Civil Society, rather than the State, as the Incubator of Life

The primary subject of this comment will be one of the matters to be addressed by my second (2nd) volume, The Nature of Mankind and Government, in my series Interstice Amid the Fabric of Life. But my rereading of Plato’s Crito — it having been more than fifty-five (55) years since I first studied it, and I deemed a refreshing to be beneficial — inspired me to presently endeavor to distinguish the State from the organic and essential assemblages of Mankind.

I was cruising along with Plato’s reasoning but then suddenly [at 50 – 51] I came upon the Athenians’ arguments anticipated by Socrates and was repulsed by them. These arguments, with which Socrates (and, by extrapolation, Plato) agreed, were that:

it was through the laws of Athens that Socrates’ father married his mother and conceived him,

the city thereby gave birth to him,

he was raised and educated because of its laws directing a certain program of education,

since by virtue of he thereby being “born and brought up and educated … [he was then the] offspring and slave [of Athens] from the beginning, both [he] and [his] ancestors”,

consequently “the homeland is deserving of more honor and reverence and worship than [Socrates’] mother and father and all of [his] other ancestors”, and

he therefore “should show her more respect and compliance and obedience than [his] father, and either convince her or do what she commands, and suffer without complaining if she orders [him] to suffer something … whether it is to be beaten or imprisoned, or to be wounded or killed if she leads [him] into war …”.

It seemed incredulous that anyone could adopt this perspective! Now it admittedly is somewhat ameliorated by the rejoinder that:

Athens granted the power, to any citizen of discretion and experience with its affairs and laws who is not pleased with them, “to take his possessions and leave for whatever he wants”, yet

if such a citizen having cognizance of its laws and other civic matters remains in Athens, then the citizen “by his action has now made an agreement with [the city] to do what [it] commands him to do.”

Asserting that an individual can enter into a political contract by his affirmative conduct (and the necessary inferences therefrom) is well-taken. Yet the question remains as to what are the contours of such a political contract, and whether those contours can be concluded to vitiate the volitional nature of the individual’s consent.

For a person can be rightfully deemed to have intelligently acquiesced in the abbreviation or even surrender of certain secondary rights in exchange for the greater security of his primary rights. But can a person be deemed to have knowingly and willingly compacted when the nature of the political contract conceives the State to not only have the capacity to adjust and reconcile, but be the very source of, primary rights?*  Such a construction is so at variance with both Mankind’s experience and innate principles that it must be concluded that any adhesion to such a contract was only the result of compulsion or duplicity.**

These types of questions compel an examination into the origin, nature, and legitimacy of the nebulous creature known as the State.

The concept of the composition of a State as a discrete entity has been considered and analyzed over the millennia. But have these analyses been retrospective or prospective in perspective? Have they accepted the political structures into which they were born and matured as axioms and then applied them to primordial existence?

Many, if not most, of those discussions treat the State as an elemental structure in social life. However a State is not a natural structure, much less elemental, but rather an artificial construct.*** By nature it experiences transmutation and metamorphosizes into new combinations. Let us then now consider what is contended to be the composition of a State.

Of what does one conceive constitutes a State? Though the required components might be similar, it would seem that various differing perspectives do or could exist, depending upon which facet is deemed most central. Nevertheless, one could describe a State as

a distinct territory encompassed by defined borders,
permanently occupied by a static, or semi-static, population:

manifesting and conforming to various cultures
espousing various sets of mores
organized by an organic social structure
engaged in regular and continual economic interactions

promulgating and subjecting its population to certain laws, and

establishing and employing a governmental structure for the administration of those laws.

Further analysis of these components demonstrate that the State, as conceived, interposes a layer that only subordinates, nay subjugates, civil society to a formal hierarchy and imposes a rigidity that complicates rending of these shackles.

These components can and should be considered in order.

Geographical expanse and boundaries provide no innate definition of uniqueness. History is replete with examples of accretion of territory to nations, as well as of divestiture of regions from them; just to consider the most recent, there was: the annexation of Silesia and much of Poland by Germany prior to, and then the divestiture from it of those regions as well as East Prussia following, World War II; the annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China; the division of Eastern European countries after 1989, consisting of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; and, prehaps most dramtic, the division of the Soviet Union (followed by de facto reincorporation of a number of the former regions into Russia’s sphere of influence). Moving from the specific to the general, we have already hypothesized how even within neighborhoods themselves mitosis and division is a natural dynamic; how much more than is it natural the larger the combination — there by definition being far more differences in a more populous and expansive nation, and hence occasions for dissension and rancor. This, then, provides no foundation for the erection of the additional layer of the State.

