Notes on Sovereignty & International OrderGreg Johnson
Mike Maxwell has posed some questions to me on sovereignty and international order on the Imperium Press Substack.
Ethnonationalists envision a world of sovereign homelands for all distinct peoples who aspire to autonomy. Thus we are opposed to multinational empires as well as global government schemes, all of which involve the denial of sovereignty to particular peoples or, in the case of global governance, to all peoples.
It is therefore fair to ask how an ethnonationalist world order would work. Would it be a world order or a world chaos?
Thomas Hobbes contrasted the state of nature, where there is no government, with civil society, in which there is government. In the state of nature, every man is sovereign, answering only to himself. But, Hobbes argued, life in the state of nature is a state of war of all against all, in which life is inevitably “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Individuals in a state of nature would thus be driven by rational self-interest to set up a common ruler to create peace.
Hobbes’ state of nature is not a description of how states actually form. Instead, it is a thought experiment showing that, in the absence of a state, rational self-interest would drive men to create one as soon as possible.
Hobbes did, however, point out that the different states of the world are in a state of nature in relation to each other, since there is no common power above them to enforce rules and secure peace.
Since ethnonationalists envision a world of 200-odd sovereign homelands, we need to explain why we do not follow Hobbes’ reasoning to its logical conclusion: global government.
Is the life of nations in the state of nature as Hobbes described it, namely a perpetual war of all against all? Are the lives of nations in the state of nature solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? Shouldn’t nations prefer to surrender their sovereignty to a global government to ensure peace and prosperity? Isn’t global government preferable to global anarchy?
War is one of mankind’s greatest scourges. But in the state of nature, nations are not in a constant state of war of all against all. There are always wars somewhere, but even so, we observe peace almost everywhere else — peace without global government.
We also note that the lives of nations are seldom solitary. Every nation has some allies and trading partners.
Many nations in the state of nature are quite prosperous.
And the lives of most nations are hardly “nasty, brutish, and short.” Indeed, some nations are breath-takingly civilized, refined, and ancient — and all in the state of nature that Hobbes claims we should flee as soon as there is an alternative.
How can peace and amity emerge among sovereign states in a state of nature, without a common power to enforce common rules? Sovereign states live at peace when they agree to respect one another’s sovereignty. That means, in practice, that they secure alliances and resources though voluntary trade rather than violence. If all sovereign states foreswear violence and embrace mutual respect and voluntary interactions, there can be a global ethnonationalist order without a global state.
From an ethnonationalist point of view, therefore, an ideal world order is a form of liberalism without the state, known in some circles as “anarcho-capitalism.” The only alternative to a global state is global anarchy. But, contra Hobbes, anarchy need not be chaos, for there can be order without the state.
In the absence of a common state, how can sovereign nations adjudicate disputes and deal with global problems like environmental degradation, international criminal and terrorist networks, or even planetary defense against comet or asteroid strikes like the one that ended the dinosaurs? By creating international treaty organizations to which they delegate powers to deal with particular problems while maintaining their sovereignty — organizations like the United Nations, for instance, which currently has 193 sovereign members.
Such organizations are not political, because there is no overarching power. Instead, they are collegial, meaning that they consist of independent agents united by common goals and shared rules, but not by a common power to which they surrender their sovereignty.
What happens in such a world if a nation goes rogue? Under international law, all sovereign states are equal. But some states are stronger than others. What if one wishes to gain by force what one cannot gain by negotiation? No state is so powerful that it cannot be opposed by alliances of smaller states. Such alliances could use moral suasion and economic pressures to bring rogue states back into the fold. But if peaceful measures fail, war still remains the last resort.
In short, such a system is not fool-proof or failure-proof. But it is better than any global government schemes, which promise to make such wars impossible — but only after, in effect, declaring war on and vanquishing every state that wishes to maintain its sovereignty, whether by stealth or open conflict. Again, the only alternative to global government is global anarchy. Anarchy need not be chaos, but some chaos may still be preferable to global government.
