Protesilaos Stavrou
Philosopher. Polymath.

Against the secularised theology of statecraft

I reject nation-statism

This article is a continuation of my previous posts. Read them to get a sense of the context:


The central ideology of statecraft and of international relations in general is nation-statism, i.e. the conferral of personhood to the construct of the nation-state. Nation-statism combines the three present entities of the nation, the state, the homeland into an imaginary being. The nation-state is thus perceived as the unit of international affairs, the bearer of sovereignty, the embodiment of popular will and the incarnation of the national interest.

The nation-state is thought as having a personality of its own, as expressed in quotidian language where “America demands”, “Germany intends”, etc. Against this backdrop, statecraft is largely concerned with specifying that which is “national” in accordance with the evolving demands of governance.

Such beliefs have been embedded in popular consciousness roughly since the Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and later the French Revolution (1789). These encompass the values about political conduct that bridged the transition from the Medieval times to Modernity.

The statecraft of the Middle Ages had as its midpoint certain theological propositions that justified the superstructure of the vertical distribution of power. Royalty as a function of “God’s Will”. Campaigns in the name of “The Lord”. Crowns, fiefs, generalised serfdom grounded in some mystical “exogenous” legitimation of the political order.

Whereas the turn to nation-statism changed the surface aspects of statecraft. The agent of political will became the nation-state as such, while older institutions lost their significance, at least on the face of it or in purely symbolic terms. Structural injustices remained constant, nonetheless: the role of the feudal lord is now assumed by the platformarch, the capital owner who operates in symbiotic relationship with the state apparatus.

Despite the superficial similarities and differences between the now and then, I hold that modernism is essentially the reformulation of dogmas of yore. What the transition to the modern era achieved is the secularisation of the Medieval value system, in every aspect of political organisation, including matters of individuality.

The nation-state as an exalted being

Let us consider how Medieval theology about the legitimation of authority was secularised and how, through that process, the new order is but the continuation of the older through different means.

Here is Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Human and Citizen of 1789 (translation is mine from the original in French):

The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially with the nation. No body, no individual, can exercise authority that does not emanate expressly from it.

Le principe de toute souveraineté reside essentiellement dans la nation, nul corps, nul individu, ne peut exercer d’autorité qui n’en émane expressement.

On the face of it, this article appears revolutionary. It seems to put an end to the aristocracy’s claims on undisputed rule, while offering people the right to define their polity themselves. Perhaps the construct of the nation-state is an important step forward in human history.

Yet upon closer inspection it shall become evident that this provision does not necessitate any change whatsoever, insofar as the balance of power in society is concerned, as evidenced by 200+ years of nation-statism.

If we replace Article 3’s references to the “nation” with overtly theological propositions, we can draw some useful conclusions:

The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially with the nation God. No body, no individual, can exercise authority that does not emanate expressly from it Him.

We see that the legitimation of authority continues to be treated as exogenous to the governors and the governed. Meanwhile, the overall ambiguity of what exactly is the nation, is consistent with the theological notion of a prior truth; something that is necessary for every dogma. It does not really matter what character one may give to that which remains undefined, obscure, and impossible to verify objectively. What is of import here is the status of the proposition: it is treated as undeniable, as a given. And as with all such worldviews, it gives excessive power to those who are designated as its interpretors. In other words, the deification of the nation is a blank check in the hands of the establishment.

The nation remains undefined and, therefore, the ruling class gets to substantiate it as it sees fit. For example, the French government wages war in the middle of Africa supposedly in the name of the national interest, as if that is of any tangible benefit to the average French farmer. The ones who gain the most from jingoism, resource extraction, mass displacement of populations, are the large corporations that operate symbiotically with the state apparatus.

There no longer exists imperialism of the old style, where a metropolis has colonies across the world. Now everything is couched in terms of “national necessity” or “need” or “interest” that is all too often perfectly aligned with the plans of multinational companies (e.g. American oil companies being the natural extension of USA’s geopolitical stratagems).

Through the ever-evolving hermeneutics of nation-statism, the nation is identified with the power elite. The national interest is whatever profits the powers that be. National will is but the machinations of the establishment. Whatever historical change is limited to ceremonial aspects of life. What one was the domain of the kingdom, protectorate, colony now goes by the name of “national space”, while the subjects of the feudal master are now the subjects of the omnipotent nation-state. As for the old aristocracy, they become owners of mega-corporations and through their association with the state turn into platformarchs.

The role of the apologist of the status quo is no longer performed by the priests of the prevalent religion. A chorus of “secular” thinkers is enough: theologians without a god, typically maintaining the social status of doctor (philosophy doctor == PhD, though as a rule of thumb they are as far from philosophy as they can be). These are the intellectual vanguard of the establishment. Political scientists, economists, lawyers, poets that idealise conventional wisdom: the intelligentsia that accompanies the construct of gigantism. Of course, the power and influence of religions has remained in tact. In fact, they can now pretend that their role is purely moral, as if morality can ever be cleanly separated from the rest of intersubjective behaviour and experience; as if, that is, it does not inform the decisions of humans on a daily basis and in every aspect of their life.

The “analysts” that support gigantism are the ones who contrary to real science hold as objective truths a range of conventions that facilitate the powers that be, such as the sanctity of property, “natural” and “inalienable” rights, economic growth as a synonym for prosperity, etc. They are the ones who perpetuate myths such as that the nation expresses itself through the shadow play of partitocracy known as “elections” that are nothing more than a competition between corporate sponsors and lobbies. There can be no free and fair elections while there is an uneven distribution of resources and for as long as the media are controlled by the oligarchy (media pluralism is a myth).

