Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : Essays on Statism
(2003 - 2011)
The essays here presented, on capitalism, globalism, socialism and terrorism, are meant to show
- the conceptual emptiness surrounding, in general, the treatment of these themes, with recourse to all sorts of fallacies (material, logical, psychological) to support very shaky or plainly untrue statements;
- the factual dangers contained in some arguments, not only with respect to the safeguarding and development of personal freedom but also to the satisfaction of basic needs.
In other words, most of the debates on these themes are based on misleading polarities that are likely to push us towards oppressive alternatives.
Misleading polarities (^)
The current debate on these themes is focused on misleading polarities:
- Capitalism vs. Anticapitalism
Capitalism and anticapitalism are the poles of a stale, déjà vu alternative that survives even when neither of these phenomena seem to have anything to do with current reality, capitalism (free enterprise, free market) being a long-gone historical occurrence, and the anticapitalist front being a bunch (small or large) of nostalgic and romantic manufacturers of dreams or nightmares, depending if the advocated anticapitalist (i.e. antiliberal) panacea has or not become total reality.
- Globalism vs. Antiglobalism
Globalism and antiglobalism are the terms of a fake opposition that should have never become clashing options. Individuals are rich entities, whose lives and experiences take place at different spatial (global-local) and temporal (past-present-future) levels. The real issue and what is really at stake is the freedom of persons and communities to act, move and shape their lives everywhere as they wish, without absurd restrictions imposed by rulers of authoritarian organizations (i.e. the nation states).
- Socialism vs. Antisocialism
Socialism and antisocialism (or anticommunism) have both led to statism. Since the beginning of the French Revolution, the central aim of political parties and movements has been to reach state power. All, or almost all, have worked for the strengthening of the state apparatus. For this reason, the socialist-antisocialist opposition is totally illusory, the two stances having pursued and implemented on the whole, albeit with different slogans and stresses, the same policy.
- Terrorism vs. Antiterrorism
Terrorism and antiterrorism advocates share the same unsavoury zeal to impose on individuals the same totalitarian load of controls and limitations by means of the state. They might differ on which state, which rules and which ruling élite; but this constitutes more a formal than a substantial difference. In any case, they all are against the empowerment of individuals and their development towards autonomy.
If we really want to use the device of positing conflicting polarities,
we should at least present them rightly, with real actors and the real
In that case we would realize that the authentic issues are the classic ones of power and freedom. In particular, if we want to represent them as polarities, they refer to:
- national state vs. cosmopolitan individual
- political force vs. personal freedom.
It is only when we focus on the real issues that we can progress in the theoretical debate and in the practical implementation of solutions. Otherwise, from misleading polarities we are likely to fall into oppressive alternatives.
Oppressive alternatives (^)
Capitalism, globalism, socialism and terrorism are certainly not new phenomena.
If we have to turn to another historical period where these phenomena appeared
together, we could refer to the end of the 19th and the beginning of the
At that time, before the outbreak of the First World War, capitalism was still shaping society, globalism was pointing to a world without borders and terrorism, a part from some shocking assassination of political figures, was more in the mind of the wealthy strata, frightened by the advance of the working masses, than a diffuse relevant reality.
We all know how that "belle époque" ended. Firstly, with the start of the world war and then, with the installation of communism in Russia, fascism in Italy, national socialism in Germany, welfarism and dirigism in the U.S.A. (New Deal) and the U.K. (Welfare State).
These were all well
intentioned movements, to which many well intentioned people
gave their adherence and support.
Communism was against capitalist exploitation, fascism against plutocratic nations, national socialism against unemployment and the sorry state of the German masses, welfarism and dirigism against poverty and in favour of distributive policies.
If we overlook the final stage of these movements, some of them ending in horror (fascism and national socialism), some in shambles (communism), some barely getting along with debts and disrepute (welfarism and dirigism), and focus only on their beginning, we notice that all of them, at the start, promised to be the solution to many social problems (unemployment, inflation, despair, etc.) and were accepted, by the large majority of people, as the long awaited solution.