Maxwell, however, apparently does not think there is an alternative to global or imperial government:
. . . as for the rules-based order envisioned here, what gives the rules force? Who decides what rules? Who interprets? The subtext here is that we have something like the rule of law, on an international scale. . . . So, if we can envision a global patchwork of nation-states adhering to a set of rules, we must also envision an agent enforcing those rules. But why can’t this agent be everyone? Can’t all states check each other? Our first clue that they can’t is that this is the same argument given by anarcho-capitalists, but on a smaller scale, for a stateless society. Robbing and cheating people will get you ostracized, and in a tiny village this may be enough for custom to prevail for a time. But before long, you’ll need a council of elders, convened by one primus inter pares, and later formalized into a king. At anything much beyond the family (and maybe not even that far), you will end up with a state in embryo.
First of all, a college of 200 or so sovereign nations is about the size of a small village, which Maxwell admits might be able to exist without a common government. Second, a college of nations can deal with particular problems by creating councils or commissions without ceding their sovereignty to a government. They do this all the time.
Maxwell, however, seems to think that anyone in the role of a decision-maker is therefore a sovereign, which means that the people for whom he makes decisions have ceded their sovereignty.
This argument, however, is based on an equivocal use of the word “sovereign.” There are three senses of sovereignty in his article:
- the sovereign as a person who decides or who executes;
- one who answers only to himself, i.e., the sovereign individual or the sovereign state; and
- the people as sovereign, i.e., the idea that the common good of a people is the highest law of the land.
Maxwell’s primary sense of sovereign is the first, a person who decides: “Who decides what rules? Who interprets?” Maxwell does not think that laws themselves can rule, because people have to interpret and enforce them:
Can we not all just agree to the rules? The affirmative answer to this question is known as rule of law, expressed pithily by Thomas Paine where he says that for absolutists the king is law, whereas for republicans the law is king. But the law can’t issue executive orders, nor can it wield an M16 or deploy the national guard—you need a man to do that, a man with agency to defend the law and judgement to interpret it. The law is a tool for governance, but a tool can no more govern than a blueprint can build a bridge. The law can’t rule, and because it can’t rule, questions as to whether it should rule are unintelligible.
Maxwell’s argument strikes me as problematic for two main reasons.
First, he might be setting up a strawman. Obviously, laws can’t rule without human agents who interpret and apply them. But is this really what the rule of law means, i.e., a set of rules that anticipates all possible eventualities and that can be simply and deductively applied without need of human judgment, much less anyone to enforce them? There is definitely a strand of liberal thinking that would purge decision and prudence from government, thinking that these stand in the way of impartial justice and fairness. But this is a simple impossibility. Every regime today that embraces the rule of law also commissions hordes of functionaries to interpret and apply the law.
Every law-governed society doesn’t require just one decider, but countless deciders. Decisions are needed in every branch of government: executives from cops on the beat to every rank of the military to the President or Prime Minister, judges from traffic courts to the supreme court, and legislators in every jurisdiction.
Second, the act of decision — even final decision — does not exhaust the concept of sovereignty. Deciders are merely executives, merely functionaries, of the laws and the broader political system. Contra Maxwell, laws are not the tools of deciders; rather, the deciders are tools of the system to interpret and enforce laws. Deciders are not sovereigns. They answer to the system that commissions them.
This is true even of “absolute” monarchs. Their offices are defined for them by the political system. The way they enter and leave office is defined by the political system, and their performance is graded by the ultimate standards of that political system, which is sovereignty in the third sense above, namely popular sovereignty: The people’s common good is the highest law of the land.
This sense of sovereignty is primary because it serves as a norm that governs the other senses of sovereignty. The reason that nation-states should be sovereign (the second sense) is that a sovereign homeland is the best way to secure the flourishing of a people. Sovereigns in the first sense (deciders) are empowered to make decisions for the common good of the people.
Popular sovereignty is primarily a normative concept. It is best articulated by Aristotle in his Politics. Aristotle recognizes that in every regime, some govern and others are governed. This is true in regimes ruled by one man, few men, or many men. He also notes that in every regime, a minority always governs the majority. This is even the case in popular regimes, since the voters are only a subset of the populace as a whole, which means that the majority of voters are almost inevitably a minority of the population as a whole. For Aristotle, a lawful government exists when the ruling minority pursues the people’s common good, whereas an unlawful government pursues the ruling minority’s private interests.
