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Book of the Week: The History and Future of Civic Humanity

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
15th March 2011


Covering a broad range of cases, the book identifies basic principles governing state’s relation to civil society. It shows how anarchist ideas and practices emerge naturally in civil society in response to different forms of state power. The book seeks to demonstrate how a proper appraisal of modern anarchy is enriched by a deeper understanding the history of voluntary associational life in different world contexts. Just as well, it shows how such appraisal requires alternatives to common assumptions about human psychology, assumptions propagated by modern social science.

* Book: Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity. Mohammed A. Bamyeh. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (May 16, 2010)

The author was present at Tahrir Square and is preparing a new book on his experience there as well.

Here is an excerpt on the relation between the state and civil society, from Chapter 3.

(we have two more excerpts here in our wiki)

Mohammed A. Bamyeh:

. civil society is not, contrary to some well-established dogmas, a specific product of bourgeois, European modernity. Civil society is a basic, ancient, transhistorical and universal mode of collaborative human life, defined by voluntarism and the propensity to substitute collaborative action in the world for state action—and not simply to help in democratizing the state or support its functioning in society….

“By recentering the story of human progress around civil society, anarchy may also offer an alternative to the modern developmental state—namely, the state that brings about modernity and progress through grand projects of social engineering. Here anarchy rejoins much of what development literature has shown, namely that such a developmental state develops first and foremost itself and in the process enhances the arbitrary power of its elites. Anarchist history in this respect consists in part of rediscovering elements of this ancient and universal process, and accordingly identifying when or how civil society becomes the primary theater of action in the world…

“state reason is not about promoting philosophy, religion, science, or culture for their own sake. It is about promoting and constantly defending the state itself.

The basic points of departure of state reason could be sketched as follows:

1.State reason begins with alienation. A certain hierarchy, accepted because it is felt to be organic, freely negotiated, or useful as practical authority, seeks to entrench itself in state form and to become thereby more stable. Being more stable here means also that it becomes less organic, less transient, less negotiable—in other words, alienated from the ordinary flux, transience, or flexibility of associational life over which it rules.

2.Civil society may ignore for a while, or not take notice of, the alienation of state reason, even as the state begins to use a new kind of political language. Civil society may not apprehend the nature of such alienation, as it builds or preserves institutional worlds of its own that are parallel to the state.

3.Developing outside of civil society, state reason becomes underlined by a science that is all its own, oriented to identifying and pursuing sovereign and distinct rules that have little to do with the cultural habits or sensibilities of any population. To be so, state reason must develop at a distance from culture—popular, national, local, and so on, even if the very legitimacy of the state, and sometimes its very genesis, is traced to roots in the culture of the populace. Culture in this sense may be used in the service of state reason, but it is not state reason. As they develop, states learn the arts of rule more from each other or from illustrious, selected histories, less so from the prosaic, complex, and varied cultures of the populace over whom they rule.

4.Developed state reason is the antithesis of civil society. State reason, to the extent that it begins to operate as a science sovereign unto itself, offers then free license for the state’s perpetual expansion into all of society. The science that informs state reason in this expansionist project involves experimentation with the twin trajectories of coercion and cooptation. As such state reason aims at ultimately consuming civil society and thereby ending the alienation of state reason from all that which resides outside of it. The resolution of this alienation is conceived, in accordance with state reason, in its own manner, and not in the manner of a synthesis.

5.State reason attaches itself to and gains sustenance from moral ideas. The weight of the state can in effect be measured by the weight of its prohibitions, which may always be added to so as to justify more power. In the final analysis, state reason relies here on its discovery of the old principle that the poison is the same as the cure: the only difference is degree and measure. A social problem, for example, may require a certain amount of coercion in order for it to be cured. But there is a short distance from that ordinary wisdom to the unverifiable proposition that if a little coercion helps solve a problem, then more of it will solve the problem even better, or solve other problems that are yet to be recognized as problems.

6.State reason observes the organizational instinct of hierarchical self-preservation. Doubtless civil society itself involves hierarchical propensities, but we do not expect associational life, especially a voluntary one, to be everlasting in the same way that states see themselves (or are seen) to be.

7.All techniques of power are interchangeable from the point of view of state reason—the only question from the point of view of state reason concerns which technique is most effective given certain conditions. The techniques themselves are not the ends, but rather the means of state reason. Thus bureaucratic constancy and conspiratorial episodes could be different techniques of state reason, even in the same state and over a short span of time. Techniques of power are not ends in themselves.

8.State reason must be attentive to loss of resources and diminution of authority as outcomes to guard against, natural or unavoidable as they may be.”

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