Received for Review: Garrison State Hegemony in U.S. Politics

By Dave Scotese

Robert A. Williams wrote GARRISON STATE HEGEMONY IN U.S. POLITICS and sent it to me for review.  It is not an easy read, but it contains tons of valuable information.  I hope to make the important ideas accessible enough for interested readers to see the value in this exploration of “the role and function of the U.S. garrison state in U.S. electioneering.”  What does that mean? Some of the author’s educational training shines through here, as he uses the noun “garrison” which means a military post (usually permanent), to modify another noun, “state.”  The state maintains control using something we might call a garrison.  Part of that control is exercised in order to protect the state from the checks and balances that would otherwise free its victims.  Electioneering is the process of getting large groups to feel like they have participated in the selection (“election”) of those who are then endowed with the right to coerce.  Should that right to coerce fall into the hands of people who refuse to use it, the state loses its monopoly on power, which is “hegemony.”  This book is an exploration of how the state prevents that.

The second part (of four) of the book was the most memorable for me because the author describes his experiences working within the Libertarian Political Party in Ohio (“LPO”).  His descriptions are stylized for academia, notably quoting particular phrases because they match previous sociological work.  Man, is this guy well read!  What I like about this is that if he quotes a phrase (as he does on page 34, “four white city police officers in the videotaped lengthy beating,”) that interests the reader, we can look up the source of the quote (“Parillo, 1994: 378,”) in the bibliography and go read the specific page in the original source (Parillo, V.N. (1994) Strangers to these shores: Race and ethnic relations in the United States. Macmillan). Does this remind you of someone?  I miss Carl!

Dr. Williams references another book that a friend of mine recommended to me, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by E. Goffman.  From that book, I learned about “backstage” and “frontstage” activities.  Dr. Williams uses this distinction often, and it’s a useful one, more useful for me since I took my friend’s advice.  There are other terms with which I wasn’t familiar and I have not yet had the time to learn about them.

The book comes in four parts, the first describing two perspectives on what the author is studying.  He does a great job of explaining what he’s going to write about and then summarizing his main points after filling the middle in with the details. The end of chapter 1, for example, describes the four parts with a little more detail.  The second part is the narrative describing the author’s experiences in the LPO, which is what I remember best.  However, it was the third part that I enjoyed the most.  It is a brief history of elections and how they were managed and manipulated by the control structure to maintain its hegemony.

In fact, when I first read Thomas Hobbes’ argument in favor of Leviathan, I felt he was misguided.  That was years and years ago, but on page 125, Dr. Williams writes that “Adam Smith’s 1759 The Theory of Moral Sentiment … refuted Hobbes’ 1651 view that man is naturally brutish,” providing me with a reference for those who still cling to Hobbes’ view.  This is at the beginning of section three, under “Antecedents to Political Parties.” He also points out that debates over the role of spontaneous order in society fueled political divisions in the American colonies.  A few pages later, under “Rise of Corporations,” he elaborates on a point made by Lysander Spooner (footnote 8), that corporate personhood is “a fiction adopted merely to get rid of consequences of facts.”

Because brilliant students tend to learn to enjoy reading, have the humility to learn their way out of errors, and are comfortable reading “difficult books,” I recommend this book for any brilliant students in your life who might still be playing into the hands of the “garrison state,” thinking they might be able to help reduce the suffering wrought by politicians by getting involved in politics.  I agree with the author that “post-WW2 libertarianism is largely a covertly state-generated social construction…” such that “the noncoercionist segment never stood a chance at directing the LPO to politically realize a libertarian society of voluntary government.”  As Wendy and Carl and George argued so many years ago, the best strategy is Neither Ballots nor Bullets.

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