However, not everyone fell into the trap of considering these
movements as the way out of a series of problems, and certainly
not as the progressive one. This because, from the start, they
were all based on giving more and more power to a single organization (the
state), to a single ideology (statism), to a single group (the national
element within the national party), showing, at different levels and in
different forms, rejection, intolerance, violence against cosmopolitan
ideas and individuals, not in tune with that reality.
What all these statist experiences amounted to was the definitive death of capitalism already in decline, the complete degeneration and mystification of socialism, the total end of globalism and the suppression of most protest and dissent, equated in some countries to acts of subversion and sabotage, in one word, terrorism.
This was a regimented world, in which some (too many) people found themselves
perfectly at ease, where obedience was rewarded and free initiative repressed;
were the masses were celebrated and the individuals castigated. Society
became identified with the state, which became the originator, regulator
or director of every social endeavour.
It has then already happened in history that, from misleading polarities, people have fallen into variously oppressive alternatives (fascism, communism, dirigism), all of them amounting to the state taking over and dominating, in different grades and forms, the lives of individuals.
That was the age of statism.
Throughout most of the 20th century, statism has dominated, nearly everywhere,
individuals and communities, under various forms, from harsh dictatorship
to mild representative democracy.
After the Second World War, the major winners (USA and the Soviet Union) have been busy exporting their political statist recipes to the rest of the world.
Despite the differences, sometimes striking, in the way statism has been implemented, with stringent control and repression sometimes replaced by soft manipulation and more gentle pressure, there are nevertheless some aspects that are common to statism in general. These aspects will be now briefly pointed out, attributing to them a name and a parallel intended to make them more easily understandable.
- The Kid's approach
The Kid's approach to life and problem solving has been very well portrayed by Charlie Chaplin in the movie bearing the same name [1921, The Kid]. In that film we see the ingenious way of earning a living and gaining a reputation, put into place by the pair Jackie Coogan - Charlie Chaplin. The first (the kid) is a glass breaker, the second (his adoptive father) is a glass fixer. The first acts to prepare the terrain (i.e. to create the problem by breaking the window panes) in order for the second to appear and be welcomed as the providential saviour (to solve the problem by replacing the window panes). In the same way, in the course of history, the state with its policies (militarism, imperialism, protectionism, parasitism, etc.) has first created a series of gigantic problems and then has presented itself on the scene as the providential problem-solver, the only one with enough resources to tackle the worrisome/horrific situations it had itself engendered. And this ingenious trick has worked for decades and, for some/many (naive) people, it is still working nowadays.
- The Murdstone attitude
The Murdstone attitude is the one employed by David Copperfield's stepfather (Mr. Murdstone) towards the young David [1850, Charles Dickens]. It is an attitude of disdain and discouragement that keeps the other person always insecure and frightened. The aim is to block the development of the person in terms of self-confidence and to keep him/her in a state of permanent dependency, proving at the same time, in front of the entire world, how lazy, unreliable, improvident, devious, the person (each person) fundamentally is. This tactic, that has been also the one practiced by businessmen of the old guard, afraid of workers gaining too much independence and confidence, is the hallmark of statism and can work, effectively, only for statism.
As Elton Mayo's experiments at the Hawthorne factory showed [1945, Elton Mayo], letting personal responsibility, self-esteem, social interactions develop, results in higher productivity and this is what a business enterprise is mainly concerned with. On the contrary, in the case of statism, efficiency is not an issue because the state cannot go bankrupt being, at the same time, the owner of the till, the producer of the banknotes and the dispenser of the cash. For this reason, it can carry on surviving even with irresponsible and insecure subjects, and the more so the more it can justify its existence as the indispensable guardian.
- The Al Capone doctrine
The Al Capone doctrine is the one contemplating the fact that each territory has a boss and that a certain boss controls a specific territory. The one who dominates a certain area does not accept interferences (i.e. he exercises total dominion); his power might, nevertheless, be limited by the existence of a super boss that is the chief of all the "clans," and is, usually, the most powerful person in the most powerful clan.
