Sense of History: an unfinished draft of an undergraduate history textbook by Robert C. Binkley, 1939-40. This transcription is not yet fully corrected.

Chapter 5. States

Table of Contents

Barbarian Age: people and king
Power and territory

States, unlike villages and cities, are invisible. One can indeed see such things as mountains and rivers, hills and valleys, but even from an airplane one cannot see a political frontier. States are not a material formation, but systems of human relations -- power-organizations. They fit into the system we have called the political-territoria1 power organization.

The people who are members of the same state, unlike the people who are members of the same family, do not know each other personally. Few of these people see in their lifetimes any very large proportion of the acreage of land which they think of as belonging to their state. Yet Europeans feel themselves to be very strongly attached to the areas of land which they do not see, and to the masses of other people whom they do not know. This feeling of attachment is called patriotism.

The typical state of the Era of Nationalism has a capital city and a frontier. Having a capital city, it is centralized; having a frontier it is territorial.[2]

[p.158] The capital city of a state is the center upon which lines of appeal converge, and from which lines of management run. The capital city of a district or province has a hierarchy above it (as in the case of Strassburg). The capital city of a state has none. In it the most intense power conflicts come to a point, because possession of the central offices carries with it control of the whole administrative hierarchy. Cabinet shake-ups and changes of ministry are the non-violent means of shifting control from one party to another; revolutions, "purges", and coups d'état are the violent means.

The frontier is the limit to the area within which appeals flow to the capital city, and over which management from the capital is exerted. It affects the formation of partisan alignments, for a party out of power at the capital cannot seek for allies across the frontier without contravening the ideal of patriotism. The party-in-power at the capital is not thus limited by the frontier; it can make an alliance with a party-in-power at another capital, against a party-in-power at a third capital. In such transactions each party-in-power commits the entire population of its state to friendship with or enmity toward the entire population of another state. This fact will of course help to explain why the men of Crawley went to France to fight the men of Oberschefflenz about the fate of Kock.

If a European state of the era of nationalism can be epitomized as a capital and a frontier, its typical precursor of the era of the old regime can he thought of as a family and an estate. We must never forget that the Old Regime royal and imperial dynasties were after all merely families of men and women whose ideals and ambitions did not differ from those of all the nobility and gentry. Their standards of consumption were competitive and luxurious. They followed the ordinary practices in striving to increase their patrimonies in the usual way -- by more efficient administration, by acquiring control of additional land, or by successful marriages. Directly or indirectly, the surplus from the villages was the main source of their income. Anna Jablonskawa at Kock and Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna had much the same world, and tried to handle it in much the same way, save that Maria had much more of it than Anna.

The precursor of the Old Regime state -- the characteristic power formation of the Era of the Reformation -- was a union of neighbors for collective security or collective bargaining with a lord or prince. Its characteristic institution was the Diet or Parliament, in which clergy, nobles and townsmen or sometimes peasants constituted the "castes", the "Staends", "estates of the land", or the Parliament. The "state" thus embodied was definitely territorial. It is called the "caste-State" (Staendestaat). One prince might be the lord of several such states.

[p.158a] The three stages of the "state" through the Modern Age were the "Caste state" of the era of the Reformation, the dynastic state (Police-state) of the era of the Old Regime, and the constitutional state (national state) of the era of nationalism. The specific institution of the "caste state" was the Diet or Parliament in which power organization was essentially a union; the specific institution of the dynastic state was the princely administration, in which power organization was essentially hierarchy. The specific institution of the constitutional state was a combination of parliament and administration, within the framework of a fundamental "law".

The totalitarian state, so-called, may be regarded as a development of the Long Armistice. All these power organizations are territorial; they are the principal forms of power organization of the Modern Age.

The precursor of the Modern State must be looked for in the political and church organizations of the Feudal Age. In a historical atlas maps of Europe are drawn and colored in such a way that they suggest to our minds the existence of states in the barbarian and Feudal Ages. To interpret those maps in terms of modern conditions is an illusion. Feudal political organization had neither capitals nor frontiers.

