Mass Killing and State Concepts (Comment)

(Comment at Jay Ulfelder’s Dart-Throwing Chimp, “States Aren’t the Only Mass Killers.”)

To begin with what may seem like a trivial point, the “discrete group” killed on 9/11 may not be best described as “Americans.” The problem of defining Al Qaeda’s enemy also raises the question of whether we are in any sense obligated, for the sake of understanding if for no other reason, to consider the perpetrator’s definition or justification of acts that perhaps always entails the ambition to create or consolidate a “state” of some kind, even if not necessarily a modern political-administrative state. Far beyond Rwanda [cited as one of two cardinal examples of mass killing], examples of mass killing in addition to the Holocaust [the other example] have such a long and varied history they become difficult to distinguish from history, and for the same reason cover every type of state or state concept, including the state concepts that arise within or are implicit in resistance to imposition of other state concepts (via old and new species of imperialism, colonial expansion, “settlement” of territories not under recognized state governance, and so on). In the case of 9/11, the targets represented the financial, military, and political arms of an international (or imperial or neo-imperial) order centered in the United States that would have to be disrupted or reduced in order to advance the AQ state concept – the new Caliphate or expanding [super-]state of revolutionary Islamic states. The definitional problem may present inconveniences to the attempted reduction of history to the terms of contemporary social science, but, if by “state” we mean strictly political-administrative states capable of legal recognition within the current international system of states, then the creation of “non-state actors” as somewhat incomprehensible within that framework would be a predictable result. It also means that the further we look into the past, the less relevant and appropriate our categories will be. For example, was the settlement of North America, as accompanied by the mass annihilation of indigenous people and their ways of life over the course of centuries, accomplished by the American “state” or was the American state as we now know it a product among other things of the settlement of North America?

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

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The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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