When one man rules lawfully, we have monarchy. When one man rules lawlessly, we have tyranny. When the few rule lawfully, we have aristocracy. When they rule unlawfully, we have oligarchy. When the many rule lawfully, we have what Aristotle calls “polity.” When they rule unjustly, we have democracy.
Maxwell thinks it is an objection to popular sovereignty to observe that “[a]n organized minority will always rule over a disorganized majority.” For Aristotle, however, it is no objection to the idea of popular sovereignty to note that power is inevitably concentrated in the hands of a minority. The question of whether sovereignty is popular or not is not determined by observing who rules, but rather for whom they rule: the common good of society or the private good of the ruling faction.
Maxwell is also dismissive of the idea that the concept of sovereignty is primarily normative:
Sovereignty is not a question of in whose interests the ruler should act. The father should act in the interests of his children; the children are not ipso facto sovereign over the family.
This is not precise. An Aristotelian would say that a good father rules the family in the interests of the whole family. Sovereignty is not located in persons at all, not the father or the children. The father is merely the executive of the family’s common good. The children, by virtue of their helplessness, are merely recipients of parental care. Persons are mere functionaries within a justly ordered family, and their performance of their duties is graded by the common good of the family, and of the larger society of which they are parts.
Sovereignty is also often thought to be exhausted by the question of legitimacy — who ought to rule? But there is no ought without can. If it’s not even possible in principle for the proletariat to rule, then the question of whether it should rule is moot. Who can rule? This question needs to be addressed first.
This, too, is imprecise. Sovereignty is not so much “exhausted” by the question of legitimacy, but legitimacy is definitely the most important question. Laws can’t interpret or execute themselves. Laws therefore need functionaries to interpret and execute them. Whether these functionaries do a good job or a bad job, whether they are just or corrupt, depends on the inescapably normative question of for whom are they working: the common good of society or their own private interests? Power and the functionaries who exercise it are legitimate if they work for the common good, illegitimate if they do not.
Maxwell also fails to grasp that the idea of national sovereignty is primarily and essentially a normative concept, hence his claim that:
If your ability to decide is governed by someone else’s veto, you are not sovereign.
Really? Your ability to decide anything? Even to do wrong things? Even to do injury to your neighbors? If I decide not to rob my neighbors, because that would inevitably provoke retaliation, and I have to live with these people, is that decision not sovereign because it takes other people’s interests and reactions into account? If I decide not to rob my neighbors because I would not want them to rob me, is that a violation of my sovereignty? If I decide that it is preferable to deal with my neighbors by means of persuasion rather than violence, is that a violation of my sovereignty? Is there such a thing as a moral “veto” of my will, a veto that I would impose upon myself because it is the right thing to do, a veto that my neighbors would impose upon me by retaliation because I richly deserve it?
If Canada wanted to invite the Chinese to place chemical weapons facilities on its southern border, America would swiftly shut that down. Much as it pains me to admit, Canada is not a sovereign nation. There are perhaps three or four sovereign nations today, and neither Canada nor Ukraine are among them.
This simply confuses sovereignty with military power, which means that weak nations are not sovereign because they can’t do just anything they want to their neighbors. But on this account, no nations are really sovereign, because no nation is so powerful that it could not be destroyed by an alliance of other nations.
If we had a world in which strong nations could attack any weaker nations, and weak nations could band together to oppose strong nations, eventually, after a great deal of striving and bloodshed, peace would be achieved. At that point, it might occur to people that it would be simpler to just respect other nations’ sovereignty from the start. This was why the concept of national sovereignty was invented in the first place: to bring an end to the orgy of bloodshed that convulsed Europe after the Reformation.
