Commentary

“STATE OF THE STATE”

Toby Miller

[T]he single biggest danger with the financial crisis was a view that gripped a lot of progressive politicians that somehow people were going to want the state to come back in fashion … the progressive forces in politics are in danger of misreading the financial crisis as meaning people want the state back. They don’t—Tony Blair (quoted in Kettle, 2010)

The state is so over. Tony knows.

How often have we been told this over the years? Marxism said the state would wither away once the management of class conflicts was displaced by worker control. Libertarianism thought it would wither away when the suppression of freedom was succeeded by individual control. And religion predicted the same if the suppression of faith was replaced by god-given law.

There are many differences amongst these utopias, but they all rely on magical mechanisms—communism, capitalism, or religion—unleashing the essential goodness of people once the fog of ideology is removed. Then they will govern themselves as classes, individuals, or churches. This end of the state is associated with various other endings: the end of conflict, of politics, of ideology, of globalization, of nationalism, of unionism, of property, of poverty, of welfare, of pollution, of patriarchy, of racism, of warfare.

The revolutions promised by such fantasies have not taken place. But in the period since the 1970s, financial and managerial decisions made in one part of the world have taken rapid effect elsewhere. New international currency markets proliferated with the decline of a fixed exchange rate, matching regulated systems with piratical financial institutions that crossed borders. Speculation brought greater rewards than production, as the trade in securities and debts outstripped profits from selling cars or building houses. The world circulation of money created the conditions for imposing international credit tests on all countries, which put an end to state-dominated import-substitution industrialization and the legitimacy of national economies, supplanted by export-oriented industrialization and the international economy. As a consequence, ‘the space of economic management of capital accumulation’ no longer coincided with ‘its political and social dimensions’ (Amin 1997: xi). Governments remained sovereign and supposedly controlled financial markets, but neoclassical orthodoxy and business priorities called for privately managed international capital. The Economist names this an ‘[i]mpossible’ situation (“Global” 1999: 4).

New forms of transnationalism have emerged that question state power, notably the European Union and multilateral and bilateral trading treaties and bodies, such as the World Trade Organization. In addition to these new limits on state power, older forms of non-state territorial control persist, such as warlords, tribes, and feudalism. Meanwhile, social movements splinter the idea of politics and parliaments as the sites where social change occurs; the third sector of civil society is offered as an alternative mode of intervention by firms, families, and funders; and governance and self-regulation displace state control. For Eric Hobsbawm, the last twenty years have produced ‘the erosion and systematic weakening of the authority of states: of national states within their territories, and in large parts of the world, of any kind of effective state authority’ (2010: 133). There are intellectual corollaries, with the decline of state theory and the rise of governmentality and imagined communities as tropes and methods (Jessop 2009: 42).

In the communications field, there are numerous related endings, mostly associated with the state deregulating, technology emerging, and capital reallocating. These had numerous alleged and actual consequences: the end of newspapers, of books, of masses, of spectatorship, of labor, of television, of landlines, of telegrams, of radio, of distance. In this new and vivid world, the deregulated, individuated media make consumers into producers, free the disabled from confinement, encourage new subjectivities, reward intellect and competitiveness, link people across cultures, and allow billions of flowers to bloom in a post-political cornucopia. It’s a kind of Marxist/Godardian wet dream, where people fish, finance, film, and fuck from morning to midnight, and war is never known. This cybertarian paradise admits each person to the ranks of “creatives.” It is home to citizen-consumers, prosumers, twitterers, bloggers, applicants, and downloaders.

That is the strong case for the end of the state and its consequences for communications.

A compelling view is opposed to this position. First of all, exactly which state is “over” in terms of legitimacy, success, or power? There are huge differences between ‘metropolitan capitalist states, export-oriented developmental states, rentier oil states, post-colonial states, post-socialist states, etc’ (Jessop 2010: 39). There are more and more small states, of the sort that once bothered only ‘stamp collectors’ and now veer between being ‘fiscal paradises, or useful sub-bases for transnational deciders’ (Hobsbawm 2010: 138, 141-42). And every social or political movement avowedly dedicated to tearing down states does so in order to establish new ones.

Some regions remain vital counter-weights to the notion that states are finished. In Latin America, for example, mass popular demonstrations in favor of the democratic state protecting people and resources from capital remain part of the continent’s unique history, one largely free of religious divisions and linguistic differences, and driven by the most robust form of Enlightenment ideals anywhere in the world (Hobsbawm 2010: 138) (mixed with inequality and clientelismo, of course!). In the Arab world, the interplay of regionalism and statehood has been central to conflict and consensus throughout colonialism, the Cold War, and today, and the goals of political Islam remain mediated though the desire for state control (Halliday, 2009b and 2009a).

