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

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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."


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.  

What emboldened war-making manages is marry the permanent, mythic State with each less permanent Government administration -- allowing sharpies like W. (and now Obama) to take on the mantle of war president to enhance re-election.  Wartime also invites utter nonsense to go unchallenged, even W.'s bizarre, indefensible fiction, "we must fight them there so we don't fight them here."  Say, what?  Sort of like "bin Laden: dead or alive."


Unpacking the distinctions between the State, the Country and the Government is the best antidote I know against the manipulative misuse of language, history or logic (see any Palin tweet) rampant across the rightwing propaganda machine.  Bourne's distinctions provide the best defense against bullies using powerful State symbols to browbeat anyone or any idea they can't stand or don't want to understand. Doesn't the Birther nonsense presume an especially unAmerican loyalty test that blurs State with Country?  Obama doesn't look like "one of us," nor howl about American Exceptionalism with our pitch. So by definition he's not of "our" Country and shouldn't lead "our" Government -- which the righteous folks who run rightwing America must "take back."  As in 1920, the progressive task is to counter irrational worship of the State with genuine, grounded love of Country plus defense of the necessity of good Government. It's a plan.

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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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