Who Holds the State Accountable?

How does the state, which is fundamentally designed to increase its own power, do so? It creates a problem that only it can solve. A recent Guardian article regarding Grenfell Tower offers the manifestation of this need.

'It would be no nobler for the left to make cheap political capital from this fire than for the far right to exploit the Manchester bombing. But terrorist attacks have forced the left to examine its liberal conscience and struggle with difficult choices. The deregulatory, shrink-the-state faction on the right will now have equally hard questions to ask of itself. It’s not politicising a tragedy to try to make sense of it, which in this case means asking some searching questions about how decades of social housing policy have brought us here.

The closest thing to a national debate over housing during the last election was a row over whether elderly owner-occupiers should be able to pass their homes on to their children. Yet nothing unites Londoners, even those who have made a bomb from property, like the uneasy feeling that something has gone very wrong with the housing market; and now that feeling is spreading across the country.

Insecurity stretches from the top, where even well-paid young professionals can barely get a foothold in the nonsensically overpriced capital, down through those renting privately from often slapdash landlords, or languishing on social housing waiting lists, to rough sleepers and the thousands of poor souls estimated to be illegally jammed 10 to a room in jerry-built garden sheds. More than one in four privately rented homes are now officially deemed “non-decent” – in poor repair, or containing serious hazards – and heaven only knows how many of them are a disaster waiting to happen, if on a smaller scale.

The poorer you are, the less choice you have and the greater risks you run: dodgy wiring, black mould, seedy landlords seeking sex in lieu of rent.

The higher rents and prices rise, the more people are trapped in the grim conditions at the bottom of the pyramid, and while social housing was supposed to provide an escape route for the poorest and most vulnerable it is evidently failing to do so. So let that burning pyre in the heart of west London stand as a reminder of something that should never have been forgotten: the moral responsibility the state bears to help those who cannot help themselves.'

The more people are trained to depend on the state, the more they will see it as a paternal entity which relieves them of personal responsibility. The more the state can officially declare certain zones 'safe' or 'unsafe,' the more one's intuition whithers. The less responsibility people want, the more they'll be willing to submit to the greater expanding power of the state: it dilates to the degree that its citizens' self determination shrivles up. The state, conceived of in the post Enlightenment world as a meta-contract meant to keep other contracts in check, then becomes the owner, the creator and executive of all final contracts, rather than an interdependent network of checks and balances. The key to give the state power is to create cultural problems which then extend to economic problems.

There is nothing to suggest that the state's monopoly on power would be any less violent than the those actions responsible for causing them to tighten their control (terrorism, riots). As a matter of fact, the tightening of control is, by definition, violent.

The key is to make the state subordinate to some process which keeps it in check. Democracy is obviously out, as that is what got us here: by giving people incentives to support the expansion of its power. What we need is a process by which state power deteriorates to the degree that it stops being effective at fulfilling its main purpose. But what is its main purpose? Taking care of people is obviously out too, since that is also what got us here as said before: the more people feel they can rely on the state, the more power they give the state. So what options are left? The state serves no purpose if it cannot protect contracts, which is a fancy way of saying that it should maximize the potential for free association, which is a positive way of saying that it keeps people who want to kill you and take your property accountable within the community. It should also perform the same function concerning outside threats.

But how does one determine an outside threat? It would be simple to determine: whoever commits acts against members of the community which violate their ability to make peaceful contracts or someone who interferes with free association. Theft, murder and rape violate free association.

But then, how does a state ensure that it will not violate such contracts? By promising not to? That's not good enough. That's what it promises now and it isn't effective. To what then should the state be subordinate if it is not doing its job? Many different groups have some conflicting  and some complimentary ideas about this:

Anarchy: Everything should be voluntary/non restricted. This would amount to no state at all, which would sort of cancel out the need to make the state subordinate. But then, what does this position have to do with the way the world actually works? If you don't maintain consensus about a border that your surrounding non-anarchist neighbors have a consensus about, there is no reason to suggest they won't claim your area as there's. Their only option is constant war, or some kind of organization. Anarchism is passive and, ironically on account of this passivity, violent. Violence is certainly part of life, but how does one minimize it best?

