Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pernicious State

Government is more than a territorial monopoly on aggressive force. It’s also the heir to a centuries-old manufactured mystique, reinforced through its schools and other institutions, regarding its sanctity and sacrosanctity. The mystique is generated by and tends to manifest itself in the dogma that one’s State is uniquely virtuous and deserves to be judged by standards applicable to no one and nothing else. This is hardly less true of secular states than it was during the time of the divine right of kings. In some important ways, people have not gotten over that principle.

It long been recognized that governments cannot reign merely through brute force. There are too few rulers. So they need help in achieving popular compliance, and they find it in ideology. It is state ideology, the indispensable dogma, that creates the aura of sanctity. Where once people believed the ruler was the deity’s representative, in today’s democratic republics, they believe their rulers are their representatives. But it’s the same scam, perpetrated by rulers and their high priests in the intelligentsia, to maximize subordination and minimize resistance.

Ideology in this context means something much deeper than what is usually meant. It does not refer to the approaches known as “conservatism” and “liberalism,” or the differences between those who want “big government” and those who want “limited government.” It refers rather to the deeper view that The State with its authority to threaten and wield violence is indispensable and intrinsically virtuous, as nothing else can be. Therefore it is not to be judged as we judge other people and institutions. When someone does wrong in office — a Nixon, say — it is chalked up as an abuse of power. Power itself is beyond reproach.

As I said, this mystique is taught and reinforced in the government’s schools, which goes far to explain why governments want to control education. But other institutions stand ready to support The State — that is, the permanent regime that endures regardless of party or personality. The establishment news media are among its chief boosters and conveyors of the dogma. Their owners and personnel have career and financial reasons for not questioning the government’s ultimate authority, but they also have the same reasons most other people have: their acculturation included indoctrination in the official dogma.

For those who wield power and those who profit by being near it, the system works well. If you seek evidence, look around. Notice, to pick the most recent example, how this week’s naval run-in with Iran was received. Two U.S. naval boats entered Iranian territorial waters. The 10 sailors aboard were picked up by the Iranian navy. They were freed the next day with a conciliatory statement. Even though the U.S. government early on acknowledged that the boats had violated Iranian territory (with shifting explanations), the news media played down that fact as long at they could and spent their time trying to inflame the public about this affront to America. When Iran released video of the sailors being taken into custody — on their knees with their hands behind their heads —  and of a sailor apologizing for the “mistake” — while the others sat on the floor, the one woman among them wearing a headscarf — we were informed by CNN and no doubt the other outlets that we ought to be shocked and humiliated. And undoubtedly many Americans were. (Judging by the responses to my skeptical tweets, people were fuming.)

Since the media were slow to inform us that the armed boats had crossed into Iranian waters near the militarily sensitive Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf (a long way from the United States), viewers and readers could rail against Iranian “aggression.” But once word got out that it was the United States that had violated Iranian territory, the outrage did not subside. In other words, it didn’t matter what the U.S. military did. America could not be at fault regardless of what had happened. Under no conceivable circumstances could anyone be justified in detaining American sailors or expecting an apology from the United States. Doing so is a casus belli. (The U.S. government refused to apologize to Iran in 1988 after the Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 274 people, during Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s U.S.-backed war against Iran. Then-Vice President George H. W. Bush said at the UN, “I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are.”) That Barack Obama did not respond firmly to Iran this week — militarily or at least by suspending the scheduled relaxing of sanctions under the Iran nuclear agreement — was grounds in many people’s eyes for calling him an appeaser.

Don’t expect people to ask what they would be saying if the tables were turned and Iranian boats had entered U.S. territorial waters. No, that would imply there is one standard for all — and that would violate the official dogma, which in the American variation means the United States is the exceptional nation: it alone gets to make and enforce its own rules. Territorial waters, especially ours, are for other countries to respect. It’s instructive to contemplate that had Iranian boats crossed into American waters and a president responded exactly as the Iranian regime did — freeing the unharmed sailors the next day — in some quarters that president would have been accused of appeasement. Many Americans would be too caught up in war fever to demand an apology.

The unconscious hypocrisy was extended when Iran was accused of violating the Geneva Conventions and international law generally by showing the sailors and the apology on television. (The Geneva conventions apply only in wartime.) All of a sudden Americans are sticklers for international law, which mattered little when the U.S. government was launching illegal wars of aggression (still being waged), torturing prisoners, and indefinitely detaining suspects seized far from any battlefield. (Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions forbids torturing any prisoners, uniformed or not.) In the eyes of most Americans, the American State can do that and anything else — because it’s the American State.

This is where The State leads. A self-declared and self-enforced monopoly on force is bound to generate a self-perpetuating dogma that induces people to suspend their critical faculties and countenance a double moral standard, not to mention atrocities. Those are sufficient grounds to work for the abolition of The State.

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail