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The jackboot and the jeanboot...

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday May 11, 2011 12:34 AM

... both, apparently, have a "right to exist".

And why, you ask, was I image-googling the phrase "right to exist"? Well, you already know the answer, don't you? It's Israel, of course -- the only state whose "right to exist" is ever asserted as an unconditional and absolute imperative.

I've been following the Tony Kushner story, mentioned here before, and this phrase "Israel's right to exist" -- which Kushner, ho-hum, "firmly supports" -- has been recurring in Kushner's self-exculpations like one of the more tiresome leitmotifs in Parsifal. It goes to show both what a Zionist Kushner really is -- since nobody but Zionists deploys this phrase -- and also what a shallow, unthinking person he really is, since he has clearly never bothered to ask himself what exactly this ridiculous slogan means.

Did apartheid South Africa have a right to exist? The Confederate States of America? Yugoslavia? Greater Germany, aka the Third Reich? The old USSR? The Ottoman Empire? The Duchy of Burgundy? The Venetian Republic? The Papal States? Manchuguo? South Vietnam?

History is littered with states that ceased to exist -- who lost their right to exist, you might say, along with their existence. This doesn't ordinarily mean that the people whom those states ruled -- or, for that matter, the people who ruled them -- ceased to exist. People and land generally stick around, but borders change, and regimes change. Big states get broken up, and small states get swallowed up. Even when neither of those dire fates befalls them, they often change their character and political arrangements. Black folks get emancipated. Women get the vote. Palestinians get reparations, equal political status, and a right of return.

States, and the political orders associated with them, are contingent, and they have no absolute right to exist -- not Israel, not the United States, not even Canada. States exist by consent of the people they rule, and the other states in the neighborhood. Provoke too many of the people, or the other states, long enough -- and you are, well, history.

And hey, Clio, when it comes to Israel -- we're waiting.

In the meantime, this notion, "right to exist", is not entirely useless. It's a kind of reverse pons-asinorum: any time you hear somebody say it, you know you're listening to a liar or a fool.

Comments (33)

To turn an axiom: I have a right to exist as a number and a corpse. Everything up to that point is just stuff that happens.

Not sure there's any objective support or evidence for "states exist by the consent of the ruled." Pretty sure states exist for the emolument of the wealthy. Consent is a gloss. Do agree with the larger premise. There are no rights to existence.

Al Schumann:

The realities of states acknowledged, I still have a sentimental fondness for republicanism. Consent, with a choice, a real choice in the matter, looks like a good arrangement to me.


"Palestinians get reparations, equal political status, and a right of return."

Uh. Uh-huh-huh. HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH.

This is a joke, right?


What? Nothing for the native Americans? How about, say, 95% of the land east of the Mississippi River and the ocean out to the edge of the continental shelf?

Didn't think so.


Pretty sure states exist for the emolument of the wealthy.

It is true that a wealthy European Ashkenazi minority calls all the shots in Israel embodying the ethos of Benny Morris' plaintive cry that "even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians." As an "Arab-Jew" noted:

If the Palestinians figure in official Euro-Israeli discourse as the Indians, associated in colonial discourse with nomadism and savagery, Asian and African Israelis are, on some levels, the Blacks. Not coincidentally, our major movement of resistance in the seventies was called 'The Black Panthers' in homage to the American movement, while today we have adopted the name Mizrahim ('Orientals'). Despite its Orientalist lineage, this latter name carries an affirmation of our positive relation to the 'East' within the context of a state that proudly proclaims its Western-ness while choking off our 'Eastern' cultural expression.

Perhaps one day soon one of these schwartzes will follow the footsteps of Obama to the higher political offices of "the State" (one of the more arresting formulations that passes entirely below the radar in Herzl's society which has retained remarkable fidelity to his original vision of being "a portion of Europe…an outpost of civilization…against Asiatic barabarism", or as Ehud Barak recently phrased it, "a villa in the jungle").

One major hoop that any state has to jump through is to garner recognition from its neighbors — and not, say, states 7000 miles away in the Caribbean whose rulers were paid in suitcases of cash (thanks to the American taxpayer) to vote for its coming into existence. Despite having diplomatic relations with Egypt for more than 3 decades (thanks again to generosity of the American taxpayer to the tune of well over a hundred billion) the relationship has never been anything other than chilly even at the official level, and the boycott of Israel runs so deep among those who thronged Tahrir Square that even an Israeli correspondent receptive to the plight of Gazans like Amira Hass was driven to distraction at not finding anyone willing to talk to her. In Turkey, the only other substantial Muslim majority country that recognized Israel — to bury its own unseemly pro-German past and to join NATO — the proportion of the population that holds a positive view of its Mediterranean neighbor is 2%, a figure that is likely to have gone down since Israeli naval commandos decided to take out several Turks in International waters.


