As a follow up to my earlier post about the Sublime and the state, I decided to continue my analysis along the same lines, through examining the crisis that certain Finnish state institutions are facing. Unfortunately, the links I am giving as sources are mostly Finnish press and a Finnish-language blog post, but I will give sufficient details on them for non-Finnish speakers to be able to follow my argument.
The nature of the Sublime in state institutions cannot be discussed without discussing trust, because trust in institutions is a manifestation of the Sublime, which makes those institutions greater than their de jure existence. In societies where the lack of trust in state institutions is significant, these institutions struggle with applying force since they cannot count on the cooperation of the population. Max Weber considers the most significant aspect of the state in that the state claims and holds a monopoly on the use of physical force. However, for this claim to be valid, the state has to be legitimized in the minds of the population.
Thus, we should, according to those in power, accept the use of force against us if we do not follow what the authorities say to us. So, we should accept that at a protest, the police can use violence against us if we resist lawful orders to disperse or resist the actions of the police in any other sense. We also should accept, that if we fail to obey the directives set by the unemployment office, we should lose our unemployment benefits and thus our income. We should also accept the use of force against refugees, when asylum is not granted and refugees are returned to their country of origin by force.
These are the things taken for granted by those in power. However, those in power tend to develop a form of hubris, where the simple act of resistance become inconceivable and even cannot be discussed. When a state loses legitimacy, the population can and will resist the state, where we come to a point as happened in Libya and Syria, where the only method left is the application of violence against the population.
Naturally history shows that application of force is far harder when the population is non-compliant, as shown in this television program about South Armagh where the police can only act when surrounded by armed troops and even then, British authority was only exercised on a very symbolical level. When actual force is necessary, the Clausewitzian element of friction becomes very apparent. Things that are easy when the population cooperates, become very hard once the population does no longer cooperate at all.
So, back to the Sublime and the state institutions of Finland. Criticism leveled against the aggressive and racist deportation program of the current government has on many levels baffled those in power, who only expect compliance from a population. A population that now includes a significant plurality that feels the government does not represent them at all, and a minority that sees the government as an illegitimate oligarchy.
So far, the president and the minister of the interior have commented along the same lines: authorities must be trusted. Unfortunately, this indicates that the legitimacy of the authorities has already eroded and pleas about trusting the authorities will fall on ears that will not listen anymore. The simplest plea about how authorities follow the law and thus should be trusted will not be listened to, when people have already lost faith in those.
A frightening truth emerges from this: those in power have no grasp on why they are the ones in power, and they do not know the means to uphold their power. The president of Finland talks about how “uncontrolled immigration” must be stopped, and all that a plurality of the population sees is how he is repeating the argument of far-right racists, since no uncontrolled immigration even exists in the context we live in. Thus, trust erodes and the Sublime nature of the presidential institution disappears, and we’re faced with the truth that the head of the state is someone who is an increasingly out of touch elderly man.
Likewise, we have been exposed to a strange circular logic whenever someone comments on if the police are trustworthy and a net good for society. Someone who expresses sentiments along the lines of not trusting the police, or levels accusations against the police will almost certainly be told that they have to be wrong since the police are trusted. Again, a plea to trust an authority betrays the fundamental truth of that when an authority needs this sort of plea, the trust has already gone. Especially since even objective arguments against the police get the same reply: the police are trusted and must be trusted.
The Sublime makes all of these authorities greater than they are, yet the element is rarely understood. Right-wingers have an authoritarian way of thinking where any resistance to authority is a transgression that should be met with extreme physical force, and the right wing is in power, and it can safely be assumed that in the coming years, the government will more and more frequently use extreme physical force against protestors and those who question the legitimacy of the government.
Still, these expressions of physical force will also erode the Sublime element of the state institutions and send it into a downward spiral. This is the point where the state as a legitimate actor stops existing.