If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 14 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
Never underestimate the power of the State to act out its own massive fantasies.
Don DeLillo (20 Nov 1936 – )
This best-selling author of often crime-tinted fiction set in the milieu of modernity and the modern world here personifies the state, and not in a very flattering fashion – but not with total inaccuracy, either. It’s an interesting device, this personification of The State – as old as the ancient Greeks (e.g., Socrates discussion with the State aka The Laws in Crito).
The State, then, like any individual, has its fantasies of various sorts, and unlike any (or most) individuals has the means or the wherewithal to translate fantasy into action. The State has for all practical purpose pretty much unlimited funds at its disposal, and the funds it does not have on hand it simply borrows in the name of its constituent units (aka citizens) and issues IOUs payable at some not terribly specific point in the future. And then The State — this supra-organismal entity — can go ahead and do as it wishes.
What kinds of things does it do?
It does all kinds of things, falling into various general categories – among them such activities as ‘securing its funding sources’, ‘protecting itself against violence from beyond its borders’, ’safeguarding itself from internal disruptions’, ’educating its constituencies’, ‘creating a cultural climate in which the arts might flourish’, ‘promoting business and manufacturing’, ‘supporting job creation’, … . Here the personification analogy does tend to break down, because although individuals secure funding sources in order to carry on, unlike The State they usually do not have the power to act out even minor – never mind massive – fantasies with impunity. Further, the individual is inescapably held accountable for what issues from the liberation onto the world of whatever fantasies live in her head, but how is The State … who is The State to be held accountable to anybody for anything that it does or is done in its name?
It is in this sense, at this free-floating nexus between The State and its citizens, that I see DeLillo’s comment coming into its own. Thus, even if one might be able to point to certain specific actors as inextricably involved in implementing any “massive fantasies” of The State, The State itself is as a matter of operational actuality above and beyond any kind of effectual accountability. It’s not like a business (e.g., Enron), where there are in fact actors whom the superordinate reality of The State can go after and hold accountable and punish – but in the case of a derelict activity by that very State, what superordinate reality above it can spring into anything like effective action, make a finding of accountability and then punish accordingly? And whom?
(I suppose that was supposed to be the point of some supra-national organization like the United Nations … well, need more be said?)
Yes, The State is in some sense its citizens but The State is just as much not its citizen, is something much more massive, more beyond control than its citizens. And history validates the folly of an underestimation — whether by internal friend or exterior foe — of its transactional power to ‘do’.