A chorus of U.S. and international officials keeps chanting that “Gaddafi must go” because, they keep repeating, he has lost legitimacy.
Let’s turn the tables. How legitimate is the U.S. government? I’m not talking about the popularity of particular persons like Obama, Bush I, Bush II, or Clinton. Changing faces, political parties, and administrations in Washington is a lost cause. I’m talking about national government itself. Should Washington be dismantled? Has Washington lost legitimacy as a government? If so, as a remedy, as a guide to action, as an objective to work toward, the U.S. government must go!
There are many valid ways to criticize the U.S. government. Any small government or anarchist perspective gives rise to a critique. Any adherent of constitutionality has another critique. For example, Lysander Spooner’s critique is devastating. Anyone who looks to the government’s effectiveness in serving the public will have yet another perspective. Anyone who restricts attention to economic and monetary matters will find plenty to criticize. Anyone who focuses on rights and liberties will be able to make important criticisms.
Here my perspective is to question the legitimacy of the U.S. government. Legitimacy is the perspective being used loudly by many world leaders against Gaddafi. I wonder, can we camp on their grounds and turn their own ideas against them?
World heads of state do not usually shine the light of legitimacy on one another, much less on themselves. Oh no, they are very quiet and reserved in that area. They don’t want people questioning their legitimacy, so they don’t raise the idea. Libya is atypical. Some leaders are using the rhetoric of legitimacy against Gaddafi. They believe that they can confine its use to him. They believe that they can restrict illegitimacy to instances of outright violence and ignore hidden violence. This serves their purposes.
In the post-Soviet era, criticisms by world leaders of the U.S. tend to be restrained, muted and timid. The world’s states are essentially in cahoots with one another. Many are beholden to the U.S. or tied in via relations of one kind and another. They cannot be too critical. Many have their own domestic problems and don’t want to stir up nests of hornets.
We are not so confined. If we use Obama’s criterion that violence against one’s people is a sign of government illegitimacy, then how many world governments are themselves legitimate? They all use violence and the threat of violence to maintain themselves. The fact that the threats of violence are effective and prevent outright blood on the streets doesn’t remove the presence of violence as the government’s means of controlling its citizens. Once we look under the hood at the motor of government, we find violence. At what point does such violence mean that the government’s leaders or the government itself – its very form – have lost legitimacy?