Archive for January 15th, 2008

State: The Truth

I mentioned yesterday that there had been little talk to date of what the implications would be for the British state to classify the ‘Troubles’ as a war, in particular what this might mean for consideration of the British state’s own actions.


Then, via Slugger O’Toole, comes a Dean Godson comment piece in which the following is observed.

The latest leak to emerge from this body is the dotty noion that it might ask the Government to admit that the British State was engaged in fighting a “war” against the IRA for more than 30 years. The Troubles were, of course, never a “war” – unless you subscribe to the Provisionals’ preposterous conceit that they are the legitimate government of the Republic.


There is good reason for the government not to admit that the British state was engaged in fighting a war. It does not seem controversial to point out that the British state had agents operating within paramilitary organisations, torturing and in some cases murdering people. As I noted yesterday, if paramilitaries could be accused of committing war crimes, then –and we are leaving to one side the often brutal actions of soldiers in uniform- the same accusation could be levelled against the British state.


Dean Godson provides the main objection to this notion:


The British State sought to prevent the violent overthrow of the legitimate constitutional order. A minority within the minority nationalist community sought to coerce the Province’s pro-British majority, and successive governments sought to contain them. If the British State had really been fighting a “war”, few of the Sinn Fein/IRA godfathers would have survived to tell the tale.


The source of the ‘legitimate constitutional order’ to which Godson is referring is the state itself. The state establishes itself as a necessary condition of everyday life, and as such has no need to justify its existence. It need only take the required actions to ensure it endures. In the Northern Ireland situation, there was no need for it to shell nationalist areas with tanks, since this would have rendered obvious the fact that, at root, the state had no legitimacy except that which it accorded itself through the threat of force, i.e. none really. For the state to endure, it merely needed people to consent to the idea of its legitimacy, and then tailor its actions accordingly.


What you had in the Northern Ireland situation was a sector of the population who were conscious of the fact that they were forced to obey the state, and accept the conditions it provided. The state imposed itself on them against their conscious will, and the consequences were subversion, insubordination, protest, violent insurgency and so on.


There is a temptation to make a case that nationalists should have been more accepting, compliant, and so on, in face of these impositions which, as it turned out, were not as bad as those obtaining in other places. But this case seems to require, at some level, recognition of the legitimacy of the state, the source of which, as pointed out earlier, is the state itself. To say this is not to provide justification for the IRA deciding to blow people’s heads off, but to point towards a more complex set of affairs than observations such as ‘the lion’s share of the atrocities was committed by terrorists’ suggest.


An alternative approach would be to argue that since the majority of people wanted Northern Ireland to exist as constituted, the minority ought to have submitted to the will of the majority, and any unlawful deviation deserved to be punished. For this approach to work, one must accept a priori the legitimacy of the state as constituted, in terms of its geographical limits, the institutions it authorizes, the functions it performs. I can no longer see how this approach will do.


If what I am saying above is correct, then there are implications for the workings of the Consultative Group on The Past. People want to find out about the events that destroyed their lives, but the group appears unable to operate effectively without the co-operation of the state, which means that its outcomes are in essence precluded by the exigencies of state. Given that it was set up by the government, this should not be at all surprising.


There appears to be some expectation that the state will, to some degree, ‘come clean’ about the nature of its past deeds. Yet this is unrealistic, since it will only do so to the extent that its legitimacy is not questioned. At any rate, the answers the Consultative Group will come up with will be in terms of what the state can do to make things better. There are better ways of doing things.

Democracy In Bloom

“Democracy, whether in Sweden or the United States, depends on the voter’s capacity to think. If you have read the best of what has been thought and said, then your cognition and understanding is on a much higher level than if you have read Harry Potter or Stephen King. So what this decline into half-literature and mediocre media really means is de facto a self-destruction of democracy.”

I don’t quite understand the reasoning here, Harold Bloom. If there is an absence of a capacity among the people to think, it follows that there is an absence of democracy. So how can an absence of democracy cause democracy to self-destruct?

The rest of the interview is worth reading, however:

I don’t understand the motivation for the war, but suspect the real reason for the war, which one would suspect of a country which is a third oligarchy, a third plutocracy and a third theocracy, is that it simply is a profitable machine.


I on Twitter

January 2008