What Israel Lost...and What America Argues Over
I love watching The Shield. I remember when the complex tale of a good and highly intelligent legionary, Vic Mackey, gone bad in a noirish LA world was broadcast, and how like Battlestar Galactica it pushed out the limits of what TV drama can do. My brother bought me three seasons of the show for Christmas, and watching one the other night (my girlfriend was away) as an escape from mad amounts of work, with a Sidney-Carleton size glass of something Argentinian, I found myself thinking about federalism.
Federalism, in its modern variant, is associated with a peculiar form of republicanism in the Anglo-American mind. Statists constrained by human liberty and individual freedom under law declare the constitution of the USA to be sovereign and argue over the extent of the structures created beneath it.
But people who have any contact with the urban histories of the USA know that this is not true. In one memorable Shield Scene, I think in the Fifth Season, Vic concludes a working agreement with 'Byz-Lat' gang members, by driving into their territory and negotiating with them. It is left unsaid that for practical purposes the state in their compound is them, not the USA, and that their reach is parallel to, if not further than, law enforcement. (and yes, I did think of the Fourth Crusade, as I'm sure the writers did too).
You get a little of the feeling of similar networks outside train stations and the likes in America. I remember a conversation I once had whilst waiting for a friend to pick me up outside the Greyhound depot in Baltimore (it may have been DC) with a huge guy, who wanted a dollar 'for a fix'. I observed that that was cheap, and no way to waste a dollar, and we fell to talking. His world wasn't delimited by the normal markers of others; it was a Pan's Labyrinth of lines in the dust and gang eruvs on the street. At no time did I feel that the police, tooled up as they were, had much to do within his world. They may as well have been Romans.
This is partly because his mates had guns and lawyers, of course, but also because US federalism, born in law officially, and located in individual sentiment and sensibility nominally, can't help but be consociational. That means, almost in a medieval way, that identity in America is corporate. Different parts of a person's being--race, sex, class, gender, faith and sexuality, spring to mind, as well as ethnicity and gang membership, or professional vocation-- can be submitted to different sovereignties and the police and state are in no position to set any of them aside if enough people decide to uphold one thing over another. They can only explain or suppress. As I suggested below, it's the same with militias.
Older federalisms, swept away by Jean Bodin, seem to have recognised this point and proceeded to a position where they would have to accomodate difference, whereas newer ones defang or crush them. So, for instance, as Daniel Elazar points out in this brilliant article that starts off talking about a Martin Buber vision of an Israel of Kibbutzes, it is perfectly possible to think of states as composed of agreed communities of different groups.
The key to this sort of thing, though, seems to be elevating some common consensual system of agreement, and associating it with morality and peace. Althusius thought that people take identity from multiple sources, like family and ethnicity, and should be allowed to consent to society on the basis that those several sources were respected. But he thought Calvinist religion would hold them together.
Who is to say, looking at the Dutch Republic or the Protestant version of Switzerland that he was wrong? My problem with it is what happens when one or two of the groups go beyond anarchic internal jurisdictions and shoot others in the face, or bomb their children, which is what I suppose forestalls Israel's full embrace of a two-state, four faith federalism, and what did for Yugoslavia too. Buber thought in terms of a version of Old Israel--of covenants and multiple tribal agreements and admittedly one-sided negotiations over multiple tribes and states--rather than what many modern Jews and Protestants would prefer to think of as an elaborated but monolithic Jewish identity. What could he have said to the Falasha faced with Hamas, though?
I wish there were several Jewish states. Then things would be a lot easier; but Hitler, Stalin and Nehru forestalled that, I guess.
Or take Europe. It is perfectly possible to see it as a republicanised version of the Austro-Hungarian Empire today, and its competition rules and subsidies to lobbies do correspond to the latter stages of that Empire, or to the Holy Roman one that Althusius lived in. But faced with an individual-elevating, rights-protecting and deeply seductive official American model, who could think of Europe as superior?
The thing is, if one forgets about real identities and sovereignties, and how strongly people feel about them, we are reduced to a pre-Great War world in every society, in which everyone feels that everyone else is a gang whereas they are a legitimate state. But if we don't forget about them, we are a community of gangs.
What's a fellow to do? Twice in the chest and once in the head, or back to the Buber? These are the sort of questions that have characterised most of human history, though you would hope eventually that people learn.
In the meantime, a sort of exasperated and delayed slippage to psychosis, clinging onto the idea that a civilised state under law is achievable and worth something because of the order it creates, even if you have to lie for it, and put up with the lies that others tell who do not see the skull beneath the skin, Vic Mackey's world--is as much as you can ask.
Be warned, I'm also reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union at the minute as well, so it may be difficult to withold further twaddle in the coming days.....