Let me Paint you a Picture
Updated: Mar 8
I feel the need to show you something, but I’m not sure how to do it. This thing has no shape, and no form, what could best be described as its substance is not made of material which can be seen; in fact, it’s not made of any unseen materials either. Subatomic particles don’t occupy its space. From a material perspective, it can best be described as a void. So, how can one best describe something immaterial? We’re all familiar with emotions, such as love, hate, and jealousy, and can pretty well describe them through observation. However, for most of us, our conceptions don’t go much further than mere surface appearances; we take at face value the way they’re used by the individuals they’re expressed through. A deeper perspective can be gained, though, by the way of constructing these emotions from the ground up and how they manifest in us.
Before delving any further into this topic, I should point out that this writing is not about emotions or art, per se. Constructing an emotion through a piece of art is easy; we see it expressed in others and feel them as they occupy us on a daily basis. All it takes is an ability to portray the vessel through whichever medium the artist chooses. But the main topic being addressed is also immaterial; it can’t be seen, touched, or heard, and unlike emotions, it cannot be portrayed in a work of art. It is thought in its purest form. What’s being referenced is the State.
The lack of importance given to comprehension and logical thinking in schools is reflected in the misuses of the English language, where terms are taken out of their context without much thought, terms such as "fascism", "corporatism", "democracy", etc. even more importantly for our present purpose, the State. Language, also being an expressive activity, reflects the larger culture which it is the expression. A culture that prizes simplicity and surface conformism such as ours doesn’t put much value in the truth or consistency for its own sake. Corporatism, in its current parlance, is usually defined as a mode of governance wherein business interests control governmental decision making. In actuality, "corporatism" is an 18th century term derived from the Latin, Corpus, meaning "human body"; it was meant to reflect a political ideal where occupational groups, representing the different aspects of society, much as the different parts of the body represent different aspects of the self. Corporatists maintain that these corporate bodies are central to the functioning of society and should consequently assume the governance of that society so as to express the importance and interconnectedness of all parts of the whole. How did the term become perverted to mean something completely different? After all, there have been corporatist regimes in existence up until the 1970s. It has to do with changing the nature of life from being expressive to being functional. Everything from politics to education, disciplines which at one time prized knowledge for its own sake, something which the individual used as a means of self-actualization, has now become a means for financial gain. No longer do individuals seek an education for the sake of knowledge, but as a stepping stone to a well-paying job. Politics is now looked upon as a way to another goal, such as saving the environment, preserving freedom, etc. Goals, which while sounding laudable, exist more as abstractions, being incapable of actual fulfillment. Abstract freedoms, more often than not, used as covers to start or maintain a career in politics. If we look at the modern manifestation of the word "corporatism", its popularity is very easy to explain. Words ending with isms are often used as descriptive terms to describe political systems: Communism, Socialism, and Capitalism, all of which are easily recognizable to the general public. Corporatism was very simple; all that was needed was to take the word "corporate" which had evolved to mean a large business interest and add "ism" to the end of it and you had the newest political slur. The true origins were irrelevant. Our own government, which by the end of the Second World War had come to personify this trend, was ignored as being the epitome of this new use of the word. The fact that even individuals within academia were regularly using the word in its new context was evidence of the cultural origins of the modern use of the word "corporatism"; it was easy and functional, nothing else mattered.
When looking at the State we’re approached by the same problem. Contemporary usage of the word is more often than not used synonymously with "government". In actuality, while the two terms have an intimate relation, they are not one and the same thing. However, we’re approached by the utility problem discussed above. When analyzing the words in themselves, they come across much differently. "State" has one syllable, is very direct, and, when referenced in a certain way, can sound ominous. "Government" has three syllables, sounds more technical, and any attempt at making the word sounds ominous would cause the speaker to appear buffoonish. In addition, references to the State were made regularly by fascist theoreticians, a favorite target of politically active individuals in contemporary society. The semantics coupled with the history of the term provide sufficient ammunition for the political class to use the term for purely utilitarian advantages, as the word "State" has come to represent in modern parlance something to be feared, a negative ideal to avoid, along with any negative action which can be attributed to government. The history of the word, though, tells a different story starting with Aristotle.
“Now it is evident that the form of government is best in which every man, whoever he is, can act best and live happily. The government is everywhere sovereign in the State, and the constitution is in fact the government.” 1
And even up to a more modern work from 1933
“The State is a body of people politically organized, inhabiting a definite territory, independent of outside control, and having a government and fundamental law…a government which is the agent of the State and therefore-at least to a limited extent-the choice of the people. 2
Though an admittedly brief sample, the above shows the changing portrayal of the nature of the State, much like the abuse of the word "corporatism". The origins and original intent are ignored for the sake of the desired effect being produced in its recipients. The culmination of a type of thinking is personified by marketplace values, which reward success and the end result over the values, which guide the process of expression.
If State and government are not identical, then what are they; more importantly what is the State? Government exists within its institutions. Executive bodies, legislatures, and courts are easily identifiable and having shape and form. The State, being the product of human thought, lacks these qualities, so how can its portrait be drawn? How is it to be portrayed? Let’s start at the beginning.