The Church of the Feudal Age had territorial organization; every diocese had its frontier and its capital -- the seat of its bishop. Strassburg is an example. Geographically these diocesan frontiers and capitals were simply old Roman [p.159] territorial administrative units. The church organization fitted itself to this Roman political geography save in the north, where Rome had not organized the land. Within the dioceses were the archdeaconates, and finally by the mid-Feudal age the parishes.

Apart from the frontiers of church government, the frontiers that would most nearly approximate in meaning a modern frontier were those of "law." In the mid-Feudal age there appeared all over Europe written compilations of law which were set forth in each case as the "law of the land," the "custom of Normandy," the laws of Aragon, the "sachsenspiegel" (law of Saxony), the laws of England.

What then of the whole array of lords and rulers, the dukes, margraves, counts, barons and knights, as well as the kings and emperors? The imperial and royal offices can best be analyzed in terms of the situation of the barbarian age; the nobles and gentry filled out the feudal organization. These were people whose calling was war. The structure of their relationships to each other was made visible in the placing of shields in rows upon a wall, or in the array of a feudal army in the field.

In such a system each man had his place, each was at once a lord and a vassal, with someone above him and others below him. Whereas modern political sentiment is essentially an attitude toward masses of other people who are personally unknown, feudal political sentiment defined duties and rights in relation to people with whom one was personally acquainted. There were no national flags; each man had his coat of arms. The whole thing was a series of man-to-man relationships. This is exemplified in the ceremony of homage, in which the man lower down promised to be true to the man higher up, and the man higher up clothed (invested) his adherent with worth, rank, dignity.

Feudal relations were essentially man-to-man: the Church had another imagery: the shepherd and his flock. The symbolic instrument with which bishops were invested was the shepherd's staff, and Christians as Christians felt something of a bond with all other Christians whether personally known or not.

The man-to-man feudal relationship had its territorial aspect in the fief, for the fief was an area of land from which the vessel received income. The lord granted to the vassal the right to receive this income, subject of course to the duty of passing some of it along. The vassal in turn granted income-rights to his vassals, in a whole chain of tenures. At Crawley and Oberschefflenz in the feudal age this chain was short, for the bishop of Winchester held Crawley [p.160] directly of the king, and Konrad von Weinsberg held Oberschefflenz directly of the Emperor. In most cases the chain was longer, and the income passed through more hands. The villagers at the bottom did not count at all, save as they provided the surplus that fed the higher-ups.

For the feudal age precursor of the modern state we must look then to three coordinate systems: the hierarchy of the church, the law of the land, and the hierarchies of war-worthy nobles with their fiefs.

Barbarian Age: people and king

The power-organization which in the Barbarian Age was the precursor of the modern state was a king with his people and their law.

The people could be a tribe in migration; that was a passing phase. Before the barbarian age ended, practically all western European peoples had settled in regions that they made their own.

The office of king over a people was a sacred office. It belonged of right to a royal family, such as the Merovingian family of the Franks. In the course of the Barbarian age the Germanic traditions of kingship merged with two other traditions: Christian and Roman. From the Christian influence came the ritual of anointment with oil at the ceremony of coronation, and also the crown itself. The earlier mark of royal office was the spear; only when the barbarians met Christian and Roman ideas did they crown their kings. Then the crown itself became the symbol of the unity of a people.

The Roman Empire, however, was more than a people; it was a world. The idea that there should be a monarch over the whole world was exemplified for the German tribesmen of the late Roman and early Barbarian ages in the existence of an Emperor at Byzantium. Charlemagne, king of the Franks, brought this idea into barbarian politics by assuming the title and crown of Emperor. A function of king and Emperor was to summon the people to war.

