We do not play with these words because, if on the one hand, the state alludes to a situation and the changes that influence people and things (the state of the weather or the state of our health) on the other, written this time with a capital letter, the voice State denotes the political organization of a nation in a territory.
While the first meaning is dynamic -time changes, health too- the second is anchored in the will to last and transcend the succession of governments.
However, if we look at the news with the greatest impact, such as drug trafficking crimes, we can see that both meanings are closely linked.
In effect, the State means a permanent disposition of its structures subject to substantive or circumstantial changes: it claims, at least on a verbal level, the power that characterizes it and, at the same time, suffers daily questioning and rejection, today at the order of the day.
Let's see why and focus on the most salient attribute of the democratic State established 40 years ago on the basis of the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of the law.
Such an attribute is none other than the legitimate monopoly of force, according to a classical definition.
It is an abstract concept that prosecutors and judges, police officers, gendarmes, prefects, armed forces or immigration officials, to list the usual ones, embody on a daily basis.
We have never seen a State;
We see it, or suffer from its absence, through those figures who have in their hands the difficult task of administering coercion and who, of course, depend on the decisions of political power.
Broadly speaking, this is the framework within which citizens claim and demand that their existence be spent in peace, protected by this network of officials.
Certainly, this requirement is far removed from political and social antagonisms which, taken to extremes, put the very existence of the State in brackets.
Half a century ago, a revolutionary passion spread among us that violently attacked the existing State to replace it at its roots.
We already know the tragic consequences: the response of a despotic State, which unfolded the public action in secret behavior, causing a massacre even more extensive than the previous one.
These criminal violence of the opposite sign, condemned in 1985 in an exemplary trial, did not reappear despite the attempts on both sides that the Alfonsín and Menem presidencies had to face.
Now the landscape is different.
While this reciprocal terror left the scene, the threats come from elsewhere.
They are rebellions of social sectors that participate directly and react to deprivations and shortages.
The street is then taken based on specific demands.
Rebellions have therefore supplanted revolution.
The piquetero movements, which arose spontaneously and are now contained by the State with subsidies that are administered by an ad hoc apparatus, express these movements that invade the public space.
The explosive mix of a hyperinflationary economy with marginality and educational decline are therefore the new protagonists in the face of a State that often shows signs of being tied hand and foot.
Due to fear or calculation of the rulers, coercion is practically diluted.
Although they did not demolish the State, these rebellions managed to overthrow governments, as occurred in the traumatic two-year period of 2001-2002.
This deep cut survives in memory as a latent threat.
It is the image of a broken society that the most fearful observe with apprehension, like a cauldron about to explode.
In a similar context, the threat of drug trafficking develops, but unlike the previous ones, this challenge to the legitimacy of the State is not typical of a revolutionary ideology or the thickness of social rebellions.
Rather, drug trafficking is the collective, organized and sustainable expression with abundant resources, of individual criminality.
Its offer naturally rests on an incessant and globalized demand;
its implantation responds to a fierce competition between clans that have the objective of appropriating urban territories.
A hierarchy runs these operations, from the top kingpins to the lesser agents who deal in the bunkers.
These data are well known.
Less, perhaps, is the intention behind this phenomenon that, instead of eliminating the State, seeks to appropriate judges, police officers and prisons with the complicity of some segment of the political leadership.
Use the metaphor: the crime of drug trafficking operates like a termite, that insect that gnaws inside the wood of the trees and promotes the collapse and destruction of what, apparently, seemed solid.
This kind of fading of the State structures seeks to transform it into an instrument of criminality.
Obviously, faced with size mismatch, urgent measures are called for.
In truth, these emergencies, although necessary, do not fully solve the problem if we do not adopt a commitment tending to formulate the founding pact of public security.
This, like the economic rebuilding of society, requires time and tenacity, two virtues that may fall on deaf ears if factionalism and polarization persist.
Is the Italian state's combat in the face of the historic challenge of the mafia forgotten?
A prolonged combat under the protection of the law that is not resolved with patches or improvisations.
On the contrary, it requires what has evaporated among us: the long-term consensus building, respect for the judiciary and the systematic effort to remove the stigma of corruption from the State.
It is what, over the years, we have not yet learned.
Political scientist and historian. Emeritus Professor at Torcuato Di Tella University.
Political scientist and historian.
Emeritus Professor at Torcuato Di Tella University.
The dance of leadership