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Aug 1, 2008

The Immorality of the State

In discussions related to how people judge the morality of various governments, including Taiwan's, the US's and China's, one fact is always ignored.

The State's only drive is to preserve itself. In rare cases this leads to some peaceful, neutral and economically powerful State (as in modern Northern Europe or Switzerland). In most cases it leads to the government visiting ruin on rival States, its own population or both.

The below essay by Bakunin discusses the immorality of the state as an institution. The article in full gives you a much better sense of it, but I'll also take a few paragraphs as below:

by Mikhail Bakunin [1814-1876]
From "The Political Philosophy of Bakunin" by G.P. Maximoff
1953, The Free Press, NY


...Every State, whether it is of a federative or a non-federative character,
must seek, under the penalty of utter ruin, to become the most powerful of
States. It has to devour others in order not to be devoured in turn, to
conquer in order not to be conquered, to enslave in order not to be enslaved -
for two similar and at the same time alien powers, cannot co-exist without
destroying each other....

This transcendent, super-human, and therefore anti-human morality of States is not only the result of the corruption of men who are charged with carrying on State functions. One might say with greater right that corruption of men is the natural and necessary sequel of the State institution. This morality is only the development of the fundamental principle of the State, the inevitable expression of its inherent necessity. The State is nothing else but the negation of humanity; it is a limited collectivity which aims to take the place of humanity and which wants to impose itself upon the latter as a supreme goal, while everything else is to submit and minister to it....

Therefore what do we see? Every time a State wants to declare war upon another State, it starts off by launching a manifesto addressed not only to its own subjects but to the whole world. In this manifesto it declares that right and justice are on its side, and it endeavors to prove that it is actuated only by love of peace and humanity and that, imbued with generous and peaceful sentiments, it suffered for a long time in silence until the mounting iniquity of its enemy forced it to bare its sword. At the same time it vows that, disdainful of all material conquest and not seeking any increase in territory, it will put and end to this war as soon as justice is reestablished. And its antagonist answers with a similar manifesto, in which naturally right, justice, humanity, and all the generous sentiments are to be found respectively on its side....

This explains to us why ever since history began, that is, ever since States came into existence, the political world has always been and still continues to be the stage for high knavery and unsurpassed brigandage - brigandage and knavery which are held in high honor, since they are ordained by patriotism, transcendent morality, and by the supreme interest of the State. This explains to us why all the history of ancient and modern States is nothing more than a series of revolting crimes; why present and past kings and ministers of all times and of all countries - statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors - if judged from the point of view of simple morality and human justice, deserve a thousand times the gallows of penal servitude....

What is permitted to the State is forbidden to the individual. Such is the maxim of all governments. Machiavelli said it, and history as well as the practice of all contemporary governments bear him out on that point. Crime is the necessary condition of the very existence of the State, and it therefore constitutes its exclusive monopoly, from which it follows that the individual who dares commit a crime is guilty in a two-fold sense: first, he is guilty against human conscience, and, above all, he is guilty against the State in arrogating to himself one of its most precious privileges.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I've often thought about this. The fact that history proves nations to be as such, though, does not mean that this is an intrinsic quality of a nation.

As I think Jeffrey Sachs has done a very good job of pointing out, it is becoming more and more apparent that the well-being of other nations, not the their subjugation, is in every other countries best interests.

I think, for my generation, the biggest question in terms of nations is to figure out where national governments fit in a world with blurred borders.