Saturday, January 28, 2006

Special Analysis:
The Inconsequential Citizen, the Inconsequential State

At The Dark Wraith Forums, the most recent Open Thread has generated an extraordinary if complex and at times contentious discussion spanning dozens of individual comments. At length, the conversation turned to the matter of the individual state—the fundamental unit of account in sovereignty—that benefits or suffers from the actions of the several other states in their collective and unilateral actions. Is it then moral or is it immoral in absolute principle for a state or group of states to impose will upon another state or group of states; or is "morality" irrelevant when the only actionable mechanism of imposition is through power?

I offered there, and herewith repeat in augmented form, a perspective that uses the social contract between the individual and a free society as the analogue of consequentiality of the state in a world of many sovereignties.

Within the ranks of what could be described as the "liberal societies" of the past several hundred years are found several distinct threads with regard to the relationship between the state and the citizen thereof. In one mode, a democratic construction leads to the full expression of the person within that state. The dilemma comes when deciding whether that person as an individual is relevant: in other words, does the individual exist wholly separate from his state, or is he infused of and animated fully by it?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed that, were the individual allowed his or her free reign—including as that would the right of private property, etc.—the state would degenerate into a fanfare of individual greeds, the most powerful interests of which would rule, and the remainder of which would consume one another in an endless progress of avaricious devices.

Unfortunately, a prescription fulfilling Rousseau's thinking was proposed by Karl Marx, who was unabashed in the relevance of the whole at the expense of the dispensation of each person within it.

Unfortunately, again, the alternative—the one of which Rousseau warned—was the dominance of the individual at the expense of the permanent subordination of the state. Henry David Thoreau, if in rude and callous fashion, expressed unwaivering opposition to any form of government that moved to express power over him. His became one of many touchstones to the mode of modern states that recognize individual power and, more importantly, the individuation that naturally arises from a state so circumscribed. Mahatma Ghandi, for example, would surely not have endorsed an anarchic state of equilibrium virtually endorsed by Thoreau, yet Ghandi quoted him and described him as inspirational. At its face, that seems impossibly contradictory, since the father of modern India certainly anticipated the power of the state being brought to bear on ancient, brutish institutions of classism. The resolution comes in imagining that a powerful form of the liberalism of modernity is expressed in its expectation of and effort to achieve a state that is directed solely to the end of ensuring personal liberty and freedom of action within a minimal shell of common and statutory laws that ensure not much more than civil order and domestic tranquility.

That, however, might not be enough. In this configuration, the state really does exist as an entity—subordinate though it may be—separate from the individual governed by it. And therein lies the knot: to function effectively within a larger sphere of states, some of which might have constructive relationships to their own citizens entirely other than ours, the liberal state must act. Regardless of how it conducts its affairs of state, it must act separately from its citizens, even if it is acting upon their will, as expressed through democratically elected representatives, through recent revolution, or otherwise. It must still act, and that's where the disturbing idea of "inconsequentiality" of citizens as individuals, as groups with common interests, and even in some circumstances as aggregates with voting power comes into play.

I address this matter as a fierce individualist. Part of that individualism is a repudiation of the state as having the right to unduly harm inalienable rights I was conferred by birth within its borders. I must then come to terms with my inconsequentiality, and I do so as such: the state must fully, at all times, and in all matters recognize the rights I am granted by the Bill of Rights and by such interpretations rendered thereupon by the Courts of the land. In exchange for freeing the state of the burden of having to carry out duties requiring that it use its treasure to control, compel, or otherwise demand of me that which would expend its treasure, its time, and its attention, the state may then regard me as inconsequential as an individual. By extension, I anticipate that the state will in all of its affairs external to these sovereign borders work to the end of recognizing the same configuration through whatever devices by which it comes to have power over other peoples of the Earth.

This way of statecraft is at peril: neo-conservatism—what has been called "neo-liberalism" in some quarters—takes this all as ample and sufficient justification for adventurism abroad and the unavoidable consequence of repression in the homeland. That such malevolent misapplication of principle is the neo-conservative's first and exclusive tendency is not an indication of conceptual flaw in liberalism, but rather a sharp beacon of caution to the danger of allowing any person without deeply humanistic grounding to ever be allowed power beyond his or her crippled ability to grasp its proper, just, and effective use.

That having been noted, be the affection through commerce, militarism, or other project, if the state will at every turn respect and recognize that each affected individual throughout the world merits the trajectory toward and achievement of the expansive rights idealized by liberalism, the state will have not only the respect of the peoples of other lands, but will also be the envy of other states as they in their components, alliances, and aggregate find that they, like we, are inconsequential to the greater goal, which is the sovereign state at peace with its own; and thus by virtue of inconsequentiality, both the nations and the peoples of the world become free.

The Dark Wraith has spoken.

This article is based upon comments and articles at The Dark Wraith Forums.

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