Anarchy X: An Occasional Series on Politics and American LifePosted: July 4, 2012
I decided it was time I got my thoughts on paper (yes, I’m old enough that I still think of typing as writing and my computer screen as paper) about politics, specifically the intersection of politics and American life, mostly because I’m American and that’s what I know. So the first place to start is with “what is politics?” Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” I happen to disagree; I think he got it completely backwards.
What is war? War is the wholesale application of violence to achieve specific material ends. Politics (at least one definition of politics and the one most applicable to von Clausewitz) is the wholesale threat of violence to achieve specific material ends. Dress it up as nicely as you want, at the end of the day that’s the difference between the two. If you don’t believe me, try to disregard the law of your choice and see if the nice policeman simply asks you politely to cease and desist, or if he may very well at some point consider utilizing some form of force to compel you.
That being the case, it’s all about which came first, the chicken or the egg, in this case the chicken being war and the egg being politics. Another way of considering it is to take it down from the wholesale level to the retail level: personal violence used to achieve specific material ends and personal threats of violence used to achieve specific material ends. This makes things much clearer: we have archaeological evidence of hominids doing violence to each other that predates our evidence of language. Ipso facto, politics is the continuation of war by another means.
Does this mean I abhor politics and everything it accomplishes? Not at all. I believe in self-defense, I believe in just war theory, and I believe it is preferable for us to talk out our problems than for us to fight out our problems. But I also believe that when we lose sight of what the tools we are using really are, then we tend to overuse them. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks very easy to solve. The greatness of politics is also its weakness; it removes and distances us from the immediate pains and burdens of the violence of forcing our collective will on others, which makes it so much easier to use that force. Here’s another famous aphorism from Lord Acton, and this one I agree with completely: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
So what does this have to do with American life, and why “Anarchy X”? By now you may have realized I have certain anarchist tendencies at heart, although many hard-core anarchists would thoroughly disagree with my stated opinions regarding the value of politics and war. The X is a reference to both the Ten Commandments and the original Bill of Rights, both of which have had a major effect on the shape of politics and culture in America and will be the launching point for future posts in this series. Hopefully I’ll cover other topics as well, but if I manage to cover all twenty of those, that’s enough ground to keep me busy for quite a while. It should be a fun ride.