Denationalising the Mind
Feb. 16, 2020
So, in reality, we most certainly could abandon the state system, as I questioned earlier, but does that mean that we should do so? There are a litany of individuals and schools of thought that would undoubtedly say ‘yes’ to that question, both from the left and from the right.
One thinker, Gerard Casey, puts it — quite forcefully — in the statement :
‘States are criminal organizations. All states, not just the obviously totalitarian or repressive ones.’ … ‘ I intend this statement to be understood literally and not as some form of rhetorical exaggeration.’
Though left- and right-wing academics come to greatly different conclusions on how best to organize ourselves post-state, there is a general agreement that the nation is, as Max Weber explains , the ‘only human Gemeinschaft which lays claim to the monopoly on the legitimized use of physical force’. Whether this is used to extract taxes, as hated by the right, or force us into wage-slavery, as hated by the left, the state can use its physical power to commit acts unwarranted by the wishes of its citizens. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin takes Weber’s comments even further in claiming that :
‘If there is a State, there must be domination of one class by another and, as a result, slavery; the State without slavery is unthinkable.’
Both the slave-trade and wage-slavery were sustained and advanced by the all-controlling nature of the state, which, on a mass scale, keeps the slaves in line at the behest of the slave-owners.
Postcolonial theorists, of all the fields of thought, know the extent of this slavery the best. Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, for example, in his work Decolonising the Mind (the title of this article being a nod to this incredible book), makes it clear that:
‘imperialism is total: it has economic, political, military, cultural and psychological consequences for the people of the world today.’
The experiences that writers such as Thiong’o had of colonialism in Africa have taught them of the state’s uncompromising attitude towards power.
The grasp of Empire on the continent led to what he describes as an ‘alienation’, ‘like separating the mind from the body’ so that you end up with a society of ‘bodiless ( sic ) heads and headless bodies’. The state seizes one’s own body and mind, ripping off your head and stuffing it with the language, politics, culture, and values that it deems acceptable.
Frantz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth , picks up on this duality in determining that the inferiority of the colonized becomes an assumption and psychological reality of life under the colonial state.
The case against statism believes in our ability to govern ourselves , to go about our business without a bloated bureaucracy breathing down our neck. We should desire, in the words of proto-anarchist William Godwin, ‘that each man should be wise enough to govern himself’, since ‘government, even in its best state, is an evil’ .
Writing this in 1793, Godwin sees in the state nothing more than ‘a necessary evil for the present’, something to be momentarily put up with but which is nonetheless ‘ an usurpation upon the private judgement and individual conscience of mankind ’.
The controlling nature of the state stands in antithesis to self-governance, to autonomy, to freedom itself. Robert Paul Wolff, in his work In Defence of Anarchism , concludes nicely with the following :
‘If all men have a continuing obligation to achieve the highest degree of autonomy possible, then there would appear to be no state whose subjects have a moral obligation to obey its commands. Hence, the concept of a de jure legitimate state would appear to be vacuous, and philosophical anarchism would seem to be the only reasonable political belief for an enlightened man.’