Despite the buffeting it has taken, sovereignty seem to be an ineradicable desire, even though it is often subject to new divisions and definitions. Communications and populations may have internationalized, but the rise of democracy within borders has seen the state become an ever-more-vital point of appeal by the popular classes in ways that contradict globalizing tendencies (Hobsbawm 2010: 140).

The last two hundred years of modernity have produced three zones of citizenship, with partially overlapping but also distinct historicities. These zones of citizenship are politics (conferring the right to reside and vote); economics (the right to work and prosper); and culture (the right to know and speak) (Miller, 2007). They correspond to the French Revolutionary cry ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ [liberty, equality, solidarity] and the Argentine left’s contemporary version ‘ser ciudadano, tener trabajo, y ser alfabetizado’ [citizenship, employment, and literacy] (Martín-Barbero 2001: 9). The first category concerns political rights; the second, material interests; and the third, cultural representation (Rawls 1971: 61). Each one necessitates engagement with the state.

And communications are crucial to maintaining and developing state power as well as eroding it. Jacques Attali (2008) explains that a new ‘mercantile order forms wherever a creative class masters a key innovation from navigation to accounting or, in our own time, where services are most efficiently mass produced, thus generating enormous wealth.’ New eras in knowledge and communication index homologies and exchanges between militarism, colonialism, and class control. Fritz Machlup (1962) showed how the research-and-development emphasis ofUS industry, state, and education was crucial to the country’s economic and social power. Since that time, theFirst World has recognized that its economic future lies in finance capital and ideology rather than agriculture and manufacturing—seeking revenue from innovation and intellectual property, not minerals and masses.

There are five lessons to be drawn from the last three decades. First, communications are still core elements of the state. Second, imperialism is intimately connected to capitalism, which is polarized between center and periphery as it globalizes in search of value through the exploitation of resources and people (Amin, 2003). Third, states can limit capital’s power, because they operate in response to domestic political pressures that are not always synchronized with the desires of international capital. Fourth, the neoliberal financial globalization and technological transformation of communications has diminished this autonomy, so there is a contradiction ‘between intensified world market integration and the still largely national architecture of many state apparatuses’ (Jessop 2010: 39). The final lesson is that the state is the last resort—for everyone—when capital fails, the political technology that retrieved financial globalization from the brink in 2007-09 (Jessop, 2009). In Hobsbawm’s words, ‘[t]he nation-state remains the framework of all political decisions, domestic or foreign’ (2010: 139).

Tony knows the state is over?  Sure, Tony.

Work Cited

Amin, Samir. (1997). Capitalism in the Age of Globalization. London: Zed.

Amir, Samin. (2003). “Geopolítica del imperialismo contemporaneo.” Guerra global, resistencia mundial y alternativas. Ed. Wim Dierckxsens and Carlos Tablada.Havana: Editorial de Cinencias Sociales. 71-107.

Attali, Jacques. (2008). “This is Not America’s Final Crisis.” New Perspectives Quarterly 25, no. 2: 31-33.

“Global Finance: Time for a Redesign?” (1999, January 30). Economist: 4-8 Survey Global Finance.

Halliday, Fred. (2009a). “International Relations in a Post-Hegemonic Age.” International Affairs 85, no. 1: 37-51.

Halliday, Fred. (2009b). “In a Time of Hopes and Fears.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 36, no. 2: 171-75.

Hobsbawm, Eric. (2010). “World Distempers: Interview.” New Left Review 61: 133-50.

Jessop, Bob. (2009). “Redesigning the State, Reorienting State Power, and Rethinking the State.” Handbook of Politics: State and Society in Global Perspective. Ed. Kevin T. Leicht and J. Craig Jenkins.New York: Springer. 41-61.

Jessop, Bob. (2010). “The ‘Return’ of the NationalStatein the Current Crisis of the World Market.” Capital & Class 34, no. 1: 38-43.

Kettle, Martin. (2010, September 1). “World Exclusive: Tony Blair Interview.” Guardian <guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/01/tony-blair-a-journey-interview>.

Machlup, Fritz. (1962). The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Martín-Barbero, Jesús. (2001). “Introducción.” Imaginarios de Nación: Pensar en Medio de la Tormenta. Ed. Jesús Martin-Barbero. Bogotá: Ministerio de Cultura. 7-10.

Miller, Toby. (2007). Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitanism, Consumerism, and Television in a Neoliberal Age.Philadelphia:TempleUniversity Press.

Rawls, John. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.