In so doing I have re-read a few classical thinkers who some may describe as anarchist who contest the very nature of the state and the contradictory impulse to seek order through violence or at the very least, the threat of force.
One such classical thinker is Leo Tolstoy. Though Tolstoy never described himself as an anarchist his resistance to the state and its layered class/race oppression is a staple of anarchist thought.
Last night I read parts of his "The Kingdom of God is within you" (1894) and it inevitably made me think of the respect that Gandhi had for Tolstoy especially where it concerned notions of passive resistance.
I want, however, to spend more time in thinking through the notion of the state as a purveyor of inevitable violence. The reason for this needs little explaining since the evolution of the state has not decreased the tendency toward violence but in fact it has increased the intensity of violence.
More people have died at the hands of those who direct the state and its interests than can be reasonably said to have died before the invention of the state.
I came across this quote from Tolstoy and it made me stop to think about the sense/reason we construct to protect the state; the lengths to which we will go to hold onto the disorder it foments:
"The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded."American patriots come to mind when I read this but it does not stop there in its exacting deconstruction. In the name of the state we will kill, pillage, and just about destroy anything because it is for the mother/father land.
What absolute nonsense.
In a sense the state desensitizes our humanity. Or rather, the state disfigures our humanity. For its reason we will build walls to keep out undesirable folks who are seeking to escape their suffering.
And in so doing the matter as described by Realpolitik thinkers is that it is about interests and the quest to survive.
Whose interests is the question that comes to mind. A question that has popped into my head ever since my early undergraduate days as I worked through international political theory.
Who is this association of men and women who come to describe and prescribe the need and means toward survival? What are they afraid of?
Tolstoy answers some of this when he says
"Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us."Absolutely. I have come to see the sense in this assertion over years of trying to answer the questions I pose above. They are not profound questions but they press a realization that what we have is unworkable.
So what to do?
Tolstoy arrived at this thinking:
"We must not only cease our present desire for the growth of the state, but we must desire its decrease, its weakening."I think he was absolutely right and it remains so today. The state is a mere cauldron for the violent and oppressive interests of elites and their attachments. The imbalance we live as a result is not a mere dysfunction that can be fixed through more policy wonks and throwing money at consultants and the like.
The dysfunction is a strategy of condemnation that permanently ascribes the masses to lives without safety and worse, without meaning.
What is needed is more than just decentralization. Such policies are merely cosmetic delusions.
We need an entirely new drug though it is somewhat ironic that the new we need is to be found in the old wisdom of seeking balance and living inside our surroundings and not on top of it (call me Taoist if you must).
Like Tolstoy, Gandhi, Albert Luthuli, and Dr. King, among others, the need to erase the state as the contraption that deceives us into perpetual oppression is balanced by the need to find faith or meaning to live.
The meaning I speak of need not be formal religion - for even Tolstoy railed against the oppression of the formal or official church.
In a sense I return to the sense of the existentialists who press us to deal with the absurdity of life by living with meaning - and as Albert Camus emphasized to live so through militant engagement without ever needing to take a life.
And it is perhaps at this junction that I have returned to a sense of belonging I gave up on in years of anger and misguided militancy.
It is not enough to want the end of the state if one does not desire the end of violence in all spheres of human existence.
War or any kind of violence is never a victory - it is in effect a defeat. There can be no glory in the blood of others.
Tolstoy and Gandhi moved the non-violent marker even further to insist that eating flesh is wrong, even immoral. Tolstoy writes:
"A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite."I have struggled with this aspect of my return to passive resistance and non-violence. I have no excuse though - it is my "appetite" to eat meat and not anything else that keeps me from being totally vegetarian.
The other part of seeking balance is addressing the hurt that has come as a result of my actions over the years of my life.
A few years ago somewhere in Malaysia I decided that I would do my level best not to hurt folks intentionally. I also thought it important to reach out to those who I hurt and apologize. The Qur'an teaches that making a sincere apology is a first step toward divine forgiveness.
I tried. But life is complex hey. I don't think we can ever not cause pain/hurt to those folks around us. And truthfully there are a few people I have not sought out, one in particular, who deserves my apology and my forgiveness too.
For Tolstoy the road toward balance was about promoting a view of Christianity as a "theory of life" and not a formal religion filled with folks who look like governments in charge of states.
The parallel between his resistance to the disorder of the state and the disorder of official-church Christianity is striking.
It brings me to one final thought and it is about the need to march toward universal freedom. I am just about convinced now that there will never be freedom inside of associations that create hierarchies for the supposed purpose of order.
To be free we must act militantly to remove the imposed shackles that Rousseau described but failed to resist in his theories toward a social compact.
There can be no freedom inside of order drawn from artificial associations like the state or official religions.
To be free we must return to the balance imposed by nature - as it stands now so much of what we are stands in absolute contradiction to nature.
And we are not free.