History of Liberty

The Rise of the Nation-State

History of Liberty Seminar 2001
Donald W. Livingston

Most of what is said about nation-states is not true. They are neither democracies nor republics nor nations nor states. There is no natural relationship between government and state. Men have been governed by many things that are not states. Throughout most of history man has lived without a state.

But the modern state is a distinct form of government. Hobbes’ Leviathan is a brilliant reference to this issue. The contract is between the people themselves.  There are two features: 1) the state is vast, and 2) the state is “an artificial man”, a nation person.

By the end of the Middle Ages the independence of the Church had been considerably weakened. The Thirty Years War reduced the Holy Roman Empire to a shadow. Absolute Monarchy (three generations old) was established. A system of large states was created, centralizing the King’s bureaucracy. Louis XIV was the most powerful monarch. Yet the state administrative system, with people called republicans, held that society must control the state with the single will of the French nation.

The modern state destroys, creates problems, and then presents itself as the solution. The state cloaked itself in moral authority that was much greater than monarchs had imagined. But authority is based on nothing but opinion. Hegel described the state as that veritable God on earth.

When the state could present itself with social authority, it could enforce unilateral taxation (1913), ultimate jurisdiction, and conscription (1873). Four times as many people have been killed by government than by war. The banality of evil arises from this artificial man.

Small states cannot arise today without the right of secession.

From the 2001 History of Liberty seminar.