In similar fashion, the world has been divided amongst nation states, with total sovereignty over their territory, sometimes limited by belonging to a specific area of influence that obliges the nation state to follow the instructions or impositions of the super boss (the super power).
These three aspects have represented the pillars of statism and have led,
in the past, to a series of disastrous events; it is then necessary to
be aware that, going back on the path of statism, from which we seemed
progressively distancing, could lead us to repeat past errors and horrors.
Past disasters and present perils (^)
At the beginning of the 20th century individuals and communities were
starting to savour the sweet taste of cosmopolitanism, while social scientists
were writing about economic internationalism that was "the most substantial guarantee of the development of a general policy of peace." [1906, John Hobson]
Less than ten years after these words were penned, the First World War brought everybody to another reality, and the reality can be summed up in one word: statism. To use a more elaborate circumlocution, from that moment onwards reality appeared to everybody as made up of states at war and filled up with all the restrictions of freedom associated with a state of war.
War was not the novelty. What came, perhaps, as a surprise, was not only the magnitude of the war but the fact that, notwithstanding the multiplication of world exchanges of people (mass migrations), goods (international commerce) and messages (via telegraph, telephone, and later the radio), the nation states, more than ever, were the dominant powers and, less than ever, had lost their dominant inclination, that is, to wage war.
So, during the second decade of the 20th century, the united forces of
militarism, protectionism, parasitism, succeeded in extirpating the seeds
of internationalism and cosmopolitanism and engendered a world dominated
by the nation states and their obnoxious policies.
The end results were tragic: genocides, wars, concentration camps, degradation of human dignity, alienation and much more.
All this can happen again.
Human beings have some basic traits, common to everybody irrespective of time (inhabitants of ancient Greece or contemporary France) and place (inhabitants of contemporary France or contemporary Japan). For this reason, history is not a mysterious book where indecipherable events and absolute novelties are recorded every day. In fact the historical process has the habit of repeating itself because human beings are likely to reiterate the same awful mistakes or to imitate the same successful stories.
It has been said that, not only does history repeat itself (Hegel)
but also that, what in the first instance comes as tragedy, occurs,
the second time round, as farce. [1852, Karl Marx]
At the beginning of the 21st century the united forces of militarism, protectionism and parasitism (in one word statism) reappear hidden behind the contemporary mass movements that have put on their banners and have filled their mouths with apparently new but deceitfully old messages: fight against capitalism, fight against globalism, fight against terrorism, all in the name of social justice. If we had just enough acumen and memory to see behind the banners and read between the lines, the real message would resound clear and loud: state and statism, now and forever.
We know already that similar messages, justifying and reinforcing the power of the state, have, in the past, led us to world wars and to innumerable and indescribable sufferings. It is then indispensable to ask ourselves where these, apparently new, messages are likely to push us. This is what we need to explore, simulating in our mind some possible scenarios.
The backward road: super statism (^)
As already pointed out, it is not by chance that certain movements appear
precisely at a certain point in history.
The end of the 20th century has seen:
- the loosening of economic dirigism in the countries of Western Europe (starting with the U.K.);
- the collapse of communist regimes (i.e. state supremacism) in the countries of Eastern Europe;
- the start of liberalization and consequent growth of some economic realities in Asia (from the Asian tigers to China and, lately, India);
- the abolition of apartheid (South-Africa), the downfall of dictators in many African countries and the first timid steps towards civil rights and freedom of movement and exchange;
- the development, all over the world, of communication technologies that are empowering individuals and communities.
What all this together amounts to is a weakening of the role of the nation
state which finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being under attack
from the top (international organizations and trans-national citizens)
and from the bottom (civic groups and individuals).
It is at this very moment that the anti-capitalism, anti-globalism and anti-terrorism instances appear (or re-appear) with more force on the scene and, quite appropriately, it is in the country that has most to lose from the emergence of a global village: the USA.