The idea of law in the early barbarian age was, like the idea of kingship, tribal. The tribal law was a part of the internal organization of each people. It was not made by legislation, but learned from elders, who remembered but did not make law. In the early Barbarian age law was so much a tribal possession that a men carried his law with him wherever he might be. In the same room there might be gathered five men, each of whom was under a different law. By the mid-Barbarian age law was becoming law of the land. Everyone [p.161] resident at the same place shared the same law. Some of these laws were written down in the Barbarian Age. We have noted, for instance, the Law of the Allemani, compiled in the 8th century. There was also the written law of the Lombards, the Franks, the Burgundians and others. From the mid-Barbarian to the mid-Feudal age there was very little writing down of laws, and when laws were again put in writing, as we have noted, they were invariably law of the land -- that is, territorial.

The ordinary run-of-the-mine business of applying law to the regulation of human affairs was very little dependent upon the actions of kings. The people had their own courts, in village, in Zent and in Hundred, as in Oberschefflenz and Mosbach. Such courts could settle disputes over inheritances, levy fines for misdeeds, and put an end to a blood feud.

Yet the idea that law was something that in a sense "belonged" to a man did not disappear. This is indicated by the fact that these courts inflicted outlawry as an extreme penalty. An outlaw was a man who had been deprived of his law; no social protection remained his; anyone could kill him on sight. The Saxons called such a man a "wolf." Such men would run off to squat in uninhabited forest areas. A modern man who should lose simultaneously his job, his citizenship, his home and his reputation would begin to have some idea of what kind of a loss it was to a man of the barbarian age to lose his law.

It was not out of line with Barbarian practice that on September 3, 1939 George Windsor, who had been anointed and crowned King and Emperor, spoke directly to those whom he called "my people", summoning them to war. The Barbarian age provided the precedent for speaking[; the modern] age the radio over which he spoke.

The power organization which we call the state in the contemporary world has some features that seem to have been universally present at all times and places where men have established power relations among themselves. It has some features peculiar to the modern age, some that defined themselves only during the Long Armistice. We can only measure the changes of our own day in the perspective of the whole sequence of changes and with a consciousness of the foundations that have not changed.

Power, it must be recalled, is a relationship of wills in which one will is subordinate to another. As such it is measurable as a ratio. It is always exercised by someone over someone within limits set by something. No act can be construed as an act of power unless there is at least one human being who because of it does something he would not otherwise have done, or refrains from some action he would otherwise have undertaken. Power does not exist unless it [p.162] reaches people, and it must reach them where they are. If the power line (the line of management) is not grounded, it will carry no current at all.

Power, thus measured and defined, may be a direct psychic ascendancy of one will over another (as that of a father over an obedient child, or a cult leader over his faithful.) Or it may be the cumulation of many such relationships in an organization.

The two basic forms of direct power ascendancy are personal and charismatic. Personal ascendancy need not be defined: it is what we experience. Charismatic ascendancy is illustrated in the role of prophets and holy men who sway great masses directly by the magic of their mission and words and personality. St. Bernard and Ghandi are examples of this kind of leadership. Woodrow Wilson was a world charismatic leader for a few weeks in 1918, during the short armistice that preceded the long one.

The two basic forms of power organization are, we have seen, hierarchy and union. A hierarchy is of two kinds: a line of management in which commands move downward, and a line of appeal in which appeals move upward. Union exhibits two characteristics: solidarity and balance of power.

In power organization the test of power is reducible to the formula "You do this or else...". The limit of power is defined by the circumstances in which this formula can be used, and the words that follow the "or else". Do this "or else" I will curse you (charismatic), "or else" I will discharge you, "or else" someone will kill you, "or else" everybody will combine against you, "or else" nobody will like you, "or else" Mama will spank you.

The law of hierarchies is habit of obedience, the law of unions is consent and concession, the law of charismatic power is myth. When obedience ceases the hierarchy dissolves, when consent is withdrawn the union ends, when the myth is not believed, charismatic power disappears.

