A Nonfiction Book by O.G. Rose
Belonging Again (Part 7)
Does a Growing State Decrease the Probability of Violence By Raising the Stakes?
The doctrine of tolerance has lessened the authority of communities, contributing to a questioning of their very existence, which in turn has contributed to a feeling that the State possesses ultimate control. Today, the “borders” communities are allowed to impose on themselves are ultimately “permitted” by the State, and hence it is ultimately the State which decides which “definitions” are acceptable.¹ This all occurs as communities undergo inflation due to “The Nova Effect,” as Taylor called it, and as commitments are gradually concentrated in the State, people gradually come to feel as if there are less deep values to be garnered from communities (especially if they are viewed with a skepticism and expectation to find bigotry and injustice). Cosmopolitanism becomes ‘tolerant not in the sense that it expects to learn from others but in the sense that it expects [that] there is nothing really to learn of any consequences’.² ³
That said, let’s not behave as if Cosmopolitans lack reason to feel and act this way. Speaking about ages of the past, Conyers wrote:
‘The cost of religious bigotry has been enormous in their world, even as it has been well rehearsed in ours. And the liberating of individuals from an oppressive state of affairs that bred conflict on every hand was certainly an appropriate task for the social theorists of that day. Nor has that day ever left us.’⁴
Conyers was aware that religion, communal values, and splintered devotions caused conflict, discrimination, and worse. However, Conyers also believed that religion and religious-like values were invaluable for communal formation. Again, he wrote:
‘Thus we see the irony of religion. Without religion, no community with a catholic perspective takes shape. But with competing religions, community is imperiled. The world is both drawn together and split apart by the same force.’⁵
However, for Conyers, the risk of religious conflict was far less a risk than the risk of a war between nation-states, which he believed was a ‘fury […] unleash[ed] upon the world’ (at least in the past) due to ‘the privatizing of religion’ (and if The Myth of Religious Violence by William T. Cavanaugh is accurate, there is good reason to think Conyers is correct).⁶ For Conyers, WWI and WWII were examples of ‘the long-term consequences of a society in which individuals c[a]me to think of themselves as free of every bond and every obligation except that of the [S]tate.’⁷ On the uniqueness of WWI and WWII and their horror, Conyers wrote:
‘Surely earlier regimes could have used this level of resource from the civilian population and economy at times of national crisis. One thinks of the English against Napoleon or the Austrians against the Turks. Why did they not call upon these resources? Why did they not mobilize their entire populations and a larger part of the materials available in the land?
‘They did not because they could not! The secret of the comprehensive wars of the twentieth century is the extent to which authority once distributed and multicentric became, over time, concentrated in national governments.’⁸
For Conyers, WWI and WWII were only possible due to the centralization of all powers and authorities in the State, which the “peaceful” doctrine of toleration had ironically promoted and helped if not accelerated. But here we should note an important objection: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker.
According to Pinker, we are probably living during humanity’s most peaceful era. It is often said that the twentieth century was the most violent of all, but Pinker believes this is wrong. Pinker argues that in the past a common form of entertainment was burning cats alive; now, the thought of being entertained by such an act strikes most as monstrous. People used to be executed by crucifixion, were ripped apart limb by limb, and worse — what they witnessed regularly, we would no longer even consider doing. For Pinker — with a special nod to the importance of the State’s monopolization of violence — the world is ever-more humane.
Falling between Conyers and Pinker, I believe the potential for massive, perhaps world-ending conflict exists because of the extreme concentration of power in the State, but it is precisely this potential which functions as a deterrent for major WWIII-esq conflict, helping give rise to “The Great Peace” which has followed since WWII (which may share similarities with Yuval Noah Harari’s thinking in Homo Deus). Yes, there have been smaller wars like Korea and Iraq, revolutionary conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and terrorism in Uganda and Europe, but none like the major conflicts between nation-states seen at the beginning of the twentieth century. It seems that at least partially thanks to the growth of the State, WWIII has become “too bad to happen.” Yes, WWIII could of course still transpire due to some “black swan”-like collapse of global debt, trade deals, etc. (as could “the banality of evil”), but thanks to the Cosmopolitanism that has lessened if not erased the possibility of Bonhoeffer/Hitler and made us feel rootless, WWIII at least seems increasingly unlikely.⁹
Though they are not as devastating as world wars, it should be noted that the growth of the State seems to have increased the likelihood of revolutions, terrorism, and smaller conflicts (which litter the era of “The Great Peace”). However, if the growth of the State is only way to stop massive wars, though this is a “tragic trade” (“tragic” as Martha Nussbaum uses the word in The Fragility of Goodness), it is a fair and arguably good trade.¹⁰
¹Understanding the connection between “borders” and “definitions” can shed light on why many people are passionate about maintaining borders, stressing assimilation and only support violating borders under the most extreme of circumstances and according to due process of law. Furthermore, considering “Equality and Its Immoral Limits” by O.G. Rose, whenever borders are erased without organic and emergent process — whether the border of whose allowed where, the border of what a community can and cannot permit, etc. — existential anxiety will result and contribute to social upheaval and tension.
²Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 195.
³And at this point, strangely enough, communities become so irrelevant that there is a real sense in which Cosmopolitans don’t actually feel like there are conflicts between local devotions and national/global devotions: nothing comes to hold a unique claim other than the nation/globe. This also contributes to Cosmopolitans failing to relate to others who do in fact feel a tension between conflicting communal claims.
⁴Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 148.
⁵Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 21.
⁶Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 148.
⁷Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 146.
⁸Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 192.
⁹If WWIII did occur one day (a “flip moment’), the event will reach back in time and make Cosmopolitanism “always” a bad idea; if the even doesn’t occur, Cosmopolitanism will “always” be a fair trade.
¹⁰Still, if State grows increases the likelihood of “internal destabilization” and this destabilization leads to a collapse of the State in a manner that lead to massive conflict, the “tragic trade” of the modern world would be a zero-sum game. It is also possible that the very size of the State will increase the desire to use it, rather over its own citizenship or against other international States, but if indeed States are “too big to fail,” this may create enough deterrence to keep anyone from doing the unthinkable.