The culture and mores of the nation derive from the various neighborhoods that compose the polity. They are the product of the unique experiences, thereby forming the traditions, of the unitary, and then extended, families forming those neighborhoods.

They thus by nature precede any State, are deployed and employed independent of it, would survive its abolition, and cannot be enhanced, but only infringed, by it. Moreover, the larger the nation, the greater the volume and diversity of each set of culture and mores. Thus, endeavoring to define the character of a State by them only yields confusion and complication.

The social structure of any region not only has primordial roots, but fundamentally originated from and consists of individual person-to person interactions. These bilateral interactions then provide the foundation for and evolve into more-complex multilateral interactions.

Though these relationships then are constantly evolving they still depend upon the needs, decisions, and actions of each individual as they regularly engage with other individuals. The focus of daily life then is horizontal rather than vertical. The influence of the aggregate set of interrelationships composing a State then is but irregular.

The economy is perhaps the most fundamental, as well as essential, development in any society. It originates in the first person’s search for and acquisition of food, clothing, and shelter. It of course then develops in complexity as population expands.

Still economic interaction may be one of the limited arenas in which a State has a role. For it may be able to encourage efficiency, and limit (or eliminate) inequities, in the distriubtion of goods or services. Nevertheless, this role is an ameliorative, rather than formative, function — only being exerted upon the fringes, rather than the core, of an economic structure already in operation.

In conceiving the State as a fundamental entity, it is tendered that the theorists concentrated their attention upon the laws promulgated by it. This it is conceded is one of the indicias of a political entity, and a necessary development in any society. For as complexity increases, the necessity of promulgating and executing specific rules to govern the new relationships produced by this complexity also increases.

Yet, prior to Positive Law there were already standards imposed and observed. The fundamental standards were those imposed by Natural Law.****  Supplementary ones were the product of what the earliest combinations in society deemed just and beneficial. Thus, while it is not disputed that Positive Law (at least to some extent) is necessary, it was not the foundation nor the essence of the principles regulating personal interaction. Moreover, this Positive Law, as demonstrated by history and theory, is not static; they are periodically revised, modified, and supplemented. If so, then, it is impossible to define a State by them since a defintion is static by nature but the state of Positive Law is dynamic.

The laws of a community then are reactive rather than proactive, and do not constitute the foundation of a nation. By extrapolation a State likewise must be deemed a gloss upon the foundational, constituent neighborhoods that compose the community.

The final component to be considered is the governmental structure of a political entity. This likely was the element which proccupied the theorists in their conception of a State. It is the most visible facade of a nation as being the most articulated. By its very nature and necessity this structure must be meticulously defined, else it leads to tyranny and slavery. Further, how can it be effective and perform its intended function if neither the magistrates nor the populace understand its powers and restrictions?

Yet, simply because this structure is the most obvious and known component of a nation does not mean it is organic, much less the most important. For its purpose is but to enact Positive Law when it is required, to enforce it, and to adjudicate whether the enactments and enforcements were permissable and proper. Accordingly, if Positive Law is only of peripheral concern for and effect on the vast majority of personal interactions, then the government structure which is its source and sanction is likewise only peripheral; and the above demonstrates that the lack of centrality of the State to those interactions.

Rather, instead of the State, the only ineluctable structure is the Unitary Family; even it — in practice, even if contrary to precept — transforms not infrequently. Immediately beyond this is the Extended Family but it, because of its greater volume and diversity, is regularly subject to disputes between and division of its members. Even more are the larger combinations — neighborhoods, communities, regions and nations — subject to turmoil and dissention.

The Civil Society is inherently without conscious or deliberate organization. Its members interact, but this interaction is by nature organic. It thus experiences growth, mutations, and death. These changes may be as to the organism as a whole or in sets of its members only. These developments may be prolonged or rapid.

Civil Society then is continually, if not constantly (always, or even usually), in flux. Its composition and character may be stable, but of a different composition and character. Rather, its stability is a function and consequence of its transformation by adaptation; for it marginalizes or, when necessary, expels those members that exhibit or engage in rancor or disunity and integrates new members.

A State though, as defined and examined, is a natural appendage to Civil Society. For, as the result of the necessity of dispute resolution that exists at all stages, it first utilizes the inherent household mechanisms therefor and then expands and refines it as the inhabitants of the neighborhood, and then community, increase. Then, as the community further increases, in inhabitant volume and geographically, it then is compelled to establish defined, specific rules for the new contingencies and situations it did not previously confront.*****  Finally, the proliferation of further new contingencies and consequent rules necessitates a separate body for the administration and application of them. The community thus experiences the necessity of the formation of a Proto-Judiciary, then a Proto-Legislature, and, later, a Proto-Executive. The Civil Society then grafts these appendages onto itself. While adaptations thereto may later be necessary and then effectuated, they retain their character as but an adjunct of Civil Society.