National sovereignty is a normative concept of international law. Under international law, all sovereign states are equal, and when one sovereign state attacks another, the attacker is wrong and the victim is wronged, even if the attacker is strong enough to get away with it. In such a situation, the proper response is not to do away with the concept of national sovereignty, but rather for other sovereign states to band together to force the offending state back into compliance with international law.
Although the bulk of Maxwell’s article deals with sovereignty in the first two senses — the executive and national sovereignty — he frames his comments in terms of the issue of popular sovereignty, which he dismisses on the ground that the people cannot and do not rule. Order, he says, is imposed from the top down by small minorities. It does not bubble up spontaneously from the masses.
I have two objections to this line of reasoning.
First, framing the issue as “populism or vanguardism” misunderstands popular sovereignty’s normative nature. Power is always exercised by minorities. Popular sovereignty is honored when minorities exercise power for the common good of society. Thus, every populist movement is also vanguardist.
Second, breezily dismissing popular sovereignty and populist politics based on Traditionalist and Neoreactionary dogmas is self-defeating. As I put it in the final paragraph of my essay, “In Defense of Populism”:
[Undemocratic ] Liberalism triumphed not by rejecting popular sovereignty but by subverting it. This is one reason the elites are so hysterical about the rise of populism. It puts them on the spot. If they affirm popular sovereignty, then populism is the only logical outcome. If they deny popular sovereignty, good luck getting people to vote for that. Thus they’d rather avoid the argument entirely. But we can’t let them. We need to press this advantage by demanding that they live up to the principle of popular sovereignty, which empowers the people they loathe. In a fair contest, illiberal democracy will beat undemocratic liberalism every time.
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This seems very utopian. As a former LOLberg and fash fantasist I’ve spent many years in books, WWII reels, movies, documentaries and podcasts. It’s all a waste of time when it comes down to it because none of it is practical. I want real-world results to happen within my lifetime and within reach of my people. I’m tired of LARPing and theorizing.
There was no mention of corporations or any other transnational entities that defy nation-states such as stateless LGBT or certain other ethnicities who form global constellations that have more power than most nation-states. That prophetic speech from the movie Network really undermines any notion of popular sovereignty as the sine qua non of power. We see now that even economic determinism does not counter transnational corporations with the recent cancellation of Kanye.
’Autonomy’ can be anything, but it usually isn’t independence. Exactly who is allotted autonomy and what is the threshold? Would the 60,000 ‘Sorb-speaking Germans with Aryan origins’ (as Hitler called them) gain statehood? How about the Gagauzians?
When it comes down to it there is not much difference between Europeans. The peripheries of Germany mirror its neighbors. It’s just a crossroads of European admixture. Even Arnold has Czech ancestry. An even more uncomfortable topic is Jews were so intermarried in Germany that the Nuremberg laws had to become an arbitrary slide-rule of one grandparent (literally four times less radical than the 19th century American one-drop rule), which even that was still not uniformly enforced because there were still too many people who were discovered to have unfortunate ancestry.
What is the difference between an ‘alliance’ like NATO/EU and a regional government/‘economic zone’? We are in a prelude to WWIII because of it and we have had our demographic homogeneity eroded because of its perpetual secular crusading (War on Terror) spurring on a bizarre immigration pipeline of refugees from said adversarial countries being bombed by these very governments. It’s nothing but a shackle funneling all of this poz. The individual alliance system worked better with perennial rivalries outdoing each other and feeding off chauvinism.
And what counts as a ‘multinational’ state? The UK is a multinational state even without its Third World immigrants primarily hosted in two English cities. The Scottish want to secede only to rejoin the EU, which the English do not want. How about the Bosnians, who are located in several different regions across borders, yet not in continuity? They would rather risk another civil war than let the Serbs secede or rejoin Greater Serbia.
An even more interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed that doesn’t even have a name is how homogeneity breeds even more political division based on petty culture wars and economics, whereas the minorities have a de facto consensus on nationalism/regionalism. This isn’t just Europeans either. It’s universal.
But homogeneity always defaults to majoritarianism, which is a system of internal alliances and proxies within a state just to form a majority that includes diversity even when they have the numbers outright. It’s as if it is ‘democracy+’ where an ethnic minority vote spiritually counts twice as much for every majoritarian vote, so much so that the majority will pander to the minority to its own majority deficit.