The gaining of some decisional power by global organizations (e.g. the World Trade Organization), the appearance on the scene of new global bodies (e.g. the International Criminal Court, for crimes against humanity) and global rules (the Kyoto protocol for the protection of the environment), the new more vigorous demands and actions for freedom and autonomy by small groups and individuals (in East Timor, in Palestine, in Chechnya, etc.), all these aspects, amongst others, have produced a series of shocks or, to say the least, surprises for big powers used to behaving like bullies, without encountering much opposition (unless it was interfering on another super-power turf). Now, big powers and, first and foremost, the American superpower, might find themselves increasingly reduced to a status like that of everybody else, subjected to fines and reprimands like everybody else (e.g. in August 2002 a 4 billion dollars fine imposed by the WTO on the USA Federal government for subsidies to exporters in violation of international trading rules) without, unbelievable but true, the power of vetoing unpleasant (for them) decisions.
No wonder that the American Federal government and the anti-globalization movement, the latter made up essentially of people from the old clique of domineering states, are dead set against international organizations. Some of them, like the International Monetary Fund, fully deserve scorn for its policies of idiotic austerity recipes (imposed upon society, that is upon individuals) matched by idiotic reckless lending (provided to the state, that is to the ruling élite). But the situation is different, and should be treated differently, when, as in the case of the WTO, the policy is one of trade liberalization.
On the contrary, Seattle
(November 1999 demonstration against the liberalization of
trade supported by the WTO) has been the place where the USA federal government,
with the help of the American press and the assistance of individuals and
organizations (e.g. the trade unions) fearful of losing jobs and wealth,
masquerading behind the disguise of philanthropic third world supporters,
have thrown the first spanner to block this dynamic of freedom (to move,
to trade) going out of (their) control.
The positions of the protesters and those of the state rulers are not always identical. Some protesters express a desire for total protectionism and nationalism and long for a way back to those days when the nation state, namely the nation bureaucracy, was in full control, distributing money (e.g. subsidies) and favours (e.g. jobs) to the nation subjects.
As for the state rulers, some of them realize that the current dynamic
(technological, economic, social, ecological, etc.) is too complex to be
mastered by a single state. They see that the risk for them is to become
insignificant or subordinate to the strongest state or group of states.
For this reason, what they are striving for is the establishment of Super
states or Blocks of states (European Union, NAFTA, Asean, African Union).
The target, at least in some people's minds, is the formation of super powers, like super fortresses, that vie one against the other, like the previous national states did, but with more clout and more chances to prevail and endure.
This is the Orwellian scenario [1949, George Orwell] that is
taking shape right in front of our eyes. This scenario appears
progressive, that is more in tune with current evolution, if
compared with the nationalist scenario of the most reactionary exponents
of the anti-globalization movement.
Nevertheless, the fact is that both these scenarios, the one postulating the nation state and the other promoting the continental super state, are based, at different levels, on the same attitudes of chauvinism, protectionism, illiberalism, in one word, statism.
If we do not act swiftly, it is possible that a strange combination
of pseudo socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-gobalist and so-called
anti-terrorist forces will lead us to a world made of a few Big-Brothers
Super-States, keen on manufacturing conflicts (the never ending
war of Orwellian memory) taking as pretexts the colour of the skin (black,
yellow, white), the religious inclination (catholic, muslim, hindu, etc.)
or whatever else might seem slightly convincing to minds previously frightened
and frenzied by state propaganda .
Already, under the vision of the clash of civilizations, the quasi inevitability of future conflicts is explained and made acceptable. The super states are already preparing the theoretical and practical ground in order to justify their existence in the 21st century and to rally, once again, their subjects under their banners, pointing to the usual, and so easiest, signs to distinguish the "enemy": physical appearances (race) and moral beliefs (religion).
If free thinking individuals do not start visibly linking and openly
networking in order to speak in favour of the global village, to rebel
against the imposition of passports and their condition of cattle in national
precincts, to denounce protectionist tariffs that provide cover for parasitic
interests; in other words, if individuals do not start exiting, mentally
and materially, from statism, the likelihood of a future world made of
clashing Super States should not be lightly discounted.
For this reason, in order to avoid the backward road of super statism, we need to present, with theoretical elaborations, and to prepare, with practical actions, the way ahead.
