state authoritarianism

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at umich.edu
Sun Jul 9 20:40:25 MDT 1995


This discussion of the limits and evils of state power seems to lack a
crucial - and very modern - element: the promulgation of supporting
fictions.  Premodern states might be limited by external forces (I won't
contest this now, accept as given) - but our states now generate "external
forces" to maintain and extend their power.  "Policy" is always fictive.
That there are so manye xamples to choose from tells us something - but
think of the blatant invention of the menace of Islamic fundamentalism: a
force essentially external to the US, whose contours are shaped by foreign
policy think tanks, the State Department, and corporate-owned mass media.
Or: Yeltsin's unsuccessful attempt to narrate a story of Chechen
mafia-nesting.  Or: Hitler's volk vs Jews.  The pomo fixation on current
fictions and the fictive nature of most institutional products misses, as
has been said, the crucial function of state mythography.  Orwell famously
writes of this - and we could call this phenomenon an iteration of
ideology.
	Further, the contract idea has always struck me as potent, rather
than deeply right.  I remember the first time I heard of the Rurik myth:
the Rus invited the Vikings to rule over them.  Same reaction to social
contract theory - what a scam!  The power of this idea to influence and
control - not so much in the hands of resistance movements, but in the
hands of the state - is clear and enormous, as well as fictive.
	In other words, I argue that the state is a machine necessarily
addicted to its own power, its maintenance and extension (and, as Marx
tells us, this last is literally intensive and extensive - I'll get the
cite if someone asks).  The state is based on INvoluntary power; myths of
voluntarism are just that, and are useful props.
	My apologies for delurking into such a belated thread.



Bryan Alexander
Department of English
University of Michigan
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