When we speak of ideological opposition to the state, what do we mean exactly?
It is useful to focus on the two primary definitions which are of relevance to us. The first pertains to a condition (as in, ‘X is in a state of shock’) whereas the second refers to a polity (as in, ‘the French state’). Considering the interconnectivity of these two definitions is illuminating. It is instructive that in a number of languages, both share the same word. To what extent does the notion of a state of being or state of affairs overlap with the state as an institution or combination of institutions that define a set of relations (political, social, economic and so on) which then codifies these relations into a legal framework. While the sense of the term state as a set of applicable circumstances conjures an image of the present condition of a situation, living or abstract thing, and so everything can be said to be in some sort of state at all times (what would constitute a non-state of being, surely only the absence of anything, ergo nothingness), the notion of the state as an entity is temporal, and in the grand scheme of things ephemeral. We can survey history and see a great many examples of states who have ceased to exist, where the territory (spatial, psychosocial, judicial, etc.) administered by the polity now belongs to a different entity. In this way, discord exists between the two formulations: while one can speak of a state of the earth during the first billion years of the earth’s existence, we cannot talk about this period as it relates to a political polity, as this is a purely human construct.
Can we achieve a state of being in which society is stateless? How can we go about achieving this ambition?
Our struggle is composed of different levels. Ideological opposition to the state on an abstract and theoretical level needs to matched against articulations of how relations between individuals could be structured in a stateless world. Furthermore, we have to operate in the knowledge of the type of society we now inhabit, the society in which we have all grown up within, to which our character is fundamentally tied. Could a radically different human condition emerge overnight? How can we act collectively to ensure that the world that we desire will embody all we wish to see in it – freedom, autonomy, and absence of want? What kind of principles would underlie relations between free and autonomous individuals? This is a debate that needs to be had and it is imperative that all human beings are engaged in it, since it effects all. This is not to say a uniform solution must be found that suits all. In fact, this would be practically impossible. However, those of an emancipatory and liberatory perspective must strive to ensure that no repressive arrangements are allowed to predominate.
Is skepticism towards statism prevalent among the masses, or rather is it the case that a feeling of discontentment with the oppressive dynamics of the state is felt by many but is unable to be articulated in a way that can generate momentum on a significant scale. It is hard to gauge, as for many people living on the planet the modern form of the nation state as conceived according to liberal democratic principles is all they have ever known. They have rarely if ever been given cause to question the need for any sort of state whatsoever. The propaganda of the machine serves to reinforce the notion that a society without a state is mere chaos, where all are engaged in a war against all, and the strongest and most able impose their will on all others. I would question the distance between the above described state of affairs, and how life exists today for the great majority of humans living on this planet. The primary difference lies in how the need for the exertion of direct physical force, as could be imagined in the above chaotic scenario, is tempered by the dynamics governing the set of relations themselves.
Nevertheless, we wish to avoid dogmatism, even if this means dogmatic adherence to a certain conception of anti-statism. This entails trying to fully grapple with the complexities of modern life. For example, while one can expound upon the great and varied negative facets of the state, the present picture is more problematic. What of the British National Health Service, where care is provided free at the point of use? We can theoretically deconstruct such institutions, acknowledging their existence as concessions of the ruling elite and arguing how a stateless society could replicate the benefits of access to medicine and healthcare through mutual aid and cooperation grounded in communities. But what of the reality? Such systems provide essential care, millions owe their lives to these institutions, were they to disappear overnight the death toll would be huge.
There is a certain naivety in advocating merely ripping up such systems, absolute and immediate smashing of all institutions no matter what the consequences are. What level of organization and cooperation is required to ensure that medical care is readily available for all human beings? Could voluntary and self-organised medical centres function in a so sophisticated a fashion that the present level of care could be maintained (or even improved)? This feeds back into the question of how a stateless society could employ technology in a non-hierarchical fashion, for the benefit of all that live in it. For us, promoting a course of action that necessarily leads to the loss of lives on a mass scale is difficult, even if the present set of affairs is already producing such results. It comes back to a dilemma of means and ends.
Of course, this is not the situation we find ourselves in in the present. Such systems represent an insignificant number of people in terms of the global population: the vast majority of humans are not in a position to benefit from these services as they were not fortunate enough to be born into the countries where such institutions exist. Furthermore, exploitation of the poorest parts of the world is an enabling factor that allows a few modern developed nations to sustain such systems, and we are not interesting in preserving the privilege that the more fortunate few enjoy whilst condemning those less fortunate to suffer. This is also not a solution we can condone. Forming a hierarchy of the oppressed in terms of needs, and neglecting one group for another seems counterproductive to us. The objective should be that all human beings have free access to the medical technologies we have developed, without discrimination according to any basis. The real issue is how we go about this.
We should not forget that the welfare state emerged as a form of concession on the part of the ruling elite, who were aghast at the prospect of social insurrection that could place their heads on the block. No doubt there were also liberal elements amongst the establishment who intuited that civilization could not legitimately title itself thus if so many human beings living under its auspices lived in utter destitution. But for the most part, the establishment and implementation of a welfare state system was designed to stabilize capital, and counter what was at the time (in the decades following the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Great Depression) popularly perceived as the most egregious tendencies of capitalism, that being its periodic cycles of growth and destruction that effected the worst off disproportionately, leading to the potential for radicalization, organization and revolt.
We would take issue not only with the state, but also the issue of “welfare” as disenabling. It contrasts sharply with the notion of collectivity and mutual aid, whereby individuals participate freely and equally, without a dualism of provider of/provided for. To emphasise these principles it is imperative to establish the beginnings of a new world within the one we already inhabit. Only by demonstrating how society could operate in a stateless state can we demonstrate the claims of the necessity of the state to be futile.