Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military strategist who lived through the French Revolution, wrote in his unfinished book On War that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’. It is of course something of a trite aphorism, and hides a considerable amount of theory and philosophy. Yet as with all good aphorisms, it reveals something important: in this case, that the seeming differences between politics and war are not so significant as we had thought. Politics is about two sides negotiating the distribution of resources, sometimes along ideological lines, sometimes along economic lines; war is not all that different, save insofar as the rule of law is suspended, such as it may have existed before the outbreak of hostilities. Increasingly, we see sporting theatre being usurped for the purposes of political metaphor. The symbolism, and the language, is a kind of double speak that would be shocking in any other context, and useful for democracies, who don’t tend to actually fight each other.
Liverpool won yesterday. I don’t like soccer. I don’t watch it (unless Liverpool are playing), I don’t play the game, nor have I any interest in its tactics, development, or the circus that surrounds the professional game. But because Liverpool won yesterday, I feel better today. I have been a fan of Liverpool since I was eight or nine years old, when in order to belong in my class at school, I chose a team (there were two choices; the other was Manchester United. I hate Manchester United.). Even though I’m much older now, and deeply understand the naivety of choosing to support a foreign team playing a foreign game where grown men (often racist, always straight, and sometimes with a penchant for violence) kick a ball around a field, it reaches deep inside of me when they win, and when they lose. Sport is an extremely powerful social force, and in the past thirty years, bankers and politicians have learned how to control that force in an unprecedented way.
So let’s say the State becomes a platform, like we talked about in the last post. In order to participate in the State, in order to pay taxes, and get educational accreditation, access healthcare, and to get licensed to own dogs, own a gun, or drive a car, you need to subscribe to the platform. Let’s say then that the platform allows for commercial entities to participate, to advertise their wares on the State Platform, to ‘compete’ for consumer attention based on big data analysis of citizen behaviour and experience. What are the other things that are happening with technology that impact upon the evolution of the state?
State Legitimacy is a big topic. Yesterday, the good people at the University acceded to my request for external reader status, giving me access to the University subscriptions to online journals. I didn’t have a ready made list of journals to download (remote access is unfortunately not available to “external readers”) so I sat down and began searching on some of the keywords. “State Legitimacy” was first; then “Nation State”. Lots of results, lots of articles, including one particularly interesting piece on Cuba’s efforts to bolster State Legitimacy based on sports. As the abstract explains,
A crucial element of the legitimating discourse of the Cuban state, domestically and internationally, has been the relative success of its sports teams in international competition. As symbols of the strength of the state and one of the few remaining “successes” of the Revolution, Cuban sports performances remain vital symbolic capital for current and future administrations.
Wednesday’s Op-Ed by Jules Boykoff in the New York Times criticises the IOC for its elitism and arrogance. Sidestepping the conventional criticism of corruption, Boykoff attacks governance, the preponderance of royalty on the committee, and, essentially, its condescension. It is in effect a commercial construct that denies accountability (such as the ethics committee who report to the IOC executive, populated no doubt by – as Sir Humphrey would refer to them – sound men) and retains, as he concludes, “the arrogance and aloofness” that make it very ordinary indeed.
I linked yesterday to Ann-Marie Slaughter‘s excellent presentation to PopTech on International Relations and the non-state actors that influence and even dictate so much development in the world. Watching it again this morning (and it’s worth watching twice) a number of questions crossed my mind. First, she talks about social actors and ad hoc networks, but never quite gets to social networks. Just as ad-hoc supra-national organisations are bringing together strange bedfellows, and getting ahead of the State actors in driving change, people are developing connections and social networks beyond traditional family and even cultural groups; one could argue that technological change is facilitating the re-structuring of the DNA of culture. Kin, geography, language, religion and race remain important, but they are no longer the exclusive determinants of social alignment. People connect now through trade, sports, entertainment, hobbies, and other interests, forming close relationships. People’s identity – closely tied to these relationships – is changing. National identity is less relevant.