Libertarianism/Anarcho-Capitalism: The solution here is pretty much the free market. Every transaction in human society becomes a monetary one. But how is one to engage with a market which has no need to reveal its inner mechanisms? It does seem that someone could simply coerce the market in private, in which case you would simply have a government.

Panarchy: The idea, as far as we know, comes from Paul Emile de Puydt. It takes the concept 'freedom of religion' and applies it to government. The idea is that society is fragmented into polities, regions or city states of various different kinds of social organization, and that people would be able to freely move between such regions. The government would be subject to market demands and people would choose which kind of rules they wanted implimented around them. Unlike straight Anarcho-Capitalism, it makes no bones about the fact that the one government acts as a monopoly to its respective region. Its most important feature, however, is its emphasis on choice.

Formalism/Neoreaction: Quite similar in spirit to Panarchy, this position subjects government to a market-like situation, but comes with quite nuanced yet distinct differences. For instance, it places emphasis, not on choice, but on the purpose of what a most effective government would be, and that is minimizing human aggression. This can certainly be fixed by a localized monopoly, but Neoreaction, far more sceptical of democracy and progress where the other positions are only implicitly against it, also allow room for a type of organization which is not based on a business's material reward at all, but by the respective nation's cultural solidarity, extending to monarchy.

Pan-Secessionism: This is advocated over at Attack The System. It is certainly friendly toward every other position within reason and keeping free association as the glue which holds it all together. It's really not an ideology or method even, so much as it is a style. It values a group's volition to naturally sever itself from a logically incompatible group near it and go its own way. One could think of it as the means by which one could well arrive in the type of world advocated by one of the other positions above, or the method one implements after the other positions don't work out. Keith Preston, self identifying in the past as a Far-Left anarchist, is one of the few who saw a direct correlation between some of the aims of the Far Left and the Far-Right. The Left seems stuck on the economic/class questions while the Right seems stuck on cultural/identity questions, while at their center, they are both advocating for a way of life which can be put into practice, at least, on a miniature scale. In his view, one should agree to disagree. People could have their socialist communes while others could have their traditional tribes and others had little republic democracies.

It would seem that in a multi-polar world, all of the above positions could manifest naturally alongside one another. But one has to ask, what would it take to even bring about the kind of world in which these different forms of social organization were subject to each of their respective power-dissolving mechanisms at once? The question is a hard moral one if taken in a linear, a priori fashion, but not at all difficult if taken in a pragmatic, amoral and wide-historical fashion. In the secular, post-enlightenment west, there should be absolutely no need to operate on the assumption that the state is a divine entity whose actions one should endorse on faith alone. We know that all governments, eventually, end in some way or another. One, then, would do best to anticipate this. But then, in accordance with free association, one would do best not to interfere with the free association of those who believe in the divine sovereignty of a particular state. In other words, let the polity sort its problems out with its god, if its dissolution comes about in spite of divine sovereignty, or let it cut its losses if it is their horrible market setup. The point is, how does one keep each of these inevitably falling states from becoming threats to other states? The answer I feel, though circular, is not unhelpful: culture will have to come to appreciate difference in a way which transcends categories supplied by any one narrative. Culture will not come to adopt this idea as a doctrine. It would only become the norm if culture in the west was broken.

Chances are, if you're reading this, you're already one of the people who see this break coming but are wanting something in the present; some bridge to get beyond that point before the problem even reaches its worst.

The answer is asserted independence. The social form of this is strong leadership.

Because of the internet today, lots of great artists, journalists and thinkers have earned a voice where the establishment never would have given them one. But we've only scratched the surface. Faster rappers are spitting new rhymes all the time and not getting radio play, certainly. Writers of terrific works are pushed aside as garbage is put on every corrugated display at every super market. But let's not dream small. Let's start our own private colleges which make no effort to be recognized by a bigger network. Let's begin alliances of our own infrastructures within the current system, but which can withstand the collapse of the current system. Let's imagine big, go further, and push ourselves to achieve what is beautiful and worth putting into this world. Don't stop with independent art. Turn life itself into art.

Those who are the best at this will naturally become leaders in a new world. The state is only subordinate to that which is naturally more powerful than it. It is time we learn to associate ourselves with those things which make us more powerful.