Overcoming the State

Matt Peterson
5 min readJan 20, 2022

“Indifference is the deadweight of history.”
— Antonio Gramsci

Marco Bianchetti · Unsplash

The government doesn’t work for us.

In his 1918 essay, The State, Randolph Bourne wrote that the state was intrinsically linked with war.

War depends upon the state for its existence. Without the state, armies cannot be formed. Without armed forces, the state cannot protect its aims.

Bourne’s principal concern here is that government adequately represents its people. Diplomacy is the “disguised war” that states engage other states in to increase their power without the concern of the governed body during times of peace.

“War is the health of the state”

Bourne wrote: “war is the health of the State,” whereby the state’s intention to go to war with another state engages the public in a dialogue about the reasons for going to war. The momentum of this dialogue builds solidarity among nationals in support of going to war.

Dissidents speaking against going to war are labeled unpatriotic and generally seen as upholding a radical agenda that could threaten the nation.

“The safety of the nation” is rhetoric of the state designed to sway support in favor of a cause of the state

So in a sense, a state’s declaration to go to war is more honest than diplomacy because the state is soliciting for the support of its people.

However it’s honest only in the sense that the state’s agenda is made known to its public,

while its reasons behind the agenda or intentions following the war are necessarily hidden from them.

Bourne 1916 · The New Yorker

It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties; the minorities are either intimidated into silence or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion, which may seem to them really to be converting them. Of course, the idea of perfect loyalty perfect uniformity is never really attained.

Because the state seeks to create war, it needs the labor of its population to serve its intentions of attacking, conquering, and controlling other states through hegemony.

The future of the state rests in the power of its defense.

Compliance is how horrible things happen

The state seeks absolute control of its territory. To have that, it needs solidarity from its population.

Solidarity is in the culture, the activities of a population — the movies we watch, the things we talk about at work, shopping, eating out, celebrating holidays.

The state doesn’t outlaw free speech — it shuns and suppresses change.

Solidarity is how the state maintains absolute control of its territory.

We are the fuel of the state.

Indiewire · They Shall Not Grow Old

Nothing is more obvious, however, than that every one of us comes into society as into something in whose creation we had not the slightest hand. We have not even the advantage, like those little unborn souls in The Blue Bird, of consciousness before we take up our careers on earth. By the time we find ourselves here, we are caught in a network of customs and attitudes, the major directions of our desires and interests have been stamped on our minds, and by the time we have emerged from tutelage and reached the years of discretion when we might conceivably throw our influence to the reshaping of social institutions, most of us have been so molded into the society and class we live in that we are scarcely aware of any distinction between ourselves as judging, desiring individuals and our social environment. We have been kneaded so successfully that we approve of what our society approves, desire what our society desires, and add to the group our own passionate inertia against change, against the effort of reason, and the adventure of beauty.

The state is not the same thing as the nation. A nation is land and the people living on it — the state is the apparatus governing them.

Because the state codifies the nation’s language, the state shapes attitudes about policy and warmongering.

The state can be discarded without harming the nation.

One can love their country and be unpatriotic.

To end war, we must first end the state.

Ok, the state’s gone — what now?

Ales Krivec · Unsplash

The popular notion of a violent uprising taking over the United States is ingrained in our imaginations as the only option the radical left has to see socialism.

But radical action can come from voting.

The problem with voting for radical change is that the change that comes from voting happens within the structure of the existing form of government. No radical change would be permanent unless it is on an individual level, such as the election of someone to office.

From voting, we won’t see permanent change to environmental policy, education, incarceration rates, private prisons, healthcare, wages, or market regulations. We won’t see police reform or arms removal — all of these things will seem like absurd dreams that will never be fulfilled.

It’s in education we can catalyze positive change with lasting radical effect.

When the genocidal actions of this continent’s settlers and country’s founders, and the involvement of all people of color and social-economic class are included in an accurate teaching of United States history — we could have a self-governing society where all people are represented as equal members.

The state is not going to get better for you or me. It’s not going to go away, it will get stronger. We’re gonna get old and feeble watching movies, buying things, and suffering through the conveniences of technology in a republic that does not work for us.

But the ones born today might benefit without the repercussions of a failing system — from fit education designed to prevail beyond the state.



Matt Peterson

I write at the intersection of interest and pressing need.