Friday, 6 September 2019

Community versus Society

Before I tackle the final putative binding force, nation, I’ll take a look at what I think may be a major cause of our troubles with today’s nation-states. That cause can be brought into focus by asking the question: Do the human beings, who reside in the territory of a state, constitute a society, or are they merely a community? Otherwise put, do they have a shared set of goals which they all seek, or do they live together simply for mutual convenience?

As I’ve said before, a society has some form of, usually written, constitution. Among much else this will, almost certainly, state the goals of the members as a group. It is likely to have a president or chairman, and a committee or other group of officials. Under its constitution, the society makes decisions based on its principles and interests, and acts on them. Even though some of its members may disagree on an issue, the society as a whole takes only one view.

Now, political states are like societies in one respect; they have a (usually written) constitution. The constitution of the USA, for example, states its purpose as: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” But this is not the same thing as a constitution for a society of all inhabitants of the US! You can see this when you parse the whole sentence: “We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This is a constitution for a government called “the USA,” not for a putative society consisting of everyone in the US.

A community, in contrast, has no constitution. It has no president or chairman, no officials and no goals as a group. It may spawn societies, which act in certain respects on behalf of all those in the community; an example I gave earlier is a home-owners’ association. And the USA government, indeed, is a society whose remit is to act in certain respects on behalf of everyone in the territory called the US. But a community, even if all its members share common values – such as mutual respect for property rights and rejection of psychopathic behaviours – has no “general will,” beyond its own continuation.

If the people of the US (for example) form only a community, not a society, then it would be wrong, I think, to present as “the will of the people” what is, in reality, no more than the will of the USA government for the time being. And it would be wrong to subordinate the people of the US (or of any other country) to whatever political ideology is in vogue among those in power at a given time.

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