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Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Given my definition of a State, what makes a State different from an empire? Both have populations, could have governments engaged in the use of force, and are structured in hierarchies. Where they differ is regarding the fourth condition, defined territory.

States are the sorts of things that have defined territories, and this is true by definition. The rule of the State ends at a particular point--which may or not be a physical barrier--and is recognised as such. Not only recognised by the State itself, but also by those outside of the State (we can't demand that the borders of a State have to be, like the State itself, recognised by other States for it is possible to imagine a world with just one State surrounded by tribal societies). This recognition is what defines, it is a awareness of where claims to rule end and start.

Sure, disputes may occur about the location of borders (often leading to nasty border conflicts) and some States may decide to expand their borders through military conquests, but the concept of borders (defined territory) remains. This concept, of defined territory, is fundamental not only to the State's internal structure but also to stability of international relations. It is a concept that the vast majority of human beings buy into.

As an aside, rule of a defined territory doesn't have to mean effective rule. There are a lot of States (existing and conceivable) that don't effectively rule (can implement its use of force) in parts of the country; for example, Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and so forth. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why I adapted Max Weber's definition regarding the successful claim of the monopoly of the use of force.

Empires don't define their territory like States do. Empires see their boundaries as temporary stopping places that will be surpassed in due course. For an Empire, its claim to rule is on the whole world (universe, if you will), regardless of whether it can or not. If States and Empires had attitudes, the State's would be "This patch of ground is mine, and that one is yours. So be it.", while an Empire's would be, "All mine. No limit."

Nothing in my definition or in the above meanderings prevents an Empire from becoming a State and then an Empire again, or vice versa. Quite possible for a State to kick into Empire mode, conquer some lands and hostile populations, become content with what it has, and then revert back to being a State. Being a State (or an Empire) does not have to be a static condition.

The words of Genghis Khan might help (this was the man about whom a Russian chronicler was reported to have said, "[He] Left no eye open to weep for the dead.") in illustrating the attitude of an Empire:

"With Heaven's aid I have conquered for you a huge empire. But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is left for you [referring to his sons]."

"Heaven has appointed me to rule all the nations, for hitherto there has been no order upon the steppes."


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