Few ideas have done more damage to humanity than the misbegotten pseudo-scientific belief in the intrinsic legitimacy of what Max Weber famously called The State.
Our world, planet Earth, is presently divided into hundreds of States, a system defined by a single over-riding attribute: each State lays a claim, respected by agreement with other States, by the right to use violence within territory under their control without another State having any standing to intervene barring authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
Most scholars and almost every public official around the planet accept without question the inherent validity of this claim. It is written into what States have together agreed to call International Law and is baked into the DNA of the United Nations.
And that sad fact of present reality is the single most important reason why the world is so broken, why for the majority of the seven-plus billion people on this Earth life is more nasty, brutal, and short — to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes — than it needs to be.
You, me, and every other living person on Earth is claimed by a State — that, in most parts of the world, is the true essence of what it means to be a Citizen. We are permanently colonized by an occupier that demands taxes, lands, and even our own bodies.
States are fundamentally violent, territorial social institutions, and tackling the great global crises of the twenty-first century will not be possible so long as States continue to rule the world unchecked. Chaining the State is the greatest task humanity has ever faced, is a basic prerequisite for successfully dealing with the threats to Earth posed by environmental collapse, rampant inequality, and uncontrolled pandemics.
If the alarming international trends continue — and history shows they will — violence between and within States during the 21st century is likely to result in an even bloodier recurrence of the horrible wars that tore apart much of the 20th. This will derail any and all efforts of the magnitude required to protect the planet or ourselves.
A global alternative to the State system must be brought into the world as quickly as possible. But it can not be a World-State, a globe-spanning institution rooted in wielding violence.
It must be a global government — something altogether different than a State — composed of freely-associating people who are bound by a simple universal ethos of guaranteeing a basic standard of living and inherent natural rights for every person regardless of identity or location.
The logic of the State rests entirely on a flawed philosophical argument: that to prevent a state of pure anarchy where everyone uses violence against each other to resolve disputes some organization must posses a monopoly on the use of force.
This argument was accepted by leaders in powerful European States during the 17th-century as a way to end the horrific religious wars that had devastated much of the continent in the wake of the Protestant-Catholic schism. From there it went later global as powerful European States built world-spanning empires, all ultimately collapsing but spawning a new generation of States whose leaders were encouraged by the United Nations — established by the victors of the Second World War — to embrace the Weberian definition.
The State is a kind of social institution that forms naturally as a product of human interaction under conditions of inequality. Humans build social institutions like customs, norms, and languages to make life less unpredictable and to insure themselves against future uncertainty.
But once a given population exceeds even a few thousand people, it is impossible for everyone to personally know and interact with everyone else. Cliques form, and some will always seek to colonize an institution as inherently powerful as the State — if for no other reason but to protect themselves from the power contained in an organization with control over violence.
All States eventually wind up being controlled by an Elite — a group of people with disproportionate control over a broader social organization. Over time, the Elite always shapes the State so that it protects their interests before anyone else’s. They often pass their power on to members of their own family, building dynasties that reinforce inequality.
Eventually, every State becomes the tool of a wealthy and empowered minority who sooner or later deploy violence in pursuit of their interests while denying others the opportunity to do the same. This typically generates a schism within society that ultimately ruptures and splits the State into two or more fragments.
All too often, these begin to use violence against one another — a dynamic observed again and again throughout history. After a period of wasteful and destructive conflict a new status quo emerges, either reunification, separation, or mutual fragmentation being the result. Then the process begins anew, with States accumulating power and competing with other States while competing Elites battle for control within.
The State simply cannot be used as a model for a functioning world government capable of coordinating the collective actions of billions of human beings. It always winds up becoming a Sauron-like menace to everyone.
And the only solution to Sauron is to throw his Ring of Power into the fires of Mount Doom.
To build and deploy an alternative to the State, a different First Principle than a right to violence is required. And the one we need is actually very simple: The No-State solution.
No person or group ever has a right to use violence. Harming or coercing others is always wrong — but it may be legally excusable.
Defense of one’s self, family, friends, and community is a basic human right. No one can be punished for fighting back when attacked — in fact this is a basic obligation of living in a community. When some people choose to defy democratically-chosen laws, it may be necessary to use force to stop them from harming others.
But none of that connotes a right — only a responsibility. And when violence occurs, it must be thoroughly investigated to determine whether the actions taken can be considered justified — the details on what this means in a given community is the basic dividing point between jurisdictions in a democratic society.
