Why nation-states matter; Or, a Biblical, theological, and historical case against empire & globalism.

“The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.” —Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

If history teaches anything it is that humanity is bloodthirsty and power hungry. This is a lesson in agreement with the Bible. Human nature is sinful, and this is recorded from the earliest times, according to the Bible and our historical records. It has not changed in the contemporary era. Modern man remains sinful.

For modern humanity, as technology improves our sins proliferate. This makes it important to consider the dangers inherent with increasing centralization. As globalization continues, power consolidates in fewer and fewer hands. This jeopardizes the balance of power that thrived since 1648 and led to an unprecedented expansion of wealth and liberty. There can be little doubt that the rise of the nation-state and the end to attempted religious-hegemonic imperial pretentions in Europe was good for liberty and prosperity.

The Christian view of empire and the nation-state can be distilled from theological arguments and direct study of the biblical text. Empire, that is ruling over people not of one’s own nation, has a long history. The history is one of good and bad. This is true of both modern history and antiquity. The biblical data is likewise filled with atrocities. In fact, when humanity flirted with a one-world government, God intervened directly to prevent such a situation. Why? Because of the danger it presented.

According to Genesis 11:6, “And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”

In other words, the potential power of such a one-world state would be too dangerous. The abuses, or sin, would be unrestrained.

That is not to say the nation-state is a panacea. Certainly, it is tempted to the same abuses. However, because it is limited in power—the potential for abuse, is thus, limited. Again, this is an important point spoken by God at the Tower of Babel.

Notice in Genesis 11:1-9 the repetition of the word “One.” It occurs six times in the passage highlighting the one language and the unity that this provided. The one language made for one people. Thus, one of the cornerstones of a national identity was universal at the time of Babel.

From the perspective of Political Science, language plays an important role in political order. It is a boon to power.

Both volumes of Francis Fukuyama’s work on Political Order and Political Decay highlight the role of language in the development of political society and the nation-state. In volume 1, Fukuyama details the secular evolutionary development of language and the ability to convey ideas. This is a powerful development in rewarding good behavior and limiting bad behavior. In volume 2, Fukuyama examines how “language-based culture becomes the central unifying source of social cohesion.”[1]

With the people unified, there would be nothing to check the rise of a tyrant. For, it is a truth that “only power checks power.”[2] Or, as James Burnham said, “only power can control power.”[3] It is this understanding that forms the basis of America’s constitutional framework. It is also, as Henry Kissinger explains, a formulation of international relations.

As Kissinger explains,

“In The Federalist Papers, Madison argued that, in a large enough republic, the various political ‘factions’ selfishly pursuing their own interests would, by a kind of automatic mechanism, forge a proper domestic harmony. The concepts of the separation of powers and of checks and balances, as conceived by Montesquieu and embodied in the American Constitution, reflected an identical view. The purpose of the separation of powers was to avoid despotism, not to achieve harmonious government; each branch of the government, in the pursuit of its own interests, would restrain excess and thereby serve the common good. The same principles were applied to international affairs. By pursuing its own selfish interests, each state was presumed to contribute to progress, as if some unseen hand were guaranteeing that freedom of choice for each state assured well-being for all.”[4]

Thus, rivalries for power naturally balance and contain any bid for ultimate power whether within a state or between states. This is the lesson of history; and it echoes the explicit teaching of Genesis.

Who was the first King mentioned in the Bible?

The Lessons of Nimrod

“The most powerful king and the least scrupulous of all tyrants are helpless if no one obeys them, that is, supports them through obedience; for, in politics, obedience and support are the same.” –Hannah Arendt

Nimrod was the first king mentioned in the Bible. And we all know how his story ended—with his grab for power resulting in the dispersion of man.

Nimrod conquered and created himself a kingdom. It was from either him directly or his kingdom that man attempted to build the Tower of Babel.  Hal Lindsay writing in The Late Great Planet Earth declared Nimrod was “the first world dictator,” and “the leader of the Tower of Babel enterprise.”[5]

A.W. Pink agrees with Hal Lindsay’s understanding of the Babel narrative. Pink writes, “Nimrod is not directly mentioned in Gen. 11, but from the statements made about him in chap. 10 there cannot be any doubt that he was the ‘Chief’ and ‘King’ who organized and headed the movement and rebellion there described.”

