Wow, being owned by a nonprofit foundation really has advantages. Like for instance you get to hire people like Martin Kettle to discuss the relevance of Spinoza’s statement that “The purpose of the state is freedom”.
Spinoza wrote those words in his Theological-Political Treatise of 1670. It is worth reading the words in the context that he used them. The state’s purpose, wrote Spinoza, is “not to dominate or control people by fear or subject them to the authority of another”. On the contrary, he went on, “Its aim is to free everyone from fear so that they may live in security so far as is possible, that is, so that they may retain, to the highest possible degree, their right to live and to act without harm to themselves and others”. Therefore, he concludes (in the modern translation by Michael Silverthorne and Jonathan Israel), “the true purpose of the state is in fact freedom”.
Radical stuff for the 1670s, and still pretty far from being realized if we even still think of it as an ideal. Certainly it doesn’t coincide comfortably with the total surveillance state we actually live in here in the US. But it’s even muddier in Britain where, as Kettle points out, the ancient political structures of the island are largely inherited intact but gradually developed and evolved. Everyone theoretically answers to the crown, with the government actually executing affairs and parliament only recently asked for consent for war. Obviously the security and intelligence services there are not closely overseen, given that they advertised to NSA the relative lack of regulation compared to the US situation.
In the end, Kettle concludes:
Spinoza was profoundly right. The true purpose of the state is, in fact, freedom. That is why the state is fundamental to a safe and good shared life. It’s just that, in a democracy, freedom belongs to all the citizens, not just to those who control the state. And in Britain we do not yet have that kind of freedom.
And in the United States of the twenty-first century we might have theoretically that sort of freedom, but in fact we do not. Citizens at large have lost control to the corporations, behemoths that we used to understand had to be controlled or they would devour and lay waste to large swaths of economic life. When it was robber barons we learned to see through it; but corporations employ whole divisions, in both the bureaucratic and military senses, of propagandists and agitators.