Territorial and Cultural Entities
A state is a territorial unit, but a nation is a cultural identity unit. The coupling of the nation-with state is a holdover from feudalism, in which the cultural and economic values of the king or prince were imposed on everyone residing in a territory by its ruler. This caused a common “national” identity to develop. However, national identity, while formed on a territory, can be separated from that territory. German-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Iranian-Americans retain cultural and economic values that shaped their identities in other territories, even though they move to a different territory.
Should immigrants from one nation-state be forced to drop their previous national identity and adopt a new one? Should they have the right to impose their national values on their new country and demand all the previous residents follow them? Or, should the cultural and economic values of a “nation” be decoupled from the domain of the state where pluralism exists on a territory?
Is the achievement of “e pluribis unum,” from many one, the motto of the United States, possible using the traditional definition of a nation-state? Or, is it only possible if many of the cultural and economic activities associated with a traditional nation-state are decoupled from the state? Under conditions of pluralism, the only viable national (territorial) values undergirding a state have to respect a plurality of identities.
Decoupling Church and State
The US Founders created the system of federal governance for existing states, many of which had different religious and cultural values. Massachusetts and Connecticut were Congregational, Maryland was Catholic, New York was Dutch Reformed, Pennsylvania was Unitarian, and Virginia was Episcopalian. In this regard, the American colonies reflected the traditional definition of a nation-state. While they could be brought together to fight off a common tyrant, they did not want to be forced to adopt the “national” values of the other states. Hence the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution began,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .
This amendment decoupled the cultural component of the individual states from the federal government, leaving it to rest on a pluralistic value system enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The decoupling of the federal government from all of the religions of the various states created wide opportunities for individuals to pursue their only dreams and not the dreams of their religious or political leaders. The personal freedoms and happiness associated with this decoupling eventually pushed all the individual states to disestablish religion and leave it to the voluntary association of individuals. Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish its churches in 1833.1https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/post/403/new-book-traces-religious-disestablishment-in-american-states-from-1776-to-1883
However, the decoupling of “church” from state turned out to be inadequate. When the U.S. was founded, religions were the primary identity groups that shaped cultural values. As people immigrated from other countries, they brought national identities that were broader than the religions of their countries. And, with the scientific revolution underpinning modern society, the formal rejection of traditional religion, was replaced by secular values and ideologies that filled the void for meaning and value. Other social groups like political parties became vehicles for group political action and became “established religion” even though the influence of traditional religions had been restrained.
In retrospect, it would have been better if the First Amendment has been written as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of any cultural identity group, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .
The Rise of New Tribalisms
Today we see the tribalism associated with religion in 1789 has morphed into political parties, ideologies, and special interest groups in contemporary society. The quasi-religious and secular values underpinning these groups are freely lobbied for establishment in laws that benefit their group of constituents at the expense of other groups. In the economic sphere of society, corporations do the same. This new tribalism is based on the effort to get the state to impose group values, rather than a “consensus of the governed.” It is inimical to the values of the US founding, because “religion” was too narrow a definition to encapsulate cultural values. Today the “culture wars” largely exist because they are fought over obtaining state power.
The Role of the State as Provider of Security and Referee
The state should not establish any cultural group. It is a territorial entity and should be restricted to territorial security and only act as a referee, not a culture or business player.2Anderson, Gordon L., Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2009, p. 109). Culture and economy should be rooted in their own social spheres, not in the state. This would end the concept of the nation-state.
Territorial governance, economy, and culture are driven by different principles. Force and law underpin a government, ownership of property and the market underpin an economy, and human relationships and knowledge underpin culture. In families, clan societies, and kingdoms these three social spheres are under the control of a single leader. However, as societies become more complex and activities expand from individual leaders to social institutions, many social institutions in each of these spheres develop.
Today we still have social institutions, like governments, corporations, or social groups, trying to control all three social spheres. This is a holdover from tribal and feudal societies. Social institutions should be based in one social sphere where their core principles apply, and restricted from acting in spheres that are based on other principles.
