People & Nation

The people: A terrible abstraction

What is a people? According to what modern legislators have laid down as binding in practice, a people is nothing more than the totality of a country’s inhabitants whom a state power defines as its members. Regardless of the natural and social differences and antagonisms between them, these members form a political collective by virtue of being subordinate to one and the same state authority. Being obligated to the same rule and its agenda is the common cause they stand up for as a people.

Keyword: Justice

When experiencing harm, dissatisfied citizens have the well-known custom of complaining about having been treated unjustly, and they blame politicians for having failed to deliver on their original promises. This complaint shows two things: firstly, everybody takes absolutely for granted that in a system of rule humanity is divided into opposites — executors of sovereign power dictate the living conditions and opportunities to which the rest of the population have to subject the conduct of their lives. Secondly, it is noteworthy that those subjected to the sovereign do not simply make fools of themselves when they demand being treated justly by the authorities, but instead count on — and can indeed count on — getting a hearing at least. That may have its particular forms in the bourgeois state, but it is something that in principle the citizens and the modern constitutional state share with their respective historical predecessors. As a political power insists on treating its subjects justly and judges its use of force accordingly, it is willing to listen when this kind of complaint from “below” is directed at it. And when subordinates complain, they always invoke justice vis-à-vis their sovereign because it is first and foremost a maxim of sovereign power. The sovereign doesn’t merely want to suppress the self-interests of those it subjugates and repress their will, but wants to rule justly.

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