[Letters] The invariable state

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[Letters] The invariable state

“Syrian security forces,” BBC News reported, “have cracked down on antigovernment protests across the country, killing 100 people in the city of Hama alone.” These most recent reports come after months of protests, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in other countries that led to the removal of leaders long in power.

Throughout the violence, the Syrian government has insisted that armed gangs and terrorists are solely responsible, and that the snipers and tanks deployed against defenseless protesters are necessary to maintain peace and stability. The latest crackdowns remind some Syrians of the 1982 Hama massacre, when, responding to a largely Sunni revolt against the ruling party, the government slaughtered tens of thousands.

Alongside the rising death toll, reports place the number of Syrians arrested at nearly 13,000 with another 3,000 missing. All the while, the Syrian government has remained obstinate, with President Bashar al-Assad repeating that he will not step down and the possibility of real reform remaining remote.

The violence in Syria may appear to be exceptional, the aberrant barbarity of a petty dictatorship frenetically clinging to its power in the face of widespread discontent. And in many ways, Syria does stand out from the collection of criminal gangs we call states as uniquely authoritarian and oppressive.

Since 1970, when the Assad family ascended to near absolute power, Syria’s state has taken its place - along with states like North Korea - among the world’s most vile. Noting that Syrians remain subject to an emergency law enacted in 1963 and citing myriad human rights violations under Bashar al-Assad, Human Rights Watch, in its 2011 World Report, paints a bleak picture of life in the Arab country.

Indefinite detention without warrants, disappearances, sweeping censorship and brutal torture all define the policies of Syria, making recent atrocities there anything but a surprise. The Assad regime pays some lip service, however tepid and unconvincing, to the idea of political reform (from changes in the media to elections), but we can expect more bloodshed in Syria in the coming months.

However anomalous Syria seems among its counterparts, it is ultimately different from other states - if at all - only as a matter of degree. “The totalitarian state,” wrote Albert Jay Nock, “is only the state; the kind of thing it does is only what the state has always done with unfailing regularity, if it had the power to do it, wherever and whenever its own aggrandizement made that kind of thing expedient.”

When observing the horrors proceeding in Syria, we need not and should not assume that other states, deemed “democratic” or “liberal,” are so very dissimilar in their methods, so much more concerned with their citizens’ rights. The state is just a concept we use to represent a monopoly on violence within a given area, signifying not so much a kind of thing as a kind of relational action.

Market anarchism suggests that rather than allowing a ruling class to use aggression against society, relationships between human beings ought to be based on mutual respect, consent and agreement. Substituting the order and progress of voluntary trade and collaboration for the infernal chaos of statism cannot come through political reform, but must be the product of a social evolution based on our learning from what hasn’t worked.

The state hasn’t worked, at least not for the average working person caught in the violent wake of its “right” to use force. We all share in the struggle of the Syrians, whether we recognize that fact or ignore it.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

David S. D’Amato, a lawyer
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