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Against The State: A Polemic During A Pandemic

If there is one thing that the past four years have taught us, it is that Western democracy is imploding at a rate that its defenders could not foresee, and that they will turn out to be powerless to stop.

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Against The State: A Polemic During A Pandemic

If there is one thing that the past four years have taught us, it is that Western democracy is imploding at a rate that its defenders could not foresee, and that they will turn out to be powerless to stop.

Why? The answer is simple: we have not taken the core lesson of philosophical anarchism to heart. Instead, we nurtured the State, in the false hope that it would—via representative democracy—act in our best interest. Or: we kept a rabid dog, in the hope that it would not bite us.

Instead, the State (i.e. the governmental, organizational structure that supports civil institutions, and uses coercion to enforce its commands and laws) has turned into the Hyper-State, i.e. its own thing-in-itself or noumenon, jointly constituted by the unholy trinity of (i) elected officials, (ii) large corporations, and (iii) military or law-enforcement-based coercive firepower, all supported by (iv) digital technology.

Just as the French anthropologist Marc Augé coined the term “hypermodernity” to describe how the swift development of modernity accelerated beyond what was imaginable from within the confines of “normal” modernity, so too is the Hyper-State a development of the State that cannot be imagined from within the State itself.

Just like the citizens of a free democracy cannot imagine what it is to live in a dictatorship, so too can the citizens of a State not (yet) imagine what it is to live in a Hyper-State. Yet, the last years, we got a bitter taste of it, and all over a sudden, (fictional) accounts of the everyday life during dictatorships by Orwell or Solzhenitsyn seem to be uncomfortably accurate.

A governing body that was established to represent the electorate has turned against those who forcibly maintain it by way of taxes and obedience. If those Hyper-State-enforced measures fail, they turn to blackmail, moral pressure and when all this fails, they will without hesitation turn to coercion and violence.

However, before we arrive at that point, the war that the Hyper-State directs against its citizens has up to that point already been waged with different means. And the ubiquity of digital media, virtual troll armies as well as the manipulation of complex statistics are their prime weapons. They streamline fear and undermine the capacity for organization and self-sufficiency in order to keep the citizen dependent on a superstructure that grows like a parasite on his back.

The so-called “welfare” Hyper-State of Europe, the “minimal” Hyper-State of the US, and the authoritarian Hyper-States of the Middle East and Asia have but one goal: to stay in power at all costs. In the western world, citizens are told they have rights, and to save face, the State might even act on those rights—if only occasionally. It may, so to speak, occasionally punish itself. But who are we fooling? This charade serves the same goal as parading the poor sod who wins the lottery in front of television cameras, showing his gob smacked face while an overenthusiastic presenter cajoles him into being his most grateful self. The lottery has to show that there is hope, after all. It has to show that it could happen to you, even if the chance is vanishingly small.

So, too, must the Hyper-State show that it has the capacity for moral self-reflection. However, the fact that it makes such as show of it betrays the ultimate goal of the exercise. For every time that the Hyper-State punishes itself, it leaves other books unopened, other citizens deprived of their rights, and its ceaselessly operates further according to its own submerged logic.

An adequate definition of an Hyper-State, State, or State-like structure is: any social-institutional entity that issues commands and laws for all those people and other social institutions it regards as falling under its jurisdiction, whose obedience to those commands and laws is enforced by coercion, while simultaneously exempting itself from the very commands and laws that it dictates. The Hyper-State is moralistic to the highest degree, even to the point that it invokes a deity as the reason for its very legitimacy and existence. “One nation, under God”: never has such a lie been told, apart from the folly that an all-powerful, all-knowing, essentially good Deity oversees our every action.

But the Hyper-State is a metaphysical black hole, hidden by the lies it propagates to counter its continuous, freedom-undermining actions. So it happens that the Hyper-State claims that we cannot organize ourselves without its aid; that we would be continuously at one another’s throats were it not for its benevolent protection; that civil order would not exist without it; and that large-scale services like sewage, banking, and exploitation of land could not take place without the watchful eye of those in power.