These universal features of power relations combine themselves in infinite variety. There are unions (cliques and cabals) within a hierarchy; there are hierarchies (precinct and ward leader organizations) within a party; there is a charismatic element in the bare office of king. But in the infinite variety of combinations which are found in power relations, there are still certain general rules unusually applicable, and these are the rules of the game of power.

In the game of power each player seeks to have more power; since power is by nature a ratio. This means that the [p.163] success of one is the failure of another. There cannot be winners without losers. In this game certain methods are uniformly used, certain objectives uniformly sought.

In a hierarchy the method of the power game is to command, the objective is to be able to say "you do this or else..." to those below, without hearing it said by those above. In a union the method of the power game is to bargain, and the objective of the game is to have these critical words said to others on your behalf by your friends. That is the essence of solidarity. At the same time one should be able to say these words to the union to which he belongs if it fails him -- to threaten to withdraw from it and join another union. This is the essence of balance of power. It is exemplified when an American citizen writes to his Congressmen and threatens to vote for the other candidate in the next election. It is an all pervading technique of international power politics.

It is an object of the power game not only to get what one can but to hold what one has. This is the power game in its aspect of stability and security. The idea of power here approaches the idea of property -- of "that from which others may be excluded". The reverse of the power formula "do this or else...." is the property formula "leave me alone!"

The security aspect of any place in a hierarchy is called "tenure of office." Tenure of office varies from precarious to dynastic. Precarious tenure is exemplified in the job from which one can be fired any day; dynastic tenure is illustrated in the job from which one cannot be fired, and which one can pass on to an heir. There are intermediate tenures between these: tenure for a year, for a term of years, during good conduct, tenure for life. In the power game one seeks to improve his tenure.

The security aspect of any place in a union is called "collective security". The amount of collective security is measured by the expectation that when one cries out against a disturber: "leave me alone," all the other members of the union will join in crying out "leave him alone," and the disturber will then in fact leave one alone. When another member of the same union is the disturber, and when two cry out against each other, each demanding support in his claim, then there must be some way in which the members of the union determine which disputant they will support. The method of making the decision that throws the full weight of the union against one of its members, and in favor of another, is called due process of law.

(Thus in the court procedure of the Barbarian age the defeated party might be "outlawed", that is to say, put into such a position that every man's hand was against him. So [p.164] also during the Long Armistice the effort to make international collective security effective required some kind of procedure to designate "the aggressor".)

Force is a relation of bodies as power is a relation of wills. When force is used, human bodies are out under compulsion, (either by constraint or infliction of pain) or deprived of life.

Resort to force may be by way of execution or combat. When the preponderant force is so overwhelming that it is practically irresistable it is executive force. This kind of force is found in some parent child situations, on a slave plantation, or in some of the activities of a modern police. When the outcome of the use of force is doubtful, we call it combat. This is exemplified in a fist fight between two boys, a battle between strike pickets and plant guards, or a war between armies.

The purposes for which force is used are of two classes: power purposes and life and death purposes. Both execution and combat are sometimes used to maintain or establish a power relationship; they are sometimes used to protect or destroy life, or to assure or acquire livelihood.

It might seem, therefore, that when a man is killed in the course of execution or combat, that the use of force is conclusively for a life and death purpose, not for power.

One cannot establish power over a man by killing him; rather one will thereby extinguish any possibility of a power relationship. The dominant man must maintain the life of the subservient men; otherwise the dominance disappears.

But killing men can nevertheless be a use of force for power purposes. This is possible under two conditions: first, if when some men are killed, others through fear will become subservient to the killers; second, if when men higher up are killed, men lower down are freed of their interference, and hence win a round of the power game. Or again, one who kills his rival may succeed to his place in a power organization.

Man, like all animals, is constantly engaged in a struggle for existence: to get food, to dodge death. Sometimes this struggle for existence takes the form of a use of force, either in execution or combat. The starving man who takes food at the point of a gun uses executive force; the army that drives Indians off of land to make way for cultivators uses combat force. These are illustrations of the use of force for a livelihood purpose.

