The State

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The patriot loses all sense of the distinction between State, nation, and government. In our quieter moments, the Nation or Country forms the basic idea of society … we think of our own people merely as living on the earth’s surface along with other groups, pleasant or objectionable as they may be, but fundamentally as sharing the earth with them. … Country is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power, of competition: it signifies a group in its aggressive aspects. And we have the misfortune of being born not only into a country but into a State, and as we grow up we learn to mingle the two feelings into a hopeless confusion….

Wartime brings the ideal of the State out into very clear relief, and reveals attitudes and tendencies that were hidden. In times of peace the sense of the State flags in a republic that is not militarized. For war is essentially the health of the State. The ideal of the State is that within its territory its power and influence should be universal. … And it is precisely in war that the urgency for union seems greatest, and the necessity for universality seems most unquestioned.

The State is the last and best-known work of the radical essayist Randolph Bourne (1886-1918). Written during the last days of his life and published posthumously in 1918, this anti-state classic examines the mass psychology of war, and the role of war in the growth of State power and the manufacture of political identity — expressed most famously in Bourne’s aphorism, War is the health of the State!

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