Power and the Death of Man

When writing this it is exactly one year since the murder of the outspoken Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It is also the 55th birthday of the Russian former KGB agent and current dictator-calling-himself-president Vladimir Putin. The events seem to be the perfect set of contradictions, not in any sense supplying grounds for a Hegelian synthesis.

Rather, we get the feeling that evil has not only prevailed, it has essentially won. At least in Russia. Putin seems, judging from western reporting, to have had something to do with the murder of Politkovskaya. At least, he had a lot to gain from her death. She was essentially what made the Russian army’s slaughter of innocent people in Chechnya look like a slaughter rather than, as Putin would have preferred, a heroic and patriotic yet merciless hunt for the people posing a “threat” to the unity of Great Russia.

Whereas the Russian “campaign” in Chechnya was done openly and therefore was condemned in global news media, the slaughter is but one example of many. It is one clearly recognizable symptom of a disease having haunted humankind for millennia: the mercilessness of power, and the death and suffering it inevitably leads to.

Another such example has been going on for years now, but it is obviously not as easy to recognize. As a matter of fact, many of the people condemning the slaughter in Chechnya are whole-heartedly supporting the same kind of slaughter in another country. The difference? Rhetoric.

The Russian slaughter in Chechnya was clearly a matter of David being attacked by the horrible Russian Goliath. David wanted his freedom, and for this reason he was slaughtered. “Goliath has no right,” we heard in the media.

People tend to identify with the less powerful in a fight, and this is exactly what happened in the Russia vs. Chechnya case. If there is no reason to directly identify with either of the parties – and for the western public this was the case in this conflict – people support the one they “feel sorry for.” Goliath has no right if people feel sorry for David.

An example of the opposite is the ongoing American war on Iraq. Literally thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered in the now occupied territory, by both state mercenaries and private Blackwater USA “law enforcement,” but this slaughter is justified by so-called libertarians in Europe and so-called conservatives in America. The United States’ occupation of Iraq, after the dethroning of Saddam Hussein, is a clear case of Goliath assaulting David. But in this case the people slaughtered are “not like us” whereas the guy in the White House looks kind of like “us.”

Both cases, even though they are approached and assessed in completely different ways, are symptoms of the same thing. Especially in taking the violations of domestic rights in the United States as an effect of the ongoing occupation, it is obvious that these are symptoms of power and the struggle for more power.

“Freedom” is in these cases only a word used for propaganda purposes (and it obviously works), but has nothing to do with what is really going on. If freedom is really the driving force behind the American occupation of Iraq (NB, the occupation) it doesn’t make sense to kill innocent civilians. It also doesn’t make sense to use the occupation as an argument to increase the state’s ongoing confiscation of people’s private properties in the United States and further restricting American citizens’ “constitutionally guaranteed” rights.

One has to be ignorant of reality to believe freedom has anything to do with it, unless we are talking of the freedom of the ruler to use his (or her) powers. One also has to be ignorant of how the people of power has acted throughout history – always at the cost, often the death of the people, only for the aim to increase and consolidate power.

Randolph Bourne wrote in an essay by the turn of the 19th century that “war is the health of the state.” That is certainly the case, and it has been proved frequently throughout the 20th century and it seems to continue in the 21st. The reason war is the health of the state can easily be shown using the Hegelian triad thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

The triad suggests conflict between two contradictory theses can be solved through reconciling their common truths in a new proposition. War and the State obviously seem to be contradictions through war generally being waged by one state on another. War, it thus seems, means, apart from the destruction, that one of the states in a conflict will be defeated and thus it should be in the interest of states to not engage in war unless victory is guaranteed (which, of course, never is the case). And people generally turn to the state in order to avoid war – the state offers protection and defense against foreign aggressors.

Trying to find a synthesis between the State and war we quickly find that the difference between the two is but an illusion. There seems to be an overlap in their definitions; the State being a system of aggression with a monopoly of violence, and war being the use (by states) of such aggression directed at foreign peoples and states.

When investigated in detail we realize war is the essence of the State. Or, if you like, the State is the essence of war. Both are means for power and both rely solely on physical and psychological violence as well as the use of aggression, force, and merciless killings to achieve certain aims:

The purpose of the State is to secure power through a war on the people. The purpose of war is to defeat a people in order to establish a [new] State.

Trying to find the synthesis, in this case, removes the “veil of ignorance” under which we have been hiding, and allows us to see what is the true nature and purpose of the State. And what is the true nature and purpose of war. The two are inseparable and the same; they are two sides of a coin – two names for the same thing. They differ only in how the enemy is defined, a definition itself necessarily based on state-enforced artificial “nationalities,” and in their temporal stretch. The State is a never ending war on the domestic population; war is a temporary aggression on a foreign people.

In the light of this “Bournian” truth, the differences vanish between the Russian attack on Chechnya, as well as the murder of Politkovskaya, and the American war on, and occupation of Iraq. They are essentially the same, they share both motive, means, and aim. The difference is but the name of the murderer-in-charge and how well he (or she) manages public opinion through propaganda.

What we are seeing is truly a David vs. Goliath, but we fail to realize who is who. And we fail to see that the Davids are dying by the thousands. If we recognize this fact we might be able to do something about it. And then the illusion is no more.