"Acquiescence" would have been a better term than "consent" -- closer to what I had in mind, anyway.

MJS, don't indulge Crow. He is unwilling to think this sophomore's point through. Indeed, that unwillingness is what impresses him about himself. It makes him feel radical.

Meanwhile, people have only been trying to govern themselves for a couple centuries, and far less if you say "whole peoples." Consent is a perfectly fine word and goal, as Al says.

No decent world is going to be stateless in the near future, if ever. We need better states, as well as the extension and democratization of the UN.


There's quite a range of attitudes toward a state among its subjects, ranging from active resistance to fervent enthusiasm. "Consent" projects onto this dimension somewhere near the middle of this range, but on reflection, carries some baggage with it that I associate with the notion of a social contract -- a notion of very limited usefulness, I think.

"Acquiescence" is the minimum a state needs to get from the bulk of its subjects; anything less than that and it's in trouble.

Of course many states regularly do much better than this. Many, many Americans, for example, are well above the level of mere acquiescence. We have our work cut out.

Man, Dawson, you are one tin eared la manchan. You mistake skepticism and a fondness for Diogenes' legacy with an imagined (feverishly, by ye) bomb throwing radicalism invented out of burned cloth and fifty year old complaints from the last gasp of the forgotten International. Keep up your argument with the ghost of Bakunin, if that suits you. But it has fuck all to do with what I actually write or wrote.

I don't think governments rest on consent. That's all I wrote. How you leap from that to the intimation of subjective and intemperate radicalism is a bit of a wee mystery, little man.

But, a wee mystery only. I've wasted today's superfluous allotment already. Good luck to you. You have students to alienate, I imagine.


That was the beating heart of my queried objection: the social contract. A bad fey interloper of no discernible pedigree.


excellent post !!!!!!!


state speaking for itself:
(cue "nasty nip" WWII agit prop voice)

"citizen prisoners ...we have our ways...
of prompting consent "

as much as i note the necessary and potentially progressive roll
of a revolutionary "republican" state
crow's point never fails to move my bowel

in the end states are for rocking
if not toppling

bombard the headquarters


i wish you and dawson would stop scuffling
talk about a leitmotif with longeurs

let me have the site franchise for ass hole on the beat
you two are capable of much good sense


" subjective and intemperate radicalism "
i regard more highly by far
"a fondness for Diogenes' legacy "

that cheap class clown toxic swill...

nothin but "bath tub gin " as they say


sargent major crow

who is karl ??
u ??

oxy ???

who ??

why always the bag over the head
any real politics there

speaking of the noble comintern

recall the yellow international ???

yellow is a political color too
usually found in combo
for instance
black and yellow combined
is honeyless bumble bee politics

buzz buzzzz buzz
sting once and expire


I only post as Jack Crow. Ever. I don't need doubled or trebled names to make you break your promise to limit to two replies, or trigger Dawson's invariable watchdoggery of a revolution which shall not come because it insists too strongly on an unpalatable flavor of ideological purity.


i didn't think it was you
prose seemed diff


do u know him or her at any rate ??
no need to expose the furtive spirit

just do ya or don't ya ?


"your promise to limit to two replies"
ah yes

those were the hopeful days round here

much has passed over the damn dam since then i fear

mea culpa


unpalatable flavor of ideological purity.

i detect no such thing in md
in fact he makes me nervous with his bold eclecticism

my frail and brittle dogmatic
ideologian's thigh bone quakes
at times with his dashing about so
building his punch:

gleening grapes of wrath here
and passion fruits there

t'is awesome hard for moi
to swallow
this juicely brew
too exciting too neon lighted
given my accustomed diet:

a three mash meal day

--boiled and served piping hot in a tin mug--

of straight up
rolled oats leninism


Karl IS Oxy reborn.


oh lord
oxy...?? oxy ???

