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SOME THOUGHTS ON THE NATIONAL STATE December 16, 2010

Posted by wmmbb in Duckspeak, Modern History.
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So what is the enemy in today’s world?

Julian Assange has been cast into the role of enemy by some spokespeople in the United States.

It turns out the statement, “we have met the enemy, and he is us,”, has an interesting history. Perhaps the implication of personal responsibility is suggested, rather than attribution to others in the first instance.

Wikiquote goes into the background of comment generally attributed to Pogo:

This is derived from the famous statement of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on the “War of 1812”: “We have met the enemy and they are ours”. It appeared in a “modern day” poster for the first Earth Day in April 1970, and next in the comic strip itself in August 1970 in Porky Pine’s mouth, and was re-used by Kelly in a subsequent Earth Day poster (1971), and further strips and in the title of the book Pogo : We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us (1972). A similar statement was actually used by Kelly many years earlier in his introduction to The Pogo Papers (1953) which he closes with these comments:

Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.
There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.
Forward!

It is interesting to notice that when Ronald Reagan said, “government is the problem”, in context he said something similar. From Wikiquote, from Reagan’s First Inaugural Address:

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.

It seems to me it is a reasonable point that government is not unproblematic, but it is another thing to say that government is either not necessary or not inevitable. The critical question is what form it assumes. Nor can it be successfully argued in the historical context, I suspect, that justice, the rule of law and by implication, human rights are possible without government, and nor was that argued by the great eighteenth century declarations in France and the United States. I think they were proposing that the absence of government led to tyranny, and it seems to me that was the charge against Charles I in England that generated the development of the common law framing, in part, to create a context for the American Republic, and inevitably constitutional monarchies such as Australia.

So I think there is something very wrong with the assertion that government is the problem without an appreciation of the hundreds of years of often bitter experience that went into it formation. Those who were designated as traitors or apostates were not simply killed but were objects of gruesome anatomy lessons for the onlookers or else indifference burnt alive. The courage of those who could face the prospect with equanimity gave rise to the principle of conscience. Individuality is fully expressed by those courageous individual who act on the basis of conscience.

And yet effective government, certainly effective democracy, has to be on a human scale. It is often difficult in groups of people, however similar they may in general rather than individual characteristics, to work together in an effective way without the skills of leadership available to smooth the path. Processes in small groups can be overridden. Efficiency can be accorded a higher value than effectiveness. Appearance becomes seen as substance. One suspects that the meeting house in which truth was understood to come from any of its members was the most authentic expression of the democratic inspiration. And it is notable that the statement of Buffcoat, the common soldier at Putney in 1647 in the context of the swirling grievances of soldiers without pay and recognition, was not merely noted by taken his superior. And who was to pay soldiers?

Government assumed a national level. Higher levels of government, as has been the pattern in the Australian Federation, principally (although perhaps not entirely) because of war and the needs of economic management have gathered the purse strings and political dominance. This observation points to the fact that national governments are inextricably linked to the war system. Nor is it the case that State Governments are powerless, especially in relation to planning where ministerial prerogative coupled with the concept of the sovereignty of parliament, an understandable reaction to the claims of Charles I, and the derogation in absence of rights of local government a legacy of the inherited English system. The struggle to frame citizen empowerment at a local level in the face of the ministerial accountability and prerogative power never quite succeeds, fails abysmally or become a crude, even covertly corrupt, process despite the moral hazard of good intentions formulated by such institutions as the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

And yet the system of national states are part of a system of war. In recent times, it can be observed that lawlessness has characterized behavior of nation states and others who are held to be both unaccountable and nontransparent. Brave declarations, such as at Nuremberg, but these principles can be conveniently forgotten. The horrors of the Second World are a distant memory and the horrors of the present wars are mostly not seen, witnessed by those other than their victims, or not imagined. Violence and lawlessness march hand in hand together in their macabre dance of death and indifference to human decency.

It is a foolish notion to suppose that in the absence of apparent institutions of government that no government exists. We are the contemporary witnesses to the state power, sometimes powerlessness or at least abnegation, as for example in relation to the integrity of the courts of Germany, Spain, and possibly Britain, but also the alignment of corporate power and the military complex that has superseded national boundaries, and draws, for example, Australian politics into it maw.

So the international system, in a world determined by so-called national interest is both violent and undemocratic. Those who would argue for the bucolic, unhistorical, cowboy economy and ideal, oblivious for example of the relevant indigenous histories, are, it seems to me arguing for the status quo. The situation is profoundly dysfunctional, evidenced in the substantive failure, as distinct from incremental steps and good intentions of Copenhagen and Cancun.

When the problem is us, then the solution is us, or at least that is a place to start, even if the impediments will be hard to push aside. Processes take time. How much time is there?

(Allow, as you might reasonably, for further development and even changes of mind, as I start to think about what is to be done.)

POSTSCRIPT:

I was interested by this conversation on “Morning Joe”:

ELSEWHERE:

The ICC has a selective jurisdiction, applying only to lesser lights, so as to contradict the rule of law. Those responsible for the deaths of over one thousand people and the displacement of 500,000 as occurred after the 2007 elections in Kenya certainly warrants investigation and if necessary indictment. Impunity should not be extended to any person or institution.

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