Monday, 5 January 2009

Uncle Weber and the pumpkin state

Whenever you need to understand something, turn to Uncle Weber, that’s my motto.

Max Weber, all-round genius and (sadly) not my uncle, is the intellectual version of a fairy Godmother minus the glass slipper: he has the answer to every question. So while Greece is falling apart, I turn to Uncle Weber who tells me that a state is a state when it satisfies two basic criteria:
- A given territory, in the shape of clearly identified and protected borders
- Monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force within said territory

Enter Greece.
According to uncle Weber, corruption, lack of political accountability, a failing economy coupled with a total lack of economic vision, ailing health and education services, unfair taxation and high unemployment make Greece a hard place to live in but no less of a state.
Well that’s a relief. So. Back to his criteria.
‘Given territory’. Check. More or less. There is the odd dispute with Turkey over the continental shelf, uninhabited rocks, national waters and corresponding airspace but mostly, yes, check. Definitely.
Apart from the ‘protected’ bit. As Greece’s northern borders are a bit of a sieve and if someone wants to come in… well… they do. Still, these are individuals rather than invading armies so, yes, ‘given territory’. Check.

Monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force should be an easy one.
The state has an army and a police force legitimised through the procedural soundness of the political system, in Greece’s case, the Republican structures and democratic process. And nobody else within Greece has an army or police force.
Only not right now.
Right now there is no monopoly over the use of force, what with large-scale rioting and kalashnikovs being fired at the police rather regularly these last few weeks.
But this wouldn’t be too bad, from a definitional point of view, if the state retained monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Legitimacy here being the operative word.
But with a young boy lying dead by the hand of an agent of the state and hundreds of public buildings and private businesses left ravaged through the inaction or absence of the agents of the state, legitimacy is as leaky as the country’s northern border.

Cue, uncle Weber, who tells us that legitimacy is not just about legality. It is also about building and sustaining faith. Faith in a government, state or person to fulfil their office in accordance to the values and principles the office, government, state and people stand for.

Meanwhile the Greek government is whistling uncomfortably, issuing the odd statement, thinking of, maybe, reshuffling its ministers and changing the wallpaper.
When the fundamentals of what a state is all about are crumbling before our very eyes. When anything and everything the state or government are involved in is failing. And when government officials, state agents and citizens alike look at the failures, shrug and shake their heads because nobody expects success any more.
So this much is clear.
The Greek state may soon turn itself into a pumpkin. And there will be no spell to bring it back. Because spells need faith in order to work.
And nobody seems to have any faith left.

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