My Sunday Times today has an article about the booze culture of Westminster. It's an interesting enough piece but what struck me most was the title; "Drunk in charge of the nation". Are our political leaders — drunk or sober — really in charge? Does the government "run the economy?"
The Executive and its minions in the Civil Service run the state. The Legislature determines (directly, or by delegation to Quangos or treaty organisations) the extent of that state's rôle in the affairs of the nation. The Judiciary adjudicates disputes both between citizens and between citizen and state. But the state and the nation are not the same thing.
The British state is undoubtedly too big, too costly, too intrusive, too wasteful, too stupid and generally too big for its boots but we, the more or less willingly governed, are the nation. The state and its employees are our — more or less humble — servants. The money they mostly squander comes from (or in the case of its drunken sailor borrowings is underwritten by) the private sector in the broadest sense of the term. Everyone who pays taxes from earnings *not* paid to them by taxpayers funds the state.
The state is to some extent a necessary cost to the nation. In Britain, as in the rest of the free world, political debate largely turns upon the "someness" of that extent.
In that crucial debate, confusing the ideas of "state" and "nation" helps statists. It allows them to brand as disloyal any opposition to state projects. I certainly saw that during my days in Russia where the ruling kleptocracy allows no such distinction. Though the Russian nation is as cultured, enterprising and lovable as the Russian state is vile, vulgar and putrid the fallacy that to oppose the state is unpatriotic prevents rational debate. In truth, as Edward Abbey (and not, as mistakenly suggested on the Internet, my illustrious namesake) said
We anti-statists don't help clarify this state/nation confusion by constantly focussing on the centrality of the state. Almost everything that's good about our nation; its culture, its wealth, its inventiveness, its civil society, its philanthropy, its charity, even its sport flourishes in spite, not because, of the great bloated parasite that hectors, lectures, condescends to and tyrannises us.
In our darkest moments perhaps we should remind each other that our nation may not flourish as it deserves because of our defective state, but that it still flourishes. Only a healthy beast could gambol on with such an enormous bloodsucking parasite draining its vitality. Certainly not one that was "run" or "controlled" by it.