Knowing these facts, but failing correctly to analyze them, the European people of the last two generations -- of [p.165] the pre-war period and the long armistice -- made a tragic mistake of judgment. They thought that the struggle for existence, in the biological sense, was the same as the struggle for power in the political sense. From this they argued that the institution of international war, as it had emerged from feudal war and crusade through dynastic war to the contemporary form of wars of nations, was merely the manifestation among men of the universal fact of struggle for existence. They concluded that their war-institution was so much a part of the world of nature as to be beyond human control.

Yet even the most cursory examination of the historical evidence should have been enough to prove that the specific institution of modern war as developed in Europe for the last thousand years was war for power and surplus, not for life and livelihood. Modern warfare grew from two Feudal Age roots: the wager of battle and the crusade. In the Barbarian Age there were people who under their kings fought to drive others from land which they would settle and cultivate for their own livelihood. But in the Feudal and Modern Ages wars were no longer fought for this purpose; they were fought for the right to rule over and collect surplus from the people already on the land.

There have been combats for land settlement, for livelihood, in the Feudal and Modern ages in Europe. They were the peasant risings and the revolutions. The fighters in these wars did not follow the rules of "civilized" warfare -- whether in the Peasant Revolt of 1525, the Russian Revolution of 1917, or the Spanish Civil War of 1936. The authentic institution of modern war was not developed by the peasantry, whose problem was livelihood, but by the landed aristocracy, from squire to king, whose problem was surplus, and who never really feared that they might have to miss a meal, and never thought of putting hand to plow to get one.

It may be that this situation changed during the Long Armistice. Beginning with an exchange of Greek and Turkish populations, in the 1920's and continuing in the forced resettlement of Germans, Poles, and Jews which seems to be on foot in 1939, there may be developing a new kind of war purpose: the conquest of land in Europe for the sake of driving the vanquished from the soil, so that the victors may cultivate it. This was an object of war in the Barbarian Age; it may have come back after a thousand years.

The modern state claims a monopoly of the use of force, whether in execution or combat. In the feudal age precursor of the modern state there was no such claim to monopoly. The right to wage war for one's own just cause was the right of every member of Europe's feudal hierarchy -- to infringe upon it was comparable to infringement on the modern citizen's [p.166] right to vote, or perhaps his right to work. (A vestige of this feudal right survived in the era of Nationalism as the duel over a point of honor.) The head of the Church in the Feudal Age made war by proclaiming crusades. In the conflict of family with family for prestige and power in the late Feudal and Early Modern Age, those families which were able to make good their claim to a monopoly of the use of force became the sovereign dynasties of Europe; their patrimonies became the states of Europe.



[2] Footnote: Synopsis on power organization.

From Chapter I. Social distance and geographic distance coincide in the territorial-political organization of the world.

From Chapter II. Power is a relationship of wills, force a relationship of bodies. Power is an inverse of property, and the relationship of power to property is stabilized as law. Law is of three kinds, or has three aspects: first an effect of habit or time on power relations, second a product of consent or bargain, third a standard by which behavior is judged. The internal power organization of a group is connected with power organization external to it by a line of management and a line of appeal.

From Chapter III. An intricate superstructure of power organization can exist over a simple local group, such as the village of Oberschefflenz. A successful union, such as that of the Polish nobility in the Polish Diet, can make it possible for lordly families to increase the amount of surplus they squeeze from peasant families, as at Kock.

From Chapter IV. Power organization as seen at Strassburg was of two kinds: partisan and hierarchic. The administrative hierarchy was tightened up and equipped with paper in the Modern Age, both within the city and above it. Party conflicts whether ideological or based on interests were sometimes internal and local, sometimes the reflection within the city of conflicts over a wider area. They were sometimes resolved by using force, sometimes not.