Posted by: hobbesonafob | May 19, 2009

The Diaphanous State

The word “diaphanous” is usually associated with fine-textured fabrics:

taking notice of pretty things that dances with gentle breezes - a homage to American Beauty

taking notice of pretty things that dance in gentle breezes - une homage to American Beauty (taken by author on a roof in Sharjah, U.A.E., 2008)

But, I would like to use the word diaphanous to describe a noun that is not often associated with being fine or delicate. I would like to propose that the “State” is a concept that is delicate. The concept itself is delicate for a few reasons that I will quickly point out:

1. The State as a Glorified Contentious and Coercive Nonstate Actor (CCNA)

When the state is characterized by its functions (warmaking, statemaking, protection, and resource extraction), it becomes diaphanous because one is able to see through the term “state” and conclude that the state is essentially indistinguishable from a CNA or CCNA (See here for a primer). The only difference between the state and a CCNA is that the state receives international legitimacy. Ultimately, the only difference between the state and the CCNA are their titles.

There is only one requirement for statehood for a CCNA or other non-state actors: recognition from the international community. Whether it be Charles de Gaulle addressing an eager Quebecois audience or the controversy of recognizing Kosovo’s independence, the international community has the ability to validate or invalidate a CCNA or a state. Specifically, the strongest states (the United States, Russia, China, etc.) have the strongest ability to validate. The argument can be made that Kurdistan in northern Iraq and Somaliland in northern Somalia have most of the requirements to become states, but lack the international recognition, which denies them the designation of “State.” Furthermore, the political legitimacy granted by a population to the state in any given country is not a requirement for international legitimacy (e.g. states where the majority of the population does not recognize the state as being legitimate). 

2. The State as a Masque

This framework also reveals another diaphanous quality of the state: its delicacy. The state is delicate because other social organizations (CNAs or CCNAs) are able to gain control of the state, as if it were a masque or a phase that — under the right circumstances — all organizations are entitled to and eligible for. Personally, I would like to say that political legitimacy (from the population) is a requirement to become a state, but this hope does not reflect reality where Burma/Myanmar or other dictatorial regimes are addressed as states by other states. As often in global affairs, morality is trumped by force. That being said, the state — to me at least — seems to be a social organization that is often founded by force. 

The idea that any social organization has a right to become a state is not something that would be taught in elementary school. Teaching this idea would lead to the following:

"Today in school we learned that the state is only as real as we think it is. If the state is a construct of our minds, then we can, under the right physical conditions, destroy the current state and create a new one. Let's make a macaroni model of this concept!"

"Today in school we learned that the state is only as real as we think it is. If the state is a construct of our minds, then we can, under the right physical conditions, destroy the current state and create a new one. Let's make a macaroni model of this concept!"

For some reason I think that most educators would be opposed to teaching how delicate a legitimate state is. If the state is delicate, imagine how delicate a teacher’s authority in the classroom is…

3. Historically, the State is a Rarity 

The state has been a historical rarity. I have yet calculated all of the data (believe it or not, there is a lot of history) but it seems that the Weberian notion of a state having a legitimate means to use violence, AND the state to exercise a monopoly of violence is a simplification of reality, and of the history that precedes it. I will begin illustrating examples of this in the future, but for starters, we can start mulling over what indirect rule is and how often it was and is used. 

 

The implications of these observations are still being developed, but I think that they will play a strong role in nation-building and counterinsurgency ( COIN =  nation-building while under fire?). More to come…

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Responses

  1. […] has been partly based on Robb’s work, is that contentious and coercivce non-state actors (CCNAs)/global guerillas have been able to consistently challenge the power of the state. If we accept […]

  2. […] we accept that the state is diaphanous (because other social organizations are able to gain control of the state, as if it were a masque […]

  3. […] to position himself in a post-NATO intervention Afghanistan. Mullah Omar may have realized how diaphanous the state really […]

  4. […] democratic state-building must seek to change a given culture, but, it must also eliminate groups (CNAs and CCNAs) that may coerce individuals. I believe these groups are usually prosecuted according to the law […]


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