Web of Community

In the first chapter of his book, Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh argues for a late-emergence of the modern nation-state and against the inevitability and necessity of such a system. He exposes the artificiality of the state as merely a reflection of shared culture, instead arguing that they are artificial society “creators,” who define borders and the concept of “Sovereignty” in attempt to control the populace, extract resources, and enact violence on neighbors. He states as to the origin of the state in medieval Europe: 

“...Michael Howard sums up the evidence bluntly: ‘The entire apparatus of the state primarily came into being to enable princes to wage war’” ... “Perhaps the best way to express it, with Bruce Porter, is that war was the catalyst and sine qua non mobilizing the other factors in the formation of the state. One need not romanticize the medieval period to conclude that the state, at least in its origins, is not appropriately categorized as that agency of society that has responsibly for the common good. Those who study the origins of the state would find such a categorization rather remote from the empirical evidence.” (Migrations of the Holy) 

Prior to the emergence of the modern nation-state, allegiances in Medieval Europe were much more numerous and complicated than what Americans currently experience. Without specific geo-political borders, familial connections formed the basis of most communities. A “web of community/allegiance” is a better way to explain the situation, which is an entirely different way of understanding community, culture, and state.  Regarding the invention of sovereignty, Cavanaugh writes:

 “In premodern Europe, authority was often marked by personal loyalties owed in complexly layered communal contexts. In the state, by contrast, borders mark out a unitary space in which the individual is subject to the center, which has the right to enforce its will through a monopoly on the means of legitimate violence within those borders.” (Migrations of the Holy) 


 He continues to explain the development of the state and the relegation of Religion and other community “webs” throughout the enlightenment, but what is especially appropriate is the redefinition of community from a person-to-person, person-to-people, individual-to-whole system to a system in which “citizens” of a state are wholly dependent on the state for safety and provision. He describes it like this. “Human society is represented as a pyramid: the family is at the base, other groups and associations are in the middle, and the state is at the top to coordinate and protect.” This is such a departure from the web-of-community that it calls for a more thorough examination. 

I recently used the wolfram alpha facebook “friends” analyzer to examine the nature of my facebook connections and was dismayed at the results when visualizing the clusters and types of friends. I had only four clusters… family and old family friends, people from my high school, people from college, and people I’ve met through local political causes. There were a few exceptions, my list was substantially lacking in diversity. I wonder if this is atypical? Here are some questions for prospective commenters.

What does “community” look like in your context? What makes up your web?
In what ways does the state influence or define your community/connections?
In what ways do corporations do the same?
How can you strengthen your web of community?
What aspects of individualism could you live without? 
 Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/dUDpib

Lief Eric Malone's picture
Lief Eric Malone

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Web of Community