Bryan on state authoritarianism
Bryan A. Alexander
bnalexan at umich.edu
Wed Jul 12 12:04:47 MDT 1995
Good question. Heh - if I answer it in one way, I lose my argument:
i.e., if I agree that there are differences among state forms, then I must
accept some sort of popular or extra-state group power that influences and
hence helps constitute the state... So to avoid this: my picture was too
hasty and simple. I left out: everyone the state rules over/against.
This group - for the sake of this message and brevity, I'll call it the
polis - always resists the state, to varying degrees and forms, of course.
The state must modulate its form based on the corresponding forms of
pressure it receives and counters. So the American tradition of popular
democracy as seen in *actual* New England town hall meetings (not without
problems, mind, but better still than nearly all else) must be supplanted
with the spectacular nightmare version of "electronic town hall meetings".
The Soviets had to work with, then over, soviets. Unions need to be
accounted for depending on their energy and strength. Etc. Part of this
strategy is the state myth or ideology, the part that co-opts: "See, we
have a Labor Ministry, therefore we care about workers," etc.
One effect of this is what I call doubling or the formation of the
doppelganger. The state holds the preeminent place in society (against
the aforementioned polis). Those who resist it must, as in all warfare,
adapt their forms to meet those of the state. So that even in the rare
occurences when enough of the polis wages enough of a struggle to overturn
the state, that struggle is so dependent on the state form that the latter
must be immediately reconstituted. This is of course a cliche - "New
boss, same as the old boss" - but cliches are all too often a sign of
supressed, rather than disproven, social knowledge. Contra Baudrillard,
we see doppelganger appearing all over fiction in the Romantic era in
Britain, the US, and Germany, each one offering a take on this form of
social reproduction. (Baudrillard doesn't think this can happen until
after 1945) Curiously, these texts are usually ignored - the literary term
"doppelganger" is most often illustrated by examples from Poe (1845) at
the very earliest, usually Stevenson, de Maupassant, or Ewers' film. Go
back to Egypt for this trope: the pharonic double, ka, had to be killed,
lest it haunt and ravage the land (NB: *not* overturn the status quo and
So the state form creates its own hauntings that might murder one
instance of it, but are doomed to repeat the concept.
Department of English
University of Michigan
On Tue, 11 Jul 1995, jwalker wrote:
> I think I agree with much of your recent post. The contract idea has
> been much abused -- employed as a rationalization for all sorts of
> abuses. Many states do seem addicted to their own power and show a
> tendency towards increasing it and consolidating it by any available
> means, including propaganda and what you call "mythography".
> But do you really think that "voluntarism" is merely a myth, and the
> contract idea just a scam? I for one find it hard to reject altogether
> the idea that in order to be legitimate, state power must be rooted in
> some way in the consent or will or agreement (maybe only hypothetical) of
> the people who are subject to it.
> It strikes me that to reject this idea in its general form is to embrace
> authoritarianism wholeheartedly, as well as to undercut any support the
> idea of democracy might have had.
> John D. Walker
> jwalker at email.unc.edu
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