Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Isn't this a prosperous nation?"

posted by k

What is a state, j asks, and it is a fundamental question. But the words we use may change the answer. Before we know what a state is I think we need to establish whose it is and in whose interest it exists.

The word "commonwealth" was used in the seventeenth century in opposition to "kingdom". It refers to that part of life which is shared and owned in common; it looks toward the possibilities of a participatory democracy. It goes further than "republic" because it sees the participants not just as citizens but as co-owners of the state. The Commonwealth of the mid-17th century didn't go very far but the debates of the period, as seen in the Putney Debates and the manifestos of the Levellers and the Diggers, show a profound sense of political responsibility for the state born out of that concept of co-ownership. The existence of that debate is possibly the most important thing that period in history gave us - because it reminds us of the human capacity to think, question and challenge in the interest of others and the greater good.

Today we are neither citizens nor co-owners by subjects - and that is how our government treats us. Compliance with convention is praised; to be anti-social is to come under the scope of the crimimal law. An idea of society is being imposed on us - but real societies grow and are made by all their members.

Perhaps it would help to think about how our sense of the state changes according to our relation to it - as subjects, citizens or co-owners.


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

The Diggers. Wow, good reference - I start thinking about Leon russellson when I hear that.

My observation when I first moved to the UK was that it was not a free and equal society but one in which the rights had been enshrined almost ENTIRELY in its link to property. From every aspect: use and state of sidewalks, road usage, council tax payments, treatment of travellers to things like the view toward animals, trees and such. Moving from Canada, the idea that a pedestrian should EVER give way to a vehicle was alien (as the car owner has greater licence so they have greater responsibility toward those without cars), not to mention the (and I cannot use a lesser word here) evil attitude everyone had toward nature - from the idea of lords of manor that a rabbit living on "thier" property gives them the right to kill or do what they wish to it - that they "own" everything on thier property - that property itself is not a common trust we hold not only with each other but with the rest of the world and future generations. In Wales, the government or corporations OWNS the water that falls from the sky (as I found out when trying to get an untaxed cistern) - in South America, people took to the streets against the army to maintain the free right of all human beings to rain and naturally flowing water.

Sorry if that seems a side topic, but it is my view that in the UK a person buys thier percentage of common government; which is far more than simply voice or aspect to being heard but literally that it is still property that determines worth. In which case the UK (or "england" for those bent that way) still remains not a democracy or a republic but a diluted oligarchy

10:07 pm  
Blogger areopagitica said...

from k

Really good to have a Canadian perspective. I don't think that this is a side issue at all; Gerrard Winstanley the Digger wrote that God gave the earth to be a common treasury for all and this goes right back to the idea of a commonwealth and being co-owners. You are right, too, to extend the idea to the rest of the world (an uncomfortable idea in Britain since we still live off the benefits of a predatory empire, although its returned to the old idea of an empire run by traders rather than governments) and to future generations.

On a personal note, I heard Leon Rosselson sing his Diggers song in a gig he did with Michael Rosen at the smallish local library. A wonderful and thought-provoking evening. I may add a link to the Diggers, now I've learnt how to do that.

6:26 am  

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