Government is a kind of social institution that becomes necessary in any complex society because an impartial decision-making and law enforcement body is essential to the survival of a free society. The State has historically filled that function in many parts of the world — but only as an excuse to hold on to power.
The truth about the State is that it ultimately functions exactly the same as any gang or mafia family. Claiming the sole right to use violence at its discretion, the State is then free to extort its captive population for protection money indefinitely.
This is an immensely profitable situation for anyone connected to the State, because taxation can always justified as necessary to guarantee the security of the taxed. So States persist — as does their brutal tendency to find new enemies to fight to justify their own existence.
Other services, like that of a working government concerned for the welfare of its people, may be provided if Citizens push hard enough that this becomes necessary. But only grudgingly — and just how much so is an excellent metric for evaluating how dominant a given State is within its own territory.
States always find an enemy, internal or external, to justify their existence. Elites always try to control States to secure their wealth and influence.
If unchecked, this awful dynamic is set to tear apart civilization in the twenty-first century.
Dismantling the International State system and replacing it with a global democracy, the Earth Democratic Federation, is the greatest task facing humanity.
But a little more background is required to explain where the International State system presently stands and why our understanding of it is so desperately skewed.
The truth about the State is that it is surprisingly like a metastatic cancer on human society: its deep origin lies in an essential community function that over time went badly awry, mutating into something sinister and eternally self-replicating.
Human beings, as individuals, live on a perpetual quest to satisfy the many needs that arise as a function of our biology. All “higher” levels of thought — like thinking and writing about abstract ideas — depend on satisfying prior, more fundamental needs like nutrition, hydration, companionship, and shelter.
Humans are a social species, biologically speaking, where individuals rely on each other in order to collectively survive. Infants do not survive to reproduce if they are not cared for, security requires multiple individuals so someone can watch for danger while others sleep, and gathering resources is typically more efficient in groups. Over time groups develop structured communication to make cooperating easier, which takes the form of language rules, social customs, and the like.
Successful groups grow so long as resources are plentiful, and surplus of basic essentials gives rise to specialization within a community. There are infinite ways to organize a given group of people, but in most places the physical realities of the world tend to produce a subset of the community specializing in providing security to the rest.
Every community evolves with time as a result of having to cope with change in the environment. But some groups — and history shows those focused on security are particularly prone to this effect — tend to be able to thrive better than their peers as a result of their role being so critical to the community.
Human social systems work a lot like molecular systems — parts tend to bond most strongly with their closest connections, creating persistent “clumping” effects over time. Bonds between those who risk their lives together tend to be extremely strong, and so even in times of severe adversity within a community when bonds between members of other groups may be dissolving these bonds tend to survive.
That creates, in evolutionary terms, a perpetual selection preference.
The deep origin of Elites and the State lies in the natural — and often accidental — persistence and growth of groups who have a strong impact on decisions regarding use of violence. In many pre-agricultural communities this power was constrained by the size of the community and the ability of people to migrate to escape those security-focused groups who devolve into violent gangs.
Human history has likely been littered with examples of roving gangs squabbling over territorial boundaries, but the first recognizable States emerged with the development of intensive agriculture and the large cities this allows. In Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, Africa, and the Andes small groups of trained armed fighters suddenly gained the geographic ability to protect and tax thousands of people at once.
It didn’t take long before a few enterprising individuals prominent in these urban gangs figured out that proclaiming one’s self to be a god-king was a clever way to add another layer of protection around one’s position in the business. After all, if you can use your disproportionate power over the populace to make them work for you a part of each year and send to your palace a portion of every harvest and herd, why not also demand that they publicly agree to say that is how the world always has been and always will be?
Bonus points if you can convince them to build monuments in your honor!
Great Men from Alexander of Macedon and Caesar of Rome to Napoleon of France and Hitler of Nazi Germany sought to become god-kings in direct emulation of their spiritual ancestors. And sadly, they have been able to fund plenty of writers over the years who proved willing to back up their claim that these conquests were Natural and Proper and Just.
Napoleon today is revered by many in France, despite launching wars that killed millions and reestablishing slavery in the French colonial empire. Hitler less so — but unlike Napoleon’s France, Hitler’s Germany was defeated to utterly the German State can be said to have been obliterated from the Earth.
Very likely, that is why Germany is one of the freest places in the world… for now.
