A Search for Beauty and Truth Through the Love of Hedgehogs
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
On Our Duty to the State
‘Ask not what your country can do for you...’ ... This has always struck me as a strange thing to say, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, whenever I try to say it naturally, it comes out backwards. I have to think for it to come out right. JFK was reading a speech prepared for a particular time and place, but it still doesn’t seem a natural thing to ask instinctively. Secondly, and conversely, although it isn’t natural to ask it, governments constantly proclaim their unique ability to do just about everything for us, and take a lot of our money to do it with. In one way, therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to ask what our country can do for us. We should expect it to do things for us, and we should expect to be well rewarded when we do things for it.
I’m not a great fan of nationalism. A strong and stable nation is likely to be a peaceful and prosperous one, and that matters to everyone who lives in and forms part of it. A nation with a strong sense of identity is likely to provide its citizens with a strong identity too, and this is a useful thing to have. But blindly clinging to a sense of the nation that has never existed, blocking its borders against newcomers lest, the horror, something might change, is a debased and worthless nationalism. It is even dangerous, because it can easily be, and frequently is, seized on by those would be rulers of the divide and rule type who are prepared to get their hands dirtier than most.
Anyhow, a few basic rules:
The state* will always exist in some form. But the state is not society. In any society there will be people who control it, while considering themselves outside it and above it.
The individual owes nothing to the state. It is the state that owes its very existence to the individual.
The state’s existence can only be justified if it is useful to the individual.
When the existence of the state becomes more important than the freedom of the individual, you have tyranny. And misery. And murder.
When any ideology becomes more important than the freedom of the individual, you will have tyranny. And misery. And murder.
When most laws seem to have the purpose of criminalizing anything which inconveniences the state, rather than of protecting or enriching the people, you should be disturbed.
There are plenty of examples of this throughout the world in recent history. It really isn’t hard to understand that once you dehumanize people, and give others permission to dehumanize people and the conceptual structure with which to do it, they will suffer.
*By ‘state’ I don’t mean a country or nation, something with a physical and historical existence. I don’t mean society, as in the way which we organize ourselves and recognize (or don’t recognize) that we may have certain duties with regard to the others who make up the society we conceive ourselves as being part of. By ‘state’, here I mean those people and organizations who consider themselves separate from and superior to the rest of us, and whose main function is to perpetuate their own condition and sense of themselves.