shit i actually like oxy


hey karl....never mind



" carries some baggage with it that I associate with the notion of a social contract -- a notion of very limited usefulness.... "

i prefer hobbes compulsory version of
" the contract"
this enlightened paradisio version
of "the contract "
basically hobbes suggests the state has a "right" maybe even a duty to
"take out a contract " on the people

you know

a boiler plate "hit " form
issued in unlimited editions
with blanks on each contract
for citizen names
to be filled in
as occasion and circumstance dictate

filled in legal like of course
by the state's magistrates


Well, the pod version of Oxy.



the gods are annoyed as they well ought to be
i can't see all the comments unless i put one more up


The people who say Israel has a right to exist impart more meaning to the phrase than you, MJS, I believe. They would agree that not all states have a right to exist. What they are saying is that a state constituted to the advantage of Jews in relation to all others has a right to exist. Why? Because they have collectively suffered out of all proportion to their extreme virtue as a people.

If you want to disabuse them of their statist fantasies, better first disabuse them of their supremacism and the ludicrous notion of 'collective' suffering.


"Consent is a perfectly fine word and goal, as Al says"

Actually if one must have a state, yes, consent is a fine goal. It is not a fine word for what we have now. MJS's 'acquiescence' is better, though still somewhat too benign for me. I didn't choose this shit and it's practically impossible for me to get out of it, even if all I want to do is opt into a less war-mongering state.

Dawson, that part of you which is not full of shit is full of bile. Jack's relatively polite indulgence of your creepy, obsessive frothing is some sort of miracle.

There was a time when your comments were really good and occasionally you get off a decent one still. But they are few and far between. You need to get a fucking grip.


exist all right

by focusing on
top ten
Alexa Hot Topics

make money online
princess diana
pippa topless

pippa middleton
lady gaga
my lead system

angry birds
facebook hacked


all seem to fit a
gadgetized stupified
system shifting moment

existance as imf
warns china
and considers

'Debt crisis could still spread to EU core'

as energy/water riots unloose in karachi

as protest and molotovs greet austerity
in greece

fund may have to test its g20
mutual assistance
program yeah



process not program.

hot topics and legitimacy
........austerity and coercion

global drool of pock marked unmanageability

Crow doesn't understand himself and is illiterate in his own unchanging arguments. That's no surprise.

But, to my eye, this kind of quibbling over the difference between "consent" and "acquiescence" is one of the things that keeps us marginalized. Nobody with a brain thinks states are born good or denies their inherent dangers. But if the would-be left can't take up the mantle of bringing government under popular control, then what the hell is the point? We are aiming to make states work according to the consent of the governed.

I also think it's a half-truth at best that popular opinion in the US is a major source of how our state operates. I'll say it again: Check out the opinion polling reviewed in Chomsky's Failed States.


It's not really a quibble, Mike. Nobody pays their taxes, for instance, because they agreed to. They acquiese in paying them because they'd rather not deal with the hassle of having the state come down on them for not paying them.

There's no way to have a state work "according to the consent of the governed"--unless people can opt out, at which point you no longer have a state. Good or bad, they all ultimately operate on force.

Curious, Dawson, that "the left" is limited only to people who want to capture existing capitalist states in order to make them do good, in your construction.

Better to train to ride dragons and unicorns.

"It's not really a quibble, Mike. Nobody pays their taxes, for instance, because they agreed to. They acquiese in paying them because they'd rather not deal with the hassle of having the state come down on them for not paying them."-Joe

... or the "hassle" of public roads, clean drinking water, police and fire services, etc. Taking collective responsibility for one another and bearing the COST is a hassle indeed.



So people pay taxes voluntarily? I guess the threat of fine/imprisonment has nothing to do with it.

And the notion of "collective responsibility" is pretty meaningless when it's based upon compulsory taxation.

"...public roads, clean drinking water, police and fire services..."

People love to pull out the benign stuff, except for police, when defending taxation. But what about endless war, domestic spying, corporate welfare, the booming prison industry, the war on drugs, etc., etc.? What would you call that? Taking collective responsibility for oppressing one another?

Thank you for this. States have no rights. It's people who have rights. The question should not be do you recognize Israel's right to exist, but does the STATE of Israel recognize Palestinians' right to exist-- as individuals, as a people, as a culture-- and the answer, as told by Israels' actions not words, is a very clear and resounding "NO."

Of course Israeli people and Jewish people have a right to exist, as do Palestinians, as does anyone else. Nobody's calling the right of Jewish people to exist into question. The BDS movement is certainly not questioning that.

Thank you for reminding us of how absurd that question really is.


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