Monday, July 02, 2007

Identifying With the State

Once we identify ourselves with the state, that collective entity does more than represent who we are; it is who we are. To the politicized mind, the idea that “we are the government” has real meaning, not in the sense of being able to control such an agency, but in the psychological sense. The successes and failures of the state become the subject’s successes and failures; insults or other attacks upon their abstract sense of being – such as the burning of “their” flag – become assaults upon their very personhood. Shortcomings on the part of the state become our failures of character. This is why so many Americans who have belatedly come to criticize the war against Iraq are inclined to treat it as only a “mistake” or the product of “mismanagement,” not as a moral wrong. Our egos can more easily admit to the making of a mistake than to moral transgressions. Such an attitude also helps to explain why, as Milton Mayer wrote in his revealing post-World War II book, They Thought They Were Free, most Germans were unable to admit that the Nazi regime had been tyrannical.