Is civil government the only true government? Does it alone possess legitimate sovereignty? Defenders of the modern state insist that this is the case, and that it should be the case.
Robert Nisbet, as a sociologist, looked to social organizations as the source of political tradition. He explained the rise of the modern state in terms of series of conflicts between the national civil government and other institutions inside its geographical territory. He saw the rise of the modern state in terms of the state’s claims of sovereignty, a sovereignty which is it refused to share with other institutions. These other institutions had possessed limited sovereignty. He also explained the rise of classical Athens in terms of this insistence on state sovereignty. He explained the Roman Empire, under Augustus and later emperors, in terms of this quest for unitary state sovereignty: a war-state.
The state claims to be absolute. In The Quest for Community (1953), he wrote:
Like the family, or like capitalism, the State is a complex of ideas, symbols, and relationships. Unlike either kinship or capitalism, the State has become, in the contemporary world, the supreme allegiance of man and, in most recent times, the greatest refuge from the insecurities and frustrations of other spheres of life. Where capitalism has become enveloped throughout the Western world, and the East as well, in a thickening cloud of distrust and renunciation, and where kinship, like religion, has become increasingly devoid of institutional significance and symbolic appeal, the state has risen as the dominant institutional force in our society and the most evocative symbol of cultural unity and purpose (p. 92, ISI edition, 2010).
In this, war is central. “If there is any single origin of the institutional State, it is in the circumstances and relationships of war. The connection between kinship and family, between religion and the Church, is no closer than that between war and the state in history” (p. 93).
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