The way ahead: beyond statism & super statism (^)
The way ahead is a (long) journey beyond statism in all its past and (likely)
One of the main results should be the end of the superimposition of the state upon society and the re-emergence of the true original concept of society, that is an ensemble of communities composed of individuals and their multifarious relationships.
The identification of state with society has led to the idea that society is a reality on its own, an entity different from and superior to the individuals. A further consequence of this identification has been, firstly, the transformation of socialism into statism and, subsequently, the acceptance of statism as socialism. On the whole, this conception has bred, in too many cases, personal indifference and irresponsibility (it is not my concern, it is not my job to intervene, society will do it, a new law will sort out things, etc.). To try to mark a distinction with the still currently held idea of society=state, the word society should be explicitly associated with the word community. In any case, whatever the terms employed, both society and community should always be intended only as labels that refer to real human beings and their relations (e.g. action, communication) and never as entities in themselves.
The first steps beyond statism and super-statism will be a theoretical and practical striving for the:
- de-statization of individuals. Human beings at their birth should not become part of the state, as ascribed members, in the same way as they are part of a family. Family membership is a natural outcome that cannot be chosen; state membership is a personal choice that should be subjected to personal decision, such as joining a club or supporting a project.
- de-nationalization of territory. The territory (earth and seas) does not belong to any nation state but is owned and managed by individuals and groups, for the enjoyment of human beings of present and future generations.
- de-territorialization of communities. All communities are formed on a voluntary basis that has more to do with cultural and emotional feelings shared by the members than with physical space of location. Many communities will then be virtual communities, that is, composed by members living far apart in the world but still in close touch with each other.
Once these theoretical and practical steps are well under way, we will have left behind most of the deceitful and delusive ways of thinking and talking and tackling reality. At that point, the further way ahead will see fully functioning human beings participating and acting in
- open societies/communities
- networked societies/communities
- world societies/communities.
The open societies/communities (^)
Open societies are made of communities in which individuals are not restricted,
in any way, in their right to go and live and work anywhere in the world.
Moving in, settling down and building up an activity are certainly not
criminal or harmful endeavours, to be limited and controlled, as the rulers
of the nation states would lead us into believing. So much, that they have
set up detention centres where people, "guilty" of world trespassing, are kept until their fate is decided.
A closed society is, on the contrary, one in which there is an organization with monopolistic powers to fix top-down rules concerning roles, rewards, resources, without much of a thought about freedom or fairness. What is convenient to the clique in power becomes state law, superseding and trashing away any moral principle.
The open society is the one where not only nobody is in control of realities affecting other individuals but also, nobody can ever be in control because the richness (quality, quantity) of the variables of reality (individuals, relations, choices) is so high as to make it practically impossible for anyone (monopolist or oligarchic group) to be in charge of everything and everybody.
Open societies/communities are animated by free flows of individuals, artifacts, messages, within and between, and so are eminently networked societies/communities.
The networked societies/communities (^)
Networked societies are based on communities and individuals seen as small
flexible nodes, endowed with many swiftly accessible links. Like the synapses
of a brain, individuals in a networked society act and interact, freely,
from everywhere to anywhere. And the greater the number of active nodes
on the net, the more the likelihood of satisfactory links because the higher
the variety of combinations and so the possibilities offered by reality.
In fact, what counts in a vast network is not the size of the node but the quantity/quality of the interconnections. It is this that makes the node powerful. Furthermore, the fluidity to move, the agility to act, the freedom to invent, in short, the flexibility to operate, this is what matters in a networked society in order for everybody to develop and prosper.
A sound human being wants to be free from conventional thinking, fast to test new interesting ideas, flexible to respond to new pressing demands.
With reference to communities, free, fast and flexible are, usually,
qualities associated with smallness or with a humanly manageable size.
This means that in an open network there is more scope and sense for small
appropriate components and small creative units (nodes).
By contrast, the big dinosaurs (state bureaucracies and bureaucratic firms) of the statist era have reached the end of their existence. They will survive in some places where, for one reason or the other, the remnants of the statist period will take longer to disappear.
