Anyone who has taken a class in History or Politics will at some point have debated what is a State? What is a Government? How do modern States differ from older, less formal models of social and political organisation based on tribes or castes?
The most basic definition I encountered in those classes is:
A State is a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in a defined geographical area
That is to say that the State is the only body that can enforce the laws, raise an army, apprehend wrong doers, mete out punishments.
Some times states lose control of that power, and militias or warlords take over, with their own military forces and often brutal forms of justice. Somalia, Yemen, Sudan. We call these failed states.
Over the last couple of decades the well funded and powerful gun lobby have succeeded in pushing the boundaries of the State’s monopoly of legitimate violence, even though the US itself has become more pro-gun control. Concealed carry, stand your ground, ending the assault rifle ban.
In parallel far right militias have sprung up, almost exclusively made up of white men, who have taken advantage of looser gun laws to arm themselves as for war. The members of these militias claim to be protecting their families or properties, but are often unmarried young men living at home with neither. They also claim to be protecting “freedom” while at the same time promoting armed authoritarianism.
Their freedom is the freedom to impose themselves on others.
The election of a black President led to a huge increase in militia membership, while groups like the Oath Keepers blurred the lines between militias and law enforcement.
Yesterday’s Kyle Rittenhouse judgement gives those militias the power to kill with impunity. It removes from the US Government that monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
Wisconsin is a failed state.
It may not be as chaotic as Somalia, Yemen or Sudan, but the experience of the breakup of USSR and Yugoslavia show that once a State starts to dismantle itself there is a rush by internal interests to seize their bit.
Even if the US doesn’t fall apart the way the USSR did (and I hope it doesn’t) the chaos and carnage being unleashed make it more likely that weak and frightened people will turn to a strong man authoritarian leader to protect them.
And the US far right have plenty of wannabe strong men just waiting for their chance.
WB Yeats captured this in his 1919 poem The Second Coming
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
With it’s chilling final lines:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?