For example, governments, rooted in force and law are appropriate to act as an economic referee so that there is a level of economic playing field. However, governments are terrible allocators of wealth because their power gives them monopoly status. Monopolies exploit wealth and ration services and require a referee to regulate them. Thus if the government becomes an economic player, it will become an oppressor unable to regulate itself. Similarly, if governments control education or the media, which is a cultural activity, it will use its power over knowledge to indoctrinate and propogandize rather than act as a referee that allows everyone to seek knowledge. Thus, government-planned economies and government-run schools lead to a totalitarian society, a society that tells people how to think and what to do.
A principled government, and all the agencies that fall within the sphere of governance, should only engage in the use of power and law to secure and regulate the ability of all people to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, regardless of the cultural and economic groups with which they freely affiliate–their ability to choose their own jobs and join their own cultural associations like churches and other social groups.
Appropriate Level of Governance
Principled governance should be limited to that appropriate to the size of the territory. The greatest responsibility to the lowest possible level provides the greatest amount of life, liberty, and happiness. The registration of land can be done at the county level and should not be done by state of federal governments. Conversely, planning a dam on a river that flows through five states, should not be done by the headwater state cutting off the flow to others. The Hoover Dam project is a good example of an appropriate level of governance because it is governed by the states involved.
Further, each level of government should be able to freely associate with the higher level, except on matters that only the higher level can solve. The right of secession of governance units parallels the right of voluntary association of individuals, who are the core units of society.
In matters of security, local police are at the appropriate level for the protection of individual homes and businesses. This is most appropriate because the face-to-face relations of people in a community provide superior knowledge of individuals in a community than the impersonal relations of an Army, who often tend to view the territories they occupy as filled with enemies. However, it is difficult for small communities the fend off invading armies of states. Therefore it is appropriate for states to have armies raised from the communities to defend the states, but wrong for the states to use those armies for local policing.
Similarly, taxes ought to be drawn from lower levels of governance and states, but regional federations of states, like the United States and the European Union, should receive taxes from individual states and not tax individual directly. In the case of the United States, the 16th Amendment violated this principle that was understood by the founders, and bypassed the states, giving the federal government tyrannical power over the states.
An integral society is made up of social institutions rooted in one of three social spheres, and those institutions should remain in their own sphere. Governments should referee businesses and cultural institutions so they do not cause harm to each other, but should not run businesses, the media, or schools. Likewise, corporations and social organizations should not make laws, because they will garner advantages for themselves at the expense of others causing the government to choose sides rather than acting as a referee. The chart below lists some of the institutions in different social spheres.
|Churches||Farms||Police / military|
|Art and Music||Stores and Markets||Regulatory Agencies|
Further, social institutions with spheres need to remain true to their own mission. For example banks should stick to banking and not engage in insurance or stock market speculation. This was the cause of the Great Depression and the prepared by the Glass-Steagall Act. When that Act was repealed in 1999, it was immediately followed by the Enron and World Comm scandals and then the economic collapse of the housing market in 2007.
New studies in institutional integrity and resilience are required to develop a fully functioning, stable, and peaceful complex society and world. Each of the institutions above not only relates to the core principles of a social sphere but has specific principles that underlie it that require specific human expertise by its leaders. Social institutions fail when leaders drift off their core purpose and are hijacked for personal or ideological motives, using the resources of the institution for other purposes.3Don Trubshaw, “Institutional Resilience and Ecological Threats as Factors in Societal Peace and Conflict,” International Journal on World Peace, December 2021, pp.,11-33.
The world is at a point parallel to the development of the ten commandments required for individual behavior at the beginning of civilization. But today, an evolved civilization is not just made up of individuals but a complex set of social institutions. It is as important to articulate the commandments for social institutions today, as it was to articulate rules like “thou shalt not kill” at the dawn of civilization.
A primary commandment for any social institution is that it remains true to its mission, in its own social sphere, and at its appropriate social level. The concept of the nation-state violates this primary commandment for social institutions in an integral society. The nation is a cultural entity, while the state is a territorial entity. It is wrong either for a state to control the culture or culture to control the state, both lead to tyranny and social failure. The nation should be decoupled from the state.