The Hindi-speakers of central-west India have the same bifurcation of ‘liberals vs conservatives’ as America. Instead they form alliances with non-Hindis. The leftist Hindis ally with the southern Dravidians, while the conservative Hindis ally with the northeastern Sino Asiatics in national elections, who have their own local nationalist governments where every faction is ethnocentric.
The economic disparity is so great that enormous migrations that westerners can scarcely imagine occur within the subcontinent of non-Hindis traveling and working in Hindi cities. All of the lower caste and ethnic riffraff flows into the majoritarian heartland.
You would think that this would be easier for all of them to just further dismember the tangled web that is the Indian subcontinent like a gangrenous limb, but that’s not how it works in reality. Instead, they just hobble along with its lame foot because it sees more of benefit in remaining intact. The titular nation never surrenders its majoritarian federation until it is forced to by outside conquerors. Even civilian majorities will risk their lives for this patriotism/civic nationalism to the detriment of their own majority. Russians obviously do it, as do British, Turks, Chinese, Nigerians, Americans, Bosnians, Aussies, Spanish, Brazilians, Italians, Burmese, Serbians, Philippines, Canadians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis, Ethiopians and South Africans. I think it goes beyond territorial resources or water access. It has its own majoritarian civic nationalist origin story.
The problems you’ve presented – and implied solutions – are based upon everything staying the same in the psychology of White people. All evidence suggests that’s not going to be the case. A new ethos of racial self-care is emerging. Political mitosis is just a part of it. At some point, there’s going to be a convergence of White feelings about the White race that will be as dramatic and far-reaching as the emergence of Christianity. When that happens, many of the problems of ‘infighting’ will melt away. New problems will emerge, of course, but the world will look very different and we’ll have different resources to respond to these problems.
As for concrete political solutions, my view is that the assumption is that there is one political solution that will solve all of the White world’s problems. That’s not how it’s going to work. I think the inner world of Whites is changing and as those changes emerge into the shared world of daily life, local solutions to the current state of affairs will be invented. The need for some things – like territorial defense, food, energy, medical – don’t much change, but how these needs are met do change.
I think we’re at the very beginning of a civilizational change whose contours and inner structures are unimaginable.
Greg Johnson, like most intellectuals, is here demonstrating his inadequate knowledge of human nature.
Hubris. Nemesis. Desire to expand and impose one’s will. Immoral, wrong, wicked, to be sure. But very real.
Sometimes, I myself contemplate using the force of my personality to gain power and then roll the dice and see how far I could go with a powerful army. You get the idea. Why not? At 50 I have a different view of people I think less intelligent and less driven–what they now call “normies.” I might not care to drop five million or so of them in order to roll the dice and add my name to the history books alongside Alexander or Hitler, etc.
You better take care to take into account such because we exist.
You’re talking about evil, which political systems must of course take into account.
But you’re not going to do that. You’re already 30 years too old for a project that large. You might get a militia together and make things worse for Whites and yourself and your soldiers, but you’re not going to win the political struggle. Whites want something more than the civilization inherited from thousands of years ago. You’re not riding across the steppes with wind your hair screaming your ‘battle cry’. No one is.
We have wars because Young men enjoy them.
There are are several types of war. Some are fought between quite civilized states, some fought between primitive tribes. The young men go through the test of it and hopefully the elders don’t encourage too much of it and stop the wars when they cease to be of use.
But it as Tolstoy pointed out if wicked cheats and liars come together to be a force then dutiful honest men are obliged to come together to oppose them with force.
If there is a disturber of the peace like Napoleon or Hitler or as you’d argue, a Putin, the common people tend to find a way to band together and depose them. Perhaps Putin will be swept away by his own folk. Of course it’s possible that Between them Zelenskyy Nuland and Blinkin have disturbed the peace and are ultimately unaccountable even though they bear much responsibility for stirring up trouble.
This is an excellent essay ─ of the type that I have come to expect here at Counter-Currents.
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