A State then is not a natural creature, but an artificial embodiment of the precursive organism. Civil Society, as an infinitely-varied entity (depending upon the median mores, culture and experiences of its members), cannot have perceived any necessity for a duplicative definition of it; a State would be but an exact overlay of it, yielding no benefit but rather only confusion. From the perspective of a government, though, such a concept would be beneficial, by rendering its existence inviolable and transforming its position to be the root of the community. But this reverses the chronology and its status as but a branch of Civil Society. And it cannot be otherwise — for their natures are singular.

Civil Society is a flexible transmuting organism. It is dynamic, not static.

A State, though, is a formal entity with an integrated structure. While it might be altered (even dramatically), the new pattern will still be formal and integrated.

The one then is alive and the other is subject to atrophy. This being so, only Civil Society can give birth to the future, open vistas for the energies and talents of its members, provide the arena for the interactions of these energies and talents, and bestow the reciprocal rewards therefor.

Consequently, with all due respect to Plato and Socrates, I retain my incredulity at their proposition.


*  Primary natural rights are, by their very designation, primary. They are essential to the survival and autonomy of each individual. As such, the loss, or worse the deprivation by another, of them would result in the destruction of the individual. As destruction of another person is an indisputable violation of Natural Law, the loss or deprivation of Primary natural rights is likewise a violation of Natural Law and is forbidden. No person, then, may abridge, alienate, or surrender his Primary natural rights, either to a State or to another Unitary Family or Extended Family; only Secondary natural rights — when essential, in adequate exchange for greater security of or enhanced power to exercise a Primary natural right, and for a limited duration — can be abridged.

Yet, in the case of a State, even the right of alienation of Secondary natural rights to it is problematic since as the State has been conceived (at least by some) as a permanent entity and resistant to the removal of powers once granted, it could jeopardize the exercise of those rights by later generations; and no person has the right to deprive later generations of Secondary, much less Primary, natural rights. (The alienation of Secondary natural rights to another Unitary Family or Extended Family is less problematic since, as discussed herein, their composition and duration is dynamic and constantly in flux ¥ yielding the opportunity to be released from his alienation of those rights.)

Further we should consider, as is elaborated in this essay as well as established a priori, Civil Society is antecedent to and developed independent of any State. Yet Primary natural rights were antecedent to Civil Society. They thus are ingrained in all persons and inherent in all interrelationships. Being then elemental and antecedent, any State is subject to them. Thus, while a State may have the residual power to adjust and reconcile Primary natural rights, this power must be restrictively interpreted and extraordinarily exercised. For otherwise the very survival of every member of the community would be in constant and ultimate jeopardy.

**  Natural Rights are a component of Natural Law, and Natural Law is integral to Nature, Nature being the totality of all existence and life. As each person is born into Nature, by virtue of thereby being a part of existence and life, Mankind is a part of Nature and Natural Rights hence are a part of each person; they are bestowed at birth and are innate to each individual.

These rights may be either Primary and Secondary. The difference between them is that the former are required for survival of the individual and thus cannot be alienated; for since his birth was not his choice nor the result of his actions, no person has the right to abandon his life. Moreover, as the instinct to perpetuate life is natural and any inclination to abandon life is unnatural, any putative choice to the contrary must be presumed to be misapprehended and the result rather of external forces; else the gate allowing oppressive and tyrannical power to enter is opened. (As life was a gift bestowed upon him, all persons have a duty to preserve it and engage in activities for their own benefit. Moreover, as life is not solitary — save for the hermit who lives his life in isolation and thus is without impact or effect in his time or after his demise — he has a duty also to engage in activities that may potentially or will directly benefit others.)

Thus, abridgment, much less surrender, by any person of their Primary natural rights would constitute repudiation of the natural order, much less his inherent rights and natural instincts. Therefore, any acquiescence in the loss thereof must be deemed inconceivable and not the result of his knowing and volitional choice.

***  A State could not exist in a different spatial sphere than the community with which it is associated and purportedly serves. Yet, as has been demonstrated both theoretically and historically, a community is subject to both merger and division. If then a community as constituted is a temporary creature, then so must a State be deemed, not merely a temporary, but an artificial construct — as its structure and jurisdiction is not merely derivative but unsubstantial.

****  Positive Law is both historically posterior and subordinate to Natural Law and its associated Natural Rights. Moreover, both the community and its Positive Law are transitory whereas Natural Law is unalterable and enduring.

*****  We today characterize these rules as Positive Law, viz, Constitutions and Statutes.


WAYNE A. SMITH
Sanilac County, Michigan USA
04 Apr 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.