Anti-Statism for States

On 19 June, Barack Obama delivered his unwelcome speech in Berlin. His focus was on overcoming the harms of walls, exclusion and fears in the world, although not making any suggestion of more government transparency by the United States itself. Standing in a bullet-proof box as he spoke to a small non-hostile audience, the man did his best to excuse and justify rampant paranoia, deception and state brutality while simultaneously arguing for a world open and free, without walls and fear.

Adding to the irony, members of the audience also held celebratory signs calling for the end of divisions and borders, the attainment of a single global community. It is ironic because such sentiment, when true, is anti-statist. It is not anti-statist in the common usage of the term, as a synonym of anarchism or extreme libertarianism (although the non-systems entailed by those two might be transitional necessities to escape nation-state ideology) but it is anti-statist from the perspective offered in Immanuel Wallerstein’s theories.

Yale sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein predicts the weakening of the interstate system in its present form. The present interstate system, with its pecking order of rich and poor states and the support states render to oligopolistic firms, is considered as the political superstructure to legally back up the disparities inherent in the world economy. Anti-statism in the Wallersteinian sense, then, would refer to a political view rejecting the interstate system and its sources of legitimacy. A Wallersteinian anti-statist would be someone who goes about with a lack of interest in claiming state power, but also determined to weaken all current state legitimacy and power in the world because of their harmful effects.

Opposition to the fictive cultural narratives and nationalistic sentiments giving rise to state legitimacy and the need for borders and security will qualify as anti-statism in the Wallersteinian sense. This is so, even if such anti-statism becomes the very policy of a state. “Anti-statism for states” might also describe hypothetical policies when states, after abandoning their claims to legitimacy, still accept their power as currently useful in some anti-“stateness” form, e.g. preventing other less socially responsible actors from acquiring and abusing too much “stateness” (police order) in the power vacuum.

Wallerstein indicates that seizing state power has been an ineffectual strategy for overcoming the current exploitative global system. Nevertheless, political commentary may be useless unless at least lobbying existing authorities that have some aspects of “stateness”. Lack of interest in seizing state power does not preclude the use of lobbying to get states to take certain short-term steps in a progressive direction. Advocates of “open borders” such as Dan La Botz promote the political goal to discard the archaic, paranoid use of borders to exclude immigrants and deny their rights.

While politically inclusive policies can be introduced by states, the basic principle necessitating states and citizenship remains a principle of exclusion. The outcome of the long-term trend rejecting borders and “stateness” is truly anti-statist, especially when done by states, because it works to kick out the sole source of state legitimacy. Where there are no citizenship criteria and no security provisions exclusive to “citizens”, there are no exclusive “citizens”. Where there is no legitimate jurisdiction, there is no “state”. Such a direction is where the social order is projected to inevitably go, whether we choose to embrace it as progressive or not, according to Immanuel Wallerstein’s idea of structural crisis. I must emphasize that the reader should try not to confuse “is” and “ought” when this point about social change is being asserted. The states system is to be replaced, regardless of personal preferences for what ought to replace it or anyone’s rebuttals to those preferences. Cosmopolitan inclusion of people into a “national” culture delegitimizes states founded on the doctrine of popular sovereignty. The current model of state attains legitimacy only by appealing to a national body. To say everyone is welcome in the national body is either to demand “world government” or reject the legitimacy of the current states. Because the former is not substantively reachable yet (although it is earnestly hoped for as the only balanced outcome from the Wallersteinian perspective) only the latter can be met.

Why should we lobby our nation-states to reject their own source of legitimacy? Perhaps more importantly, why should they listen? One novelty the political audience of all countries should consider is this: just because states are states does not mean they are unable to be anti-statist. Such things as scrapping border controls, citizenship criteria, cultural prejudices, police order, national icons and other forms of social protectionism or “stateness” is an anti-statist policy available for states. Anti-statist states would be coherent innovations away from our current states, and such transitional regimes to world government are achievable in the same sense that a featureless black flag can be displayed as an “anti-flag flag” to reject the archaic Nineteenth Century norms of nation-states.

A good interpretation would be that the future kind of state is very focused on undermining the legitimacy of itself and other states, and this can be a great redeeming quality because it pushes history in the right direction. States can adopt a position of anti-statism not by taking up a position that their authority ought to be surrendered without any consideration of its possible efficacy, but by taking the position that the legitimacy of current state authority and its bounds is not sustainable. One can laud the state machinery for helping vulnerable people and keeping social harms at bay, but one must still begin to consider the state machinery and the limits of the state territory as illegitimate. Ultimately, the only legitimate form of political authority that is not filled with contradictions would be the first global democratic authority of a socialist world government. Such an authority would be required to first gain the approval of the stateless population of the global whole (perhaps a population formerly living in transitional “anti-statist states”). Legitimacy would fall on such an authority, because it would integrate the world and thus be actually true to the principles of equality and liberty rather than living out the contradiction of placing strict territorial limits on where such limitless ideals can be enforced.

To sum up, being a Wallersteinian anti-statist does not mean rejecting the efficacy of the state in the current juncture of our global system. It merely entails the rejection of the current archaic nation-states as units in a world economy to preserve and legitimize disparities. While normally an anti-statist state would be the impossibility it sounds like, a Wallersteinian anti-statist state is both possible and rational by simply getting the state to admit its illegitimacy and surrender its claims and identity as much as possible to the point of displaying a black flag. However, such would not require any taking of power or altering of the state machinery. The state machinery would be used to the negation of itself by depriving the state of its own sources of legitimacy. If such a species of transitional anti-statist regime were to be created, it would be one small historical step forward to attaining a more democratic and egalitarian future. Because such a state is possible, perhaps anarchist and libertarian sentiments are necessary parts of the transition to a better social order, although these non-systems in themselves should not be regarded as glimpses into the next social order.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist writer. Currently on the advisory board at the Lifeboat Foundation think tank, he possesses a BA qualification in Politics and Religious Studies. His work can be found at many online publications, including the Iranian broadcaster Press TV and the transhumanist publication h+ magazine. His work has placed emphasis on global economic disparities and the benefits of technology-driven social change. Read other articles by Harry, or visit Harry's website.