Recently, we have been told that all kinds of woe will befall us if we are not under the benevolent surveillance that is aimed to keep us safe; and that we can never be truly happy without the safety nets it provides. All these are lies. It becomes all the more apparent when we write it out in a simple argument-sequence:

Premise 1: Without the Hyper-State, any form of human organization is impossible

Premise 2: Without such organization, large scale services cannot be realized

Premise 3: Without large scale services, civil society falls apart

Conclusion: Without the Hyper-State, civil society falls apart

It is immediately apparent that Premise 2 is a “suppressed premise”, an unexamined linking pin in-between two statements that is assumed, but not argued for. Furthermore, Premise 1 is an outright lie. People have been organizing themselves for millennia, long before any State-like structure came along. That is not to say that such societies lacked forms of social organization or (moral) authority; these organizational formats just looked nothing like the modern state that took shape during the 19th century.

Back now to the argument: the suppressed second premise concerns the favorite legitimization that Hyper-States use, besides claiming that God more or less was involved in their conception. Who, in the absence of Hyper-States, could organize and mobilize individuals and companies to work together in creating and maintaining road networks, healthcare, police forces, sewage systems and electricity systems? The answer is—and the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic shows it clearly—that Hyper-States are as much hindrances to cooperation as enablers of it.

Companies, groups of individuals, NGOs, and voluntary collectives can organize themselves quite well. The only thing we need to keep in mind has to do with the scale of things: Hyper-States can organize on a large scale because they own territories and coercively enforce their rules. But if a system were in place that provided minimum rules for cooperation and that encouraged a social organization geared towards working together, any Hyper-State, State, or State-like institution would be superfluous. If each of us enacts his or her role as cosmopolitan citizen, a State is not necessary. But – and here’s the rub – not everyone acts in this way.

And so, the Hyper-State provides us with a State: this is a conglomerate of governmental services that is financed by our collective tax income—and thus by the efforts of our labor. In its most benign form, the State provides indeed a form of protection: it sees to it that contracts are honored, that crimes are punished, and that roads and sewers are maintained. But why should we be grateful for this? We paid for it. It is not as if the State accumulates any additional rights by doing what we established it to do in the first place. Yet, the civil servant may make the citizen feel how he is dependent on the goodwill behind the rules. The law, after all, must be interpreted, and no one is better suited to hide behind the barriers of bureaucracy than the State employee.

The State is a simple mere appearance or Schein—usually in the guise of a service-oriented state employee, a neutral, official façade, or alternatively, a giant smiley-face, that hides its inherent coercion and violence just below the surface. The State hides its thing-in-itself, while the Hyper-State does what it always does: amass power that it does not intend to give back. No conspiracy theory is required to support this point. A simple overview around the globe of what Hyper-States have done over the last decades will suffice. The USA has used its trillion-dollar industry to fuel a trillion-dollar army that started countless wars during the 20th century; China aims to have one camera per two citizens installed, alongside advanced facial recognition; seemingly civilized Europe made deals with ruthless dictators in Turkey and North Africa to keep refugees out; Russia annexed Crimea. Saudi-Arabia wages a gruesome war against Yemen with imported weaponry. And many states have been involved in needlessly prolonging the Syrian civil war to gain influence in the area. And this is just a short list.

The word “anarchy” makes people think of lawless disorder and political terrorism; stone-throwing insurgents and mob violence—and above all, the absence of civil society and its accompanying civil order. Nothing is further from the truth.

Even if we take the most pessimistic classical Christian or Hobbesian view and hold that human nature is inherently inclined to do evil, we still have a strong case against the Hyper-State. Even if we were all evil, that would be the best argument against a Hyper-State. After all, such an entity must necessarily be made up of human beings, whom we just said were evil. If there is one thing you don’t want, it is to set up evil people with the financial means, the moral legitimacy, the firepower and the institutions to order the rest of us around. If the State is there to protect us from human evil, it should not be run by humans. As long as it is, it will evolve from a State into a Hyper-State.

And as long as human beings tell us they are not evil, we can by virtue of the first assumption (they are evil!) only assume that they are lying. And if they are lying, then they are unfit to lead, guide or otherwise control us.

Even if we assume that the human beings trying to convince us of their goodness are for once not lying (acting against their nature, as it were), we do not have any guarantee that they will continue to tell the truth once they are in power and unassailable. Again, this makes them unfit to lead, guide or otherwise control us.

So, the claim that we require a Hyper-State to protect us from the evil of humanity is self-undermining, and gives the entire game away. The only thing we can rely on is a collective self-organization that represents our interests, but that must be prevented at all costs from growing into a Hyper-State. The task of anarchism, then, is not to proclaim the next revolution, but to think about what happens after we have collectively rid ourselves of the Hyper-Statist manacles of the past.

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Otto Paans

Published a month ago