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Is it useful for anarchists to use business, civil society and government in defining the institutions of mass society?

+2 votes
In common sources, I see a great deal of use that can come from defining the institutions of mass society as business, civil society and government. When the roles blur in how institutions define themselves, they blur within a system of domination using these three sectors.

For instance, take the media. In many anarchist analysis, the media is a part of the state and in reality, the media is often directly controlled as a government entity, though in America, the media is treated as an institution of business. Also, despite if the strong arm of the media is held directly by the government or not, independent diy journalism even in these cases, which could be classified as part of civil society more than part of government.

To me, the definition of the state is more useful when defined in relation to a system of domination where the state is a player, an important player, but the responsibility of control extends even beyond its role. With so much cross over between various institutions (social welfare in all three sectors, for instance) we can see both similarities and differences between them despite each institution play a part in the system of domination.

What this means to me is the state can get more strictly defined as government, but government is not where power is exclusively held anymore. So the contrary question to this one is why use an expanded definition of state, when developing a strict definition within a system of domination would probably explain the institutions of control just as well, if not better?

Hopefully that didn't come off as loaded and I'm not wed to it, but it would seem to be a good point to provoke further thought through discussion.
related to an answer for: What is a state?
asked Jan 27, 2014 by hpwombat (4,850 points)
i voted this up because i think it's interesting, but hpw can you say more about why it is a good idea to make state more synonymous with government? why isn't it a good idea to use the state as a simpler term for the interaction of the various institutions/roles in dominant society? here you mostly say "it's a good idea" without explaining (at least so i can understand it), why it's a good idea. (i'm not disagreeing with your point, i'd just like you to add to it.) for example, who is a person we could have a better conversation with if we broke it down as you suggest? or what is a conversation that would be more clear?

to respond to your contrary question, i guess the reason to use the expanded definition of the state is because a) saying we are against the state feels like a more confrontational statement than saying we're against government (and far more easily put than we're against business, civil society, and government--although once we're in conversation than those three would be how we could explain what we mean by state...), and b) because there is a philosophical foundation for defining state this way (which i associate with the frankfurt school and weber, but i'm hazy about it).
maybe i'm just saying that these are not actually counter to each other ("the state" is a simplification to use at one level of conversation, and "business, civil society and government" are a simplification for another level of --possibly the same--conversation).
I'm still considering myself and my question comes from uncertainty, but I suppose I'm not afraid of being wrong. I started considering examples of how a state can exist without a government and there does seem to be quite a lot of gray area in the state and the government being different things.

Egypt had Morsi as the elected head of government, but the military proved that it was the head of state. The head of state for England has dissolved many governments in its history as another example.

As far as institutions, certainly it could be said that most or all are part of the three sectors I listed, but the power of state may not be based on control of particular institutions. Institutions are built to benefit the powerful, but power differs from place to place, era to era.

The media typically serves the state, but so does government. Perhaps because the minimum definition of state is "monopoly on violence in a region" those that can rally an unrivaled violent group to back them are the state. The institutions are less relevant when I think of it like this in the definition of the state.

1 Answer

0 votes
Sorry to answer myself, but I figured I would start an answer.

I would say yes, it is useful to use these institutions in defining the institutions of mass society. It helps understand how each state mixes and matches these institutions to define its own power, but in today's mass society, business, government and civil society are all essential institutions to maintain control.

However, in the definition of the state, it need not take on any of these institutions as part of the state, but any state in today's society needs the service of at least some of these institutions. Different regimes will favor different formations. A pro-capitalist libertarian will emphasize business, while a libertarian socialist may emphasize particular institutions of civil society. While both these definitions may have no governmental institutions, the formation of a state could still occur, but not in governmental institutions.

The legitimacy of violence in mass society can not be passed fully to individuals and their informal associations to decide when mass institutions exist to intervene. Mass institutions know they hold collective power. This is emphasized in their proponents calls for their use to replace a "state" (dual power relationships see unions vs. government as a battle of society vs. state, which is misleading). I can't speak of what institutions will be used to form a state within a global pro-capitalist or global libertarian socialist vision, but an anarchist definition of state needs to be more based on real power rather than institutional power.
answered Jan 29, 2014 by hpwombat (4,850 points)