But, in the long run, as ideas and aspirations cannot be stopped forever by any wall, individuals living in a confined space under the power of the dinosaurs will realize that a better life could be built by breaking the wall.
And so, open networked societies will spread all over the world, so that those who desire so, might be part of world societies/communities.
The world societies/communities (^)
World societies/communities does not mean the existence of one gigantic
society with one world government (the World-State) as envisaged by H.
G. Wells [1933, H. G. Wells].
The expression world societies refers to the existence of a myriad of communities composed of individuals who, according to their wishes and inclinations, are able to tie up with and tap the entire spectrum of world cultures and world inhabitants. And all with the same extreme easiness, irrespective of physical or mental distance.
Within this outlook and practice, the often repeated antithesis between local and global should finally appear for what it is: the remnant of a past age and of an obsolete view.
The idea of the world as a global village has been around for quite a while. For instance, it appears as the religious message of universal brotherhood and world ecumene; it is present in the Stoics concept of a natural law common to all human beings; it is alive in the Kantian ethic of a cosmopolitan society. It has been, more recently, encapsulated in the image of the spaceship earth, in which we are all part of the crew and we are all responsible for steering it on a good course [1966, Kenneth E. Boulding].
There is no opposition whatsoever between local and global. In
fact, these are flimsy concepts derived from a frame of mind
based on territoriality. Now that close links could very well
be established amongst individuals living far apart, the concepts of local
and global lose all of their relevance and meaning as opposing options.
What is needed are world societies/communities that accept, accommodate and acclaim, at the same time, all the basic traits and tendencies of the human being [1948, Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray], that is
- Universalization (we are like everybody else: human-kind)
- Specification (we are like some others: group-kind)
- Personalization (we are like nobody else, i.e. unique: self-kind)
Many harmful and outworn habits of thinking and doing should fade away with the disappearance of the antithesis between local and global. What should survive and spread everywhere, even more vigorously, is the love and care of freedom. Because freedom is, at the same time, not only the indispensable means for any development, but also an end in itself.
Over 2000 years ago, in ancient Greece, a man called Aesop was recounting
his fables to all those who were willing to listen. In those fables he
was extolling the virtues of freedom and exposing the vices of tyrants,
and this is why Peisistratus, ruler of Athens and enemy of free speech,
had him condemned to death in 560 BC.
One of his stories, in particular, is very apt to portray the life envisaged by those who have assigned to themselves the mission to protect us from any real or presumed exploitation (anti-capitalist movement), risk (anti-globalization movement), fear (anti-terrorism movement), usually in the name of national socialism (i.e. statism) or national welfare (i.e. state interests).
In the apologue of the plump content dog and the hungry vagrant wolf, Aesop portrays two styles of life that could really be applied to the various actors dealt with in the previous essays.
One is the life advocated by the various anti-something movements; it is the life where, so called human beings are cushioned creatures under the wings of the so called nanny state: no risks, no pains, no surprises. In other words, the supposedly content life devoid of any meaningful content.
The other is life as an adventure, full of new experiences, exhilarating or dispiriting. In other words, the real life made of competition and cooperation, freedom and responsibility, enthusiasms and care, happiness and hardship.
And so, when somebody tries to enroll us in their fight for drab protection and dumb security under the heavy mantle of the Big Brother state, even if the promises were for real and not illusory as they have so often been, and even if we were in the most tumultuous and difficult situation, we should reply in the way Aesop would have liked us to do:
"... a dry crust with liberty will always be worth more than all the luxury a king with a chain could ever provide." [4th century B.C., Aesop]
[4° century B.C.] Aesop, Fables
 Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1977
 Lev Tolstoj, On Patriotism
 John Hobson, The Evolution of Modern Capitalism, The Walter Scott Publishing, London, new and revised edition 1916
 Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, The Kid
 H. G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come
 Elton Mayo, The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1957
 Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, Personality formation: the Determinants, in Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray editors, Personality in Nature, Society and Culture, Jonathan Cape, London, 1953
 George Orwell, Nineteen eighty-four, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1999
 Kenneth E. Boulding, The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth, in Beyond Economics, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, University of Michigan, 1970