Monday, April 7, 2008

The Nation State and the Common Good

Killing for the Telephone Company, a paper by William Cavanaugh questioning the nation state's status in protecting the common good. Many of the same themes run through his outstanding book, Theopolitical Imagination, and through Alasdair MacIntyre's essay Natural Law as Subversive, contained in the collection Ethics and Politics Vol. 2.

Here's a brief excerpt (though I recommend reading the whole thing):

Christian ethicists will commonly recognize that, in a sinful world, particular states always fall short of the ideal. Nevertheless, the ideal is presented not merely as a standard for Christian political practice but as a statement of fact: the state in its essential form simply is that agency of society whose purpose it is to protect and promote the common good, even if particular states do not always live up to that responsibility. This conclusion is based on a series of assumptions of fact: that the state is natural and primordial, that society gives rise to the state and not vice-versa, and that the state is one limited part of society. These assumptions of fact, however, are often made without any attempt to present historical evidence on their behalf.

This may be because such evidence is lacking. In this essay I will examine the origins of the state and the state-society relationship according to those who study the historical record. I will argue that the above assumptions of fact are untenable in the face of the evidence. I will examine these three assumptions in order. First, unless one equivocates on the meaning of “state”, the state is not natural, but a rather recent and artiļ¬cial innovation in human political order. Second, the state gives rise to society, and not vice-versa. Third, the state is not one limited part of society, but has in fact expanded and become fused with society.