Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?


What is a state? An intersting question for sure. The traditional answer to this question is that a state is what other states recognize as a state. In a sense this is a circular definition, but it reasonably accurately reflects the reality on the ground. The problem with this definition is that it is very opaque; the answer to the question why is an organization a state is simply “politics”.

There is an alternative definition, which I first read from Mencius Moldbug, which goes something like (I don’t want to take the time to dig up the actual quote):

A state is an organization that secures its property through the use of force.

This is a nice, clean, clear definition, and one that intuitively makes sense. Certainly historically, this has been nearly universally true. When it comes to the modern era, however, the analysis becomes a bit weird.

The United States is obviously a state, in so far as it has the most powerful military by a substantial margin. Other good candidates for states are Russia and China. Russia has the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons after the US. China has a substantial and growing regional military, as well as the largest economy.

From there it gets a bit more murky.

Israel has had a lot of military success against other militaries in the Middle East, but it’s small and it’s not clear how well it would fare against a modern military.

India has a very large economy and reasonably advanced technology (nukes!). It’s not clear how well the human side of their military is.

If you accept the force theory of statehood, it seems clear to me that statehood is not a binary set of options, but a continuum. It doesn’t really make sense to ask the question “is x a state?”. Instead, the better question is “is x more state-ish than y?”.

Stepping back a bit, the interesting question is: what the heck is going on in international politics? What is the UN? Why is the world governed in the manner it currently is?