arbitrary, coercive, belligerent forces within a social group."  Unlike the empirical Government and visible Country, the State is a construct fired by sacred symbols that speaks to its divine, providential destiny.  Every prosperous State (or empire) proclaims God on its side, itself the chosen nationality destined by higher powers to lead, enforce, intimidate or cause havoc with unilateral, pre-emptive shock and awe (how novel).  So, does God switch sides when the once favored get run over?

Above all, Bourne separates the deified State from a physical, heartland "Country" -- that cultural geographic matrix into which all citizens are born, the context of whatever American community remains.  No one chooses a native Country, any more than we do family or home towns, but accepts citizenship unconsciously as an inherited birthright.  Not so with the jealous State, which demands anthems and rituals and formal pledges, mostly to symbols: "allegiance to the flag" and "to the republic for which it stands."   Tellingly, the Pledge is to the state, not the value-laden, humanistic Constitution or Declaration of Independence.  

Redemption in Love of Country

Bourne's notion of Country invests the best of our national documents and speeches, especially by Lincoln, TR, and FDR -- endorsing consent by the ruled and the sovereignty of the people that unifies the co-operative, universal goals, the sense "we-are-all-on-the-same-side."  Unlike declinable religious or family patterns, we absorb the "inescapable group in which we are born, and which make us its particular kind of citizen of the world . . . a fundamental fact of our consciousness, an irreducible minimum of social feeling."  Thus, for Bourne, fellow citizens are in theory in the same boat, neighborly partners who share language, geography, economics, culture and destiny -- "one for all and all for one."

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Unlike State or Country, though admittedly terms overlap, empirical Government focuses on the "machinery by which the nation, organized as a state, carries out its state functions," the "framework of the administration of laws," the "practical operation in the hands of definite, concrete, fallible" leaders. Though democratic leaders supposedly answer to majority rule, dominant political parties blunt the will of the people, commandeering the big decisions -- declaring war (now a presidential whim), deciding on spending and taxation (more or less, Congressional whims), or spending trillions to save the anything but a "free market" economy after meltdown (whims of the president and Congress, advised of course by top CEOs).

The State Glories in War

Thus, democratic governments float above the submerged State whose authoritarian, belligerent core peaks during saber-rattling and the frenzy of violent warfare.  Dictatorships forever try for equivalence between State and Country (thus fascist art forms).  "War is the health of the state" because that's when the State get away enforcing unflinching obedience as it deems necessary.  As a result, a paranoid warrior State disregards engrained rights, as when we incarcerated loyal Japanese in concentration camps.  

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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)

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