The establishment’s proponents are also the ones who give credence to the belief that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the platformarchs and the concomitant consolidation of plutocracy is nothing but the ordinary operation of the “free market”. And they blithely dismiss any counterpoint by claiming that this is fair because we are ostensibly equal and can all achieve that status, provided we work hard enough. If you point to the nexus of interests that exist, who controls credit and money and all media of communication, and how only conniving entrepreneurs who have insider support get to do things, you are labelled all sorts of things. In true pseudoscientific fashion, any criticism, any expression of doubt, is rejected in advance.

And to add insult to injury, these pseudoscientists and the activists that have internalised their rhetoric will have the audacity to suggest that a referendum in the form of a binary choice to a complex, multifaceted issue is the pinnacle of democracy. This is plain wrong! Voicing an open-ended “yes” or “no” to a process that we had no say in and, most importantly, without being able to specify the meaning of the result, is but a charade. Referenda are a form of extortion, the litanies of the apologists notwithstanding.

Opposing the underlying values of gigantism

Rome (eastern and western) consolidated its global hegemony, its brand of gigantism, in large part thanks to Christianity. The Christian dogma took form by means of imperial interventions and ecumenical synods, while the new religion was imposed on the masses by state edict, fire and steel. In Roman theocracy, there is one supreme ruler—the emperor—who reigns over everything, just as there is one almighty deity (the pantokrator). Then there is a single hierarchy that expresses the true word of the deity: the church with an undisputed figurehead (vertical power structures with a religious character is from where “hier-archy” takes its name). The Roman model imposes top-down control in both “secular” and “mystical” aspects of life, with the locus of authority being the ruling elite. This was a form of totalitarianism that justified itself as the will of some exogenous force. The reign of the few over the many. The absolute asymmetry in the distribution of power.

The Westphalian worldview of the personalised state, which the French imagination converted into the nation-state, has not challenged the Roman framework. There has been a change in faces and methods, largely due to technological advances. For instance, the modern state purports to oppose totalitarianism, as it appropriates and twists democracy, while alluding to liberal values in order to forward its illiberal ambitions.

Similarly, the Enlightenment did not refute the prior given truths it purported to oppose. Humanity was never truly enlightened in the sense of being emancipated from the values of the Medieval era. Instead, the Enlightenment helped secularise them and essentially repackage them for use in the new age. As such, the Biblical individual becomes the decontextualised human of anthropocentrism, which is the cornerstone of contemporary morality. The prejudice of free will, i.e. of some mystical force or intrinsic property that is unique to humankind, was never placed under scrutiny. Consequently, the basis of conventional wisdom remains largely constant since the time of Augustine.

We must free ourselves from the fallacy of the decontextualised being that exercises free will irrespective of the global magnitudes within which it operates. Humanity has nothing special about it. It is just another part of the whole. A species of animal that bears lots of similarities with other forms of life, especially those that share common characteristics with it, like mammals. Whatever differences are of degree, not category. Human is determined or influenced by underlying biological and chemical factors that reveal dynamic spheres of probable outcomes that are always subject to natural constants.

Questioning the figments of anthropocentrism in all its variations is the starting point of a holistic ethics which, in practice, manifests as a life that is conducted in accordance with nature and with humility towards the rest of the ecosystem.

A people’s moral conscience, its set of unchallenged traditions and basic beliefs, always exerts centripetal power against any kind of root-and-branch re-institution of society. All hitherto revolutions failed to achieved the ultimate end of obliterating the old order, because the revolutionaries never truly internalised the importance of first displacing the prevailing morality which, in the case of Christianity, was imposed on them by Rome and its imitators.

In this light, it is no surprise that the French Revolution heralded a new wave of imperialism that holds true to this day despite its permutations. Or how the supposed communist regime of Russia evolved into a top-down tyranny of the technocrats and the party elites (with the qualitative difference being that the function of the prior truth was initially performed by the messianic-style determinism of the class struggle).

A successful revolution can only be one that emanates from a shift in conscience and is then expressed as a decisive change in institutions. Put simply, there is a choice to be made between remaining true to the overarching value system of the decontextualised human or being a revolutionary. The two are incompatible.

The turn to communitarianism

The struggle for communitarianism cannot be expended in pursuit of marginal reforms of the established order. The goal is not merely the decentralisation of power, but the generalised opposition to all forms of gigantism: in politics, the economy, agriculture, interpersonal affairs.

This implies the rejection of conventional beliefs about statecraft as well as a comprehensive review of traditional morality. None of the components or subsets or elements of the ruling elite must remain untouched. New institutions require new modes of thinking. Only in this way can we achieve the organic polity, centred on the principle of the citizen-owner-guardian.

It is clear that the turn to communitarianism also requires relentless criticism of our history. We must stop beautifying the conditions in which our ancestors lived, i.e. the legacy of Rome.

Communitarianism is not the transfer of power to the regional administrations. That would just create localised tyrannies. Communitarianism is the conscious struggle against the gigantism of our times. It is a fight for the contextualised human: the being that lives on its land, its natural habitat, in cultural affinity with its fellow people, while sharing biological ties with them.

Consequently, sovereignty does not emanate from some imaginary supreme entity, be it a deity or the nation. Supreme political authority is the sum of each person’s power within their community. It is the natural strength that is used to define interpersonal relations and to safeguard our commons.