The state is not what one thinks it is

News: Conferring a limited form of legitimacy to traditional institutions is one way to bring society, nations and super-states back to reality.

The biggest challenge the world faces today is steady collapse of traditional institutions. For instance,

From the United Nations and supra-national bodies like the European Union or the World Trade Organization, not one functions with any amount of efficacy.

Monetary authorities have failed which is why we see such economic disruption and growing belief in non-state currencies like cryptos.

The judiciary has failed almost everywhere except in small countries with a common ethnicity (like the Nordics).

The rise of cult-like leaders in many countries is a desperate move by citizens to see if strongmen can do somewhat better than their failing institutions.

What is the reason for the collapse of traditional institutions?

The reason is we have defined the word “state” to largely conform to the Westphalian idea of it. State does not mean just government, legislature, judiciary or law enforcement. It has to include all institutions that exert authority on the individual.

The reality is many kinds of state which we can loosely define as any institution with some authority over individuals exist. For instance,

The family is a micro-state, for it exercises some control over a few individuals.

The tribe and community also constitute a state, for they influence how their members behave.

Corporate institutions are quasi states, for they can enforce behaviours among employees, vendors, and distributors.

Google, Facebook (now Meta), Twitter and Microsoft are cyber states, and often they exert more influence and know more about their “citizens” than the regular state authorities do.

How the idea of flawed state is impacting Individual rights?

The idea of liberal state was originated to destroy the legitimacy of every other institution because other institutions had not been reformed, or were seen as instruments of oppression.

Though it is important to acknowledge that traditional institutions were oppressive to a greater or lesser degree, but using state power to destroy them completely makes state power itself illegitimate after a point. For example,

After some time when all traditional institutions are destroyed, state will gain so much power as to threaten individual rights itself.

This will force non state actors to overthrow the state and the state, allegedly to protect citizens, demands more powers to invade privacy and make laws that would have not been accepted earlier.

What is the way out?

Need  to legally build some legitimacy back into traditional institutions and subject some freedoms of individuals to their rules and internal regulations.

State should be given overriding powers over traditional institutions, and individuals can always be given a right to appeal over the heads of these traditional forms of authority.

The social capital that exists within such traditional institutions, from religious authorities to khap panchayats, must be used for the greater good by making them more accountable and self-regulating.

Source: This post is based on the article “The state is not what one thinks it is” published in Business Standard on 5th   Jan 2022.

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