Unfortunately, the tradition of exalting Great Men is continued by the apologists for State power, including most biographers and writers focused on the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the democratic world. Most of these (still) old white men are carrying on the ancient process of reification that trains us all to believe that States and their power is normal and inevitable.
It isn’t true — which is why most theories of the State, therefore most theories of international relations, are so flatly and catastrophically wrong.
In the “softer” sciences like political science, sociology, and economics the threshold for what constitutes a scientific fact is much, much lower than in the physical disciplines. Because of the inherent difficulties in studying humans, most social science results are badly biased.
No scholar benefits from being honest about this, though, and anyone who points out the uncomfortable truth is subject to effective exile from that part of academia, where small groups of established tenured faculty (again, white men, usually) have an outsized impact on perceptions of what their discipline considers to be facts.
And perhaps no field in the social sciences is more fraught with bias than political science, because how we think about politics and power is a crucial battlefield for the State and its apologists. Students in the English-speaking world are treated to a purely mythological view of American and “Western” history that actively ignores vast bodies of useful philosophy, theory, and methodology beyond a deliberately narrow canon.
The result is generations of bad analysis of and worse prescriptions for international relations. In supposedly objective scientific journals widely cited by politicians to justify policy choices it is trivially easy to pick out bad assumptions and blind spots not supported by empirical evidence.
A terrible feedback loop exists where credentialed experts pass off myths as science to politicians who pursue policy measures that directly hinder whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish. Pick an international issue of concern to the United States, whether that be Russia’s behavior towards Ukraine, the Israel-Palestine conflict, China, or even just trying to control a global pandemic, and whatever officials try and do things only seem to get worse with time.
This is a symptom of the fact that economics and political science are forms of applied western philosophy, and not true sciences. Raising them to that level requires application of systems theory and science, but these are not taken seriously by most of the big names in the business (and yes, academia is a business).
An actual science of the State would recognize it for what it truly is: a kind of social organism, an Elite-controlled institution dedicated solely to its own survival. Rather than tame the alleged anarchy of a Stateless world, States are merely taking advantage of it — and draining the world of vital resources desperately needed to conquer a range of challenges.
The State is a living atrocity, and if humanity is to stand any chance of making it through this century without the needless loss of millions of lives, each and every State must be forever chained.
That, in fact, is what democracy has been all about from the beginning.
And by democracy I mean true democracy — not that obscenity the spirit of ancient Athens represents. American and European Elites like to pretend that Greece and Rome were the founts of a thing called “Western Civilization” but that’s only because these were both slave-states where the wealthy held all the power. Democracy in Athens was only for landed men — and never barbarians.
True democracy has existed for as long as people. Is is rooted in free associations between individuals and groups who consent to common laws and an impartial system for adjudicating disputes. Those who dislike the laws of a place can move to one more suited to their tastes.
This ancient form of basic democracy can for the first time, thanks to the internet, be made the basis for a true global democracy that can govern the planet without being a State.
I call it the Earth Democratic Federation because it is partly inspired by the Federation from Star Trek, and also because the name is literally accurate.
The Earth Democratic Federation will need to be a free association of democratic countries who relinquish any claim to the right to use violence to resolve disputes. And an independent, transparent, and democratically-accountable security organization, the Earth Defense Forces, will have to be established to defend anyone across the planet facing life-threatening hazards, whether that be from other people or the planet itself.
The objective is simple: build a democratic international alliance capable of acting as an independent superpower on the global stage.
But not a traditional self-serving superpower like the United States, U.S.S.R., or China — a truly non-aligned movement dedicated to establishing a collective government to manage international affairs.
The Earth Democratic Federation will focus on trade, human rights, disaster relief, and democratization and build close relationships with disadvantaged communities across the world. A free trade and travel block will be set up with equal democratic representation for all, ensuring trade stays fair and sustainable. And the Earth Defense Forces will be deployed where invited as peacekeepers and nation-builders, helping integrated war-torn regions into the Earth Democratic Federation.
The goal is to become an indispensable trade partner to everyone equipped with a capable and professional defense force able to prevent communal violence and respond to disasters. In other words, what the United States should be and likes to pretend it is, but isn’t and can’t be, because its government was long ago consumed by its State.
A global democratic bulwark against the creeping racial authoritarianism of our time is absolutely necessary and a winning proposition given the increasing political instability in the United States.
Global democracy is the future of humanity — if it is to have a future at all.
The question is how to build it in the time we have left before war, climate change, and resource shortages begin to sap global capacity and wealth.