In the face of the numerous political upheavals that we have seen in Europe in the last year, the rise of far-right parties as well as far-left ones, the claims of independentist movements, the ongoing political drama of the Brexit, the arriving of a significant wave of immigrants and refugees, the declining of the economic conditions of the middle class, the continuous erosion of the welfare state, the openly anti-Islamic propaganda, the rise of the feminist movement and others, and the lack of political as well as in many cases civil response, one is left wondering what is going on. It seems as if it is too much to do anything about it.
To begin to grasp the causes of this we need to look at the obviously ineffective façade of the political powers, which seem to sway whichever way the wind blows in order to gain popularity and votes, and what lays behind, the economic powers. We also need to look at the descent of the human being into a condition akin to beasts, i.e. having no inward reality or soul, which is the ultimate proposition of evolutionary science and its philosophical doctrine, materialism, humans are only ahead of their non-rational counterparts because of a more organized societal code. And at the heart of it is the obvious godlessness that reigns all over, and, as Dostoevsky said: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted”.
Perhaps obviating these more profound causes, I would like to limit myself to writing here about a concept that seems to be an indispensable part of most of the issues mentioned in the first paragraph, that is, the concept of the State. Because one way or the other, many of them involve a pre-conceptualization of what is the state. Far-right parties want to ‘protect the state and nation’; left-wing ones want a ‘more inclusive state’; independentist want their ‘own state’; the middle class wants the protection of the ‘welfare-state’; immigrants and refugees want to contribute to society and form part of ‘the state’, etc.
The ‘state’ is an abstract concept. The political/philosophical discussions of what is a state fill numerous books on the subject. For the sake of the argument let’s take here the usual definition, and perhaps somehow simplistic, of a state as the form of government with the power to levy taxes and the monopolization of violence over a defined territory. Obviously, this encompasses other duties such as implementation of justice or the redistribution of wealth. That is its outward form which is circumstantial and in continuous change: frontiers change, populations within those frontiers change, ruling classes with the monopoly of violence change, where the taxes go change (it is significative that today a great percentage of our taxes go to pay a national debt -concept that in itself is problematic because it presupposes a judiciary persona to a country- or better said, the interests of that debt), what is considered just or morally and socially acceptable also change, etc.
Despite this, we imagine the modern state as an immovable entity that controls most spheres of our social interactions, and in many cases private ones too; Hobbes’ Leviathan pales in comparison to our vision. To most people this monster is a necessary burden, it is there so that everything can keep on functioning as it has been because even if we might despise it, we fear more what might happen if it was not there, and we are willing to make sacrifices in order to keep it alive. It stands there as the Sphinx guarded the city of Thebes.
This is so because we have lost sight of the meaning of what a state should be. Following the trend today, it has lost its inward life and what remains is the outward skeleton.
Ortega y Gasset says in his book ‘The Rebellion of the Masses’: “The State always is, whichever its form might be -primitive, ancient, medieval or modern- the invitation that a group of men extend to other groups of humans to accomplish together an undertaking. This undertaking, independently of its intermediate stages, aims in the long run to organize a certain kind of communal living.”
This is the inward life and meaning of a state, the undertaking to build a communal living in which we invite others to collaborate, but states today seem to have a fixed and standardized way of living for everyone to which all individuals must conform. There is no invitation to others to accomplish anything together, rather, is like the Bed of Procrustes.
In the face of this monolithic apparatus that is the modern state it is no wonder that many feel left out and that reactionary forces appear in both ends of the spectrum, those who defend its current form because it aligns with their way of life and understanding and those who claim that it needs renewal or revision or elimination.
The problem arises when one realises that in the last instance, what is at stake, is not that these reactionary forces have different projects of communal living, they all agree in the essence of their cosmovision, rather, it is ultimately an economic question, and the economy is in neither of their hands. They discuss and fight over what would be the best clothing for the emperor while the emperor walks around naked. Communism and capitalism both agree in the materialistic essence and disagree in the distribution of resources.
If you have a house with a beautiful façade while the inside is empty and barren, the house, no matter how beautiful, it is not liveable. We need to make this house liveable first and, as strange as it might sound, it is not that difficult. All we need to do is to extend one hand to another person and invite them to join us in a communal way of living that celebrates our humanity. If we do this we will outgrow the current house and then we will have the need to move to a new one.
Ernst Junger wrote in his book ‘The Glass Bees’: “I came to realize that one single human being, comprehended in his depth, who gives generously from the treasures of his heart, bestows on us more riches than Caesar or Alexander could ever conquer. Here is our kingdom, the best of monarchies, the best republic. Here is our garden, our happiness.”
There is a famous saying amongst Sufis: “A city cannot illuminate a man, but a man can illuminate a city”.
The moment that you and I come together with a project of living together we are funding a state. The aim of our state should be that the human being finds the context and the tools to express its highest potential, both inwardly and outwardly, spiritually and materially.
Recently I read a quote that I really liked and has made me reflect a lot: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” said Buckminster Fuller.
Let’s get building!