Winston Churchill famously proclaimed democracy to be the least-worst government. Alas, quotability is not the same thing as wisdom. Worst at what, Sir Winston?
Speaking of quotable-yet-loony folks, Aristotle defined Man as “the political animal,” and as such had an answer to our question: The State’s purpose, Aristotle said, is to promote virtue.
Let’s leave the contentious topic of “virtue” aside, and step back to the definition of “Man.” Man isn’t a political animal. Man is a purpose-finding animal, an explaining animal. We simply can’t resist the siren song of teleology. We all live under some kind of State; therefore, we assume that “The State” must have a purpose. It’s in our DNA; we can’t do otherwise, but…. we might be wrong. Perhaps “self-organization into some kind of government” is just one of Humanity’s givens, like “sexual dimorphism*” or “requires oxygen.” Maybe “government” just IS.
A dangerous thought, that. If it’s true, it desacralizes the State — the worship of which, I think we all agree, has driven all the major political events in the West since at least 1789. Historian Herbert Butterfield called the 20th century’s great mass movements “giant organized forms of self-righteousness,” but he could’ve taken that a step further — “popular” government of any sort invariably becomes a giant organized form of self-righteousness. People being people — that is, teleology-addled monkeys — it can’t be any other way. The State, since it exists, must exist to do something. What better something to do than to promote virtue?
So we’re back to Aristotle. But it looks like Aristotle stole a base. As a rule, people aren’t virtuous. Why else would they need the State to promote virtue? And yet, the State is made up of nothing but people. Aristotle also said that a cause can’t give something to an effect that it, the cause, doesn’t already have. So how, then, can the State — which, like Soylent Green, is made of people — itself make people virtuous?
See what I mean about this teleology stuff? The mind rebels. The State is a human thing. Humans made it, and every human act, we’re hardwired to believe, has a purpose behind it. That hardwiring may lead us into incoherence in under three steps, but so far as I know, I’m the only guy in the history of Political Science ever to suggest that government just…kinda… IS. That it evolved with us, and thus all our airy-fairy noodling about Divine Right and We the People and the Vanguard of the Proletariat and whatnot are just foolish blather about what’s basically still a monkey troop.
[Surely I can’t be the only one to ever have this thought. Arthur Balfour wrote a long, interesting book about the evolutionary basis of religious belief, and there’s an entire Wiki article about “the evolutionary argument against naturalism,” which argument must encompass stuff like “natural rights,” but I’ve never heard it. Ernst Mach said something to the effect of, “belief in evolution is itself an evolutionary adaptation,” so the thought must’ve occurred to him that human governments, too, are evolutionary developments… but again, even the hardest-core “Social Darwinist” governments (e.g. Mustache Guy’s) were full of mystical hooey — indeed, fuller than any of the so-called “Christian” governments that opposed him, or all of them together. See what I mean with this stuff?].
All this would be just philosophy-wank, better suited to a dorm room bull session after a few bong rips, if not for the fact that “desacralizing the State” has to be the #1 project of any viable Dissident movement. The State, as a human production, has only such “goals” as we give it… and, being made up of nothing but humans, is going to be as good at achieving those goals as we humans generally are at achieving any of our goals….