While the State is the product of individual thought, it cannot be produced without the individual interacting within a society. For an individual who exists only as an individual with no social context to speak of, there is no theft, no adultery, no murder. The ideals which go into constructing a morality and value system do not and cannot exist. How can you steal when there is nobody to steal from? It takes the existence of others to begin to build a value system, a system that doesn’t exist outside of the individual. Value systems, while inhering in the individual, are social in nature, meaning we project our own thoughts onto others. We dislike having things taken from us, so by implication, we imagine others having this same repulsion to the act of stealing and conduct our interaction with others based upon this shared assumption of values. The same applies to emotions and physical responses, pain, pleasure, love and hate, all of which, since they have a certain effect on us, imagine our thinking others have similar responses. Lacking a similar mindset and values, societies fail and fall apart. There is no such thing as individual's values; if such a thing exists its existence would require reconciliation with the larger whole.
However, individuals don’t exist as isolated atoms. At a very minimum, there is required to be at least two individuals, a mother and a father. And for the newborn, this is its entire existence, at least for a while, living with its parents and, to the extent they may or may not exist, brothers, sisters, and extended family. Lacking the experience needed to conceptualize experiences, the newborn purely lives upon its drives, the need to feed and an inner necessity to explore its surroundings. However, as the surrounding world begins to take shape, parents are looked upon as not only a source of love and respect but also of rules as well. At least at first, these rules are recognized as a source of restraint, a burden that has to be obeyed to avoid the punishment inherent in breaking said rules. At this point, we reach a crucial stage. If the individual continues to conceive of these rules as an outside impediment, as something foreign restricting his ability to grow as an individual, then the family unit begins to break down; you have children who run away from home, drug abuse, and teen suicides. This happens for a variety of reasons, possibly through outside influences, abuse by parents, or simply the refusal of the child to recognize the source of these rules as being a benefit to it and not a hindrance. The family never actually reaches the stage of being a true family for the individual concerned until the individual recognizes his/her own well-being within the individual has with rules and values. What she/he believes, his/her drives, and desires are put into and given a form through his/her interaction with the family. Meals and snacks are had at certain times and are composed of certain foods judged to be beneficial to the members of the family. Desire for recreation and play are structured around certain times of the day. Talents and particular likes are given the chance to be expressed through extra-curricular activities such as sports and music. However, the benefit of these activities only accrues once the individual makes the connection of these activities existing for his/her benefit and their source being within the family structure. At this point, the family is truly born. If the connection fails the family exists in name only.
Now, as the child ages and approaches adulthood, the range of experiences widens. The family is no longer the source of everything and instead while still remaining central becomes one amongst many social units to interact with. Schools, Churches, law enforcement, all undergo the same process within recognizes his own welfare as being inherent within the functioning of these institutions. Schools and law enforcement deserve special recognition here, as their failures have become manifest recently, due to the certain communities perceiving the police as being an agent of suppression or schools as being impediments of personal expression. The rejection of these institutions by large segments of the population has produced dysfunction and a certain amount of anarchy in society. When institutions are obeyed out of fear alone, then the problems expressed by the youth mentioned above are reproduced on a social scale through crime and illiteracy.
The individual’s journey started with the family, the foundational social unit. In journeying through life, experiences widen and the role played by the family of establishing rules and structure for conduct evolves as the individual sees that role played within the context of a wider array of social actors. It’s at this point where we reach the apex of the State. Just as there is a subconscious acknowledgement that mathematical equations are much more than the sum of their parts, there is a logic and structure that binds all the variables together. The individual sees that the family, and institutions that compose society exist much more than isolated atoms in a sea of atomic particles with no connections to each other and no relations. There is a structure that exists, binding all parts of the whole to the whole, an unseen structure not having form, but existing in the consciousness of the individuals who compose it. Much like the family it is considered by the individual to be much more than just the parents and siblings which compose it, but an institution which the individual sees in her/himself, and sees his interests as inherent within.
The obvious question at this point should be, "why does reality so rarely live up to the ideal?" Very few people would actually attribute to the State those qualities attributed to it above. It’s much more common to look upon it as something that is imposed on us, a necessary evil, an artificial construct we’re forced to deal with. Much like when the family structure breaks down and the child no longer believes the family to exist in his best interests as a society and individuals, we’re confronted by the problems of runaways, mental illnesses, and drug abuse. The elements which compose the society are looked upon as existing apart from the family. A very similar parallel can be drawn to the State. When individuals conceive of the State as being something foreign to them, when they fail to see themselves in it or believe that it exists for their own best interests, then the glue which holds everything else together disappears and the individual is truly alone and consequently must suffer the consequences of that isolation.
I started out wanting to show you something, but I didn’t know how to. 2300 words later, I still have no idea how to pictorially display the State. However, we can trace its lineage, its history, and how it develops over time. The confusion over government and State and what constitutes the dividing line between the two should be apparent. Thought begins with the family, as drives are given shape and form by the family unit and the individual connects those shapes and drives with the welfare of the greater whole constituted in the family. The family in his mind transcends the reality of those who constitute it. When the structure breaks down and the individual fails to make this connection, components become separate and unconnected, defined solely by their material reality. So, while the State cannot exist without a government to execute its functions, a government can exist without a State. Anytime individuals view the agency carried out with enforcing laws as purely existing for that purpose then you have a government, but you do not have a State. The State is the ideal that makes 1+1=2, that makes it possible to recognize your neighbor John Smith as a fellow social unit, and not just as John Smith. It is the family unit translated to the whole country. The State is the institution which makes it possible for a society to exist on something more than force alone. We still do not have not a picture that can be imagined, but I hope at least better understood.
1. Aristotle Politics From: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II, Book VII: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)
2. YOUNG, Jeremiah Simeon, and Elizabeth Young. WRIGHT. Unified American Government. New York, 1933.