For the Lew Rockwell blog - Mexico and the State

Submitted to the Lew Rockwell blog

Ottavio Paz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990 for his book The Labyrinth of Solitude. In addition to being the author of more than 25 books of poetry and prose, he is also a playwright, social philosopher and critic. Paz is also the recipient of the Jerusalem Prize, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and the Neustadt Prize. And he served as a Mexican diplomat in France and Japan as well as being the Mexican ambassador to India.

After 20 years of being in print, current editions of The Labyrinth of Solitude have several epilogues, the last of which is The Philanthropic Ogre. Here he says:

"The twentieth-century state has proved itself a force more powerful than the ancient empires and a master more terrible than the old tyrants and despots: a faceless, inhuman master who functions not like a demon but like a machine. Civil Society has almost completely disappeared: nothing and no person exists outside the state. It is a surprising inversion of values that would have made Nietzsche himself shudder: the state is Being and exception; irregularity and even simple individualism are forms of evil, that is, of nothingness."

And he continues...

"The state is neither a factory nor a business. The logic of history is not quantitative. Economic rationality depends on the relationship between expenditure and production, investment and earnings, work and savings. The rationale of the state is not utility nor profit but power - gaining it, conserving it and extending it. The archetype of power does not lie in economics but in war, not in the polemic relationship of capital to work but in the hierarchical relationship of commander to soldier."

Having spent much of the last two years in Mexico, it's interesting to observe the indifference many Mexicans have towards the state, seemingly much more so than in the US. Perhaps it's because of their longstanding experience with it. According to the plaque introducing visitors to the Monte Alban ruins in Oaxaca (attached), it is one of the earliest sites in the world where "the rise of the State is clearly shown". It is the first urban plan in the Americas and existed for 13 centuries (500BC - 850AD) when it's "gradual abandonment began, for reasons still unknown". When discussing this with my guide he said it was easy to understand why the site was abandoned. "The state doesn't work. After the demise of Monte Alban local people went on living their daily lives just like they did before. Except now they were free from carrying water up the mountain either to pay tribute to the rulers or as outright slaves. They were free of the obligation to bring rulers food in homage to their power and build structures at their command. The state took from them without offering anything in return except the promise of temporary exemptions from the state's violence through murder, ritualistic sacrifice or enslavement. It's only a matter of time before a society motivated like this collapses."

How many centuries will pass before US citizens can be as clear in their understanding of the state as our Mexican neighbors? Hopefully not the 1300 years it took the people who lived around Monte Alban.

Michael Denny

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