I originally posted this as a comment under Scott’s post “The Christo-Rational-Consensus Approach” at his recently revived blog, American Dad Web. I think it’s coherent enough to stand as a post on its own; though I’m often my own worst critic.
Because we are mostly the sociological descendants of Anglo-Saxons, here’s something to think about:
Before the Norman Conquest of England, the accepted premise was that the land was owned by the people; more specifically by the person who was on it; whether male or female. A king rules over the people, but he doesn’t rule their lands directly. With William the Conqueror comes the French idea that the land belongs to the king, and that the people belong to the land. That is very different. So, for example, peasants couldn’t just up and move to another lord’s land because they belong to a defined space. But a king (as ruler of the land) could give peasants to another land, or his peasants could be another king’s by that second’s conquer of the land. Really, a peasant wasn’t of the king. He was of the land. Kings though are not tied to a land. They are something else; something above. Hence: Rigid class structures. That’s a problem because it fundamentally divides the people from its leader.
Nation states are an attempt to correct that. It says that the people and the nobility (the leaders, regardless of nomenclature) both belong to the land. That’s why Marx saw nation states as an obstruction to class struggle; because it gave an excuse to unite the leaders and the people. Marx saw that the actions of the nobility often belie their true allegiance: Like everyone they are prone to be allegiant to themselves first and to make common cause with other wealthy and privileged people from other nations, rather than with their own native peoples. Technology matters too: Marx lived in the time when the ship and the train raised the ability of the commoner to move across borders just like the nobles did.
Like Marx, I think nation states are a less-than-stable idea. Unlike Marx, I think that the problem is more fundamental than that of classes. I believe “class warfare” is a symptom of the sickness which places people under land instead of over it; of saying that people belong to a land instead of to a family and by extension to a nation of people–and that land belongs to them each, individually.
There’s a lot more that can be said about this. For example: In pre-feudal England, each free man (which were the great majority, only slaves weren’t free men) was required to own a spear and was subject to be summoned for war; usually on a rotation. Which makes sense: It’s your land, you defend it. Feudalism led directly to professional mercenary armies that worked anywhere and everywhere for the highest bidder while the inhabitants of the lands in contest got burned, pillaged, and raped–because it wasn’t the peasants place to fight.
Again, there are a lot of things to look at. Feudalism is like a softer Sparta where the 10% of Spartans ruled (brutally) over 90% Helots. Anglo-Saxon England was analogous to Athens. Early America was also in the vein of Athens (e.g. 2nd Amendment of weapons and militias), but we are rapidly moving towards a more feudal and Spartan model (e.g., civilians thanking warriors for their service of invading countries to the sole benefit of the leaders) instead of actually picking up a weapon and defending what they own.
Marx was a wicked and short-sighted man who weaponized envy on a multinational and multigenerational scale, but nation states don’t set the world in order, either.