August 29, 2013
In his famous essay, “War is the Health of the State,” Randolph Bourne made an important distinction between country and state. One’s country is “an inescapable group into which we re born.” As such, “there is no more feeling of rivalry with other peoples than there is in our feeling for our family.” Country is “a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live,” wrote Bourne.
The state, on the other hand, “is essentially a concept of power, of competition.” Conflating the two concepts – country and state – sends one into a hopeless and very dangerous confusion. For the history of the American country is one of “conquest of the land, of the growth of wealth, of the enterprise of education, and the carrying out of spiritual ideals.”
The history of the American state, by contrast, is one of “making war, obstructing international trade, preventing itself from being split to pieces, punishing those citizens whom society agrees are offensive, and collecting money to pay for it all.
In peacetime the state “has almost no trappings to appeal to the common man’s emotions,” wrote Bourne. The average citizen largely ignores the state. For example, at the outset of the American “Civil War” the only connection the average citizen had with the federal government was though the post office and paying about $45/year in taxes. This of course is considered to be a disaster or a calamity by all statists.
“With the shock of war,” however, “the state comes into its own again.” War is the health of the state. It is the reason given for high taxes, internal revenue bureaucracies, pervasive spying, censorship, military conscription, the abolition of civil liberties, heavy debt, an explosive growth of government spending and borrowing, extensive excise taxation, nationalization of industries, socialist central planning, massive public indoctrination campaigns, the punishment and imprisonment of dissenters to the state’s rule, the shooting of deserters from its armies, the conquest of other countries, inflation of the currency, demonization of private enterprise and the civil society for being insufficiently “patriotic,” the growth of a military/industrial complex, a vast expansion of governmental pork barrel spending, the demonization of the ideas of freedom and individualism and those who espouse them, and a never-ending celebration, if not deification, of statism and militarism.
The average citizen has no interest in any of this. The average citizen of a militaristic empire is nothing more than a taxpayer/supplier of cannon fodder in the eyes of the state. Therein lies the state’s biggest conundrum: How to go about getting the masses to go along with their own self enslavement as taxpayers and cannon fodder and cheerleaders for war. The answer to this conundrum has always been the crafting of a series of lies about the “imperative” to wage war. For as Bourne also wrote: “[A]ll foreign policy, the diplomatic negotiations which produce or forestall war are . . . the private property of the Executive part of the Government, and are equally exposed to no check whatever from popular bodies, or the people voting as a mass themselves.”
Most people are “rationally ignorant” of almost all of what government does, and they are the most ignorant about foreign policy. This allows politicians to lie nations into war with impunity, for they have always understood that “the moment war is declared . . . the mass of the people through some spiritual alchemy, become convinced that they have willed and executed the deed [of starting a war] themselves (emphasis added).” At that point “the citizen throws off his contempt and indifference to Government, identifies himself with its purposes, revives all his military memories and symbols, and the state once more walks in august presence, through the imaginations of men.” Most destructively, “the patriot loses all sense of the distinction between state, nation, and government.”
LYING AMERICANS INTO WAR