Josephus writes of Nimrod, “He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!”

A.W. Pink highlighted Nimrod as a type of the Antichrist. Pink writes, “First, the meaning of his name is most suggestive. Nimrod signifies ‘The Rebel.’ A fit designation was this for a man that foreshadowed the Lawless One, who shall oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God (2 Thess. 2:4), and who shall ‘stand up against the Prince of princes’ (Dan. 8:25) …We are told that Nimrod ‘began to be a mighty one in the earth’ (Gen. 10:8). Four times over is this term ‘mighty’ connected with this one who prefigured him ‘whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders’ (2 Thess. 2:9).”

The early Church Fathers described Nimrod thusly, “Nimrod, son of Chus, was the first to seize despotic rule over the people, which men were not yet accustomed to; and he reigned in Babylon, which was called Babel, because the languages of those building the tower were thrown into confusion there.”[6]

Also, Chrysostom sees Nimrod as building cities for military purposes.

He writes, “Nimrod too, however, in his turn in imitation of his forebear did not take due advantage of his natural preeminence but hit upon another form of servitude in endeavoring to become ruler and king. You see, there would not ever be a king unless there were people being ruled. But in that case freedom is seen for what it really is, whereas slavery is the most galling obstacle to conditions of freedom, when all the more power is exercised over free people. See what ambition is guilty of. Observe bodily strength not keeping to its limits but constantly lusting after more and clutching for glory. You see, the orders [Nimrod] gave were not those of a leader. Rather, he even builds cities with a view to ruling over the enemy.”[7]

There is a lesson here: even building things (cities or even social media sites) can be a means of establishing control.

The Biblical record on Nimrod

At this point, there are a few specifics from the biblical narrative that we should ponder. First, the biblical text and a few observations from commentaries to highlight the data in the text.

“And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”[8]

Nimrod’s power appears linked to his status as “a mighty one” and “a mighty hunter.” He is also mentioned to have started something—perhaps launched a new epoch in human history.

According to one commentator, “‘Began,’ התד, is used in 4:26; 6:1; 9:20 of other significant innovators in world history. “Champion,” גבור, is the usual term to describe a great soldier, e.g., 1 Sam 9:1.”[9]

According to another commentator, Nimrod was the originator of the military-state. They write, “The section deals with the foundation of the Babylonio-Assyrian Empire, whose legendary hero, Nimrod, is described as a son of Kush (see below). Unlike the other names in the chapter, Nimrod is not a people, but an individual, —a Gibbôr or despot, famous as the originator of the idea of the military state, based on arbitrary force.”[10]

Another important note from this section is drawn out by another commentator. Nimrod’s expansion was by conquest or at least coercion. They explain, “The means by which Nimrod achieves his ascendancy suggests that his distinction came by aggressive force rather than the gradual diffusion of peoples as shown elsewhere by the table. Nimrod in that sense was typological of how ancient Near Eastern empires came into existence.”[11]

While Nimrod is typological of ANE empires, it is also a decent model of all empires. Conquest and coercion of people outside one’s border is usually achieved through “aggressive force.” Though there are important elements of cultural power that maintains control over peoples once conquered. This is in some sense an explanation for the building of the Tower of Babel. It was designed to awe. (An might in some manner be analogous to social media and digital banking of today.)

Another commentator points out the eschatological significance of Babel. He writes, “The Bible does not underrate them: there is warmth in the reiterated before the Lord (9), marking God’s estimate of his skill—it is more than a mere formula. At the same time there is tragic irony (that is, irony not yet apparent in the story) in the note of his further exploits: The beginning of his kingdom was Babel … The next chapter, and the further progress of Babel (Babylon) to the catastrophe of Revelation 18, add their comment to the tale of earthly success.”[12]

The trajectory of Babylon shows the certain link between excessive power and decadence. The passages on Nimrod and Babylon show the link between coercion and power.

Government is coercion

Government is order. It is contrasted to anarchy. However, in a fallen world, order cannot be achieved without coercion. This is of importance because the Noahic Flood was a response to the anarchy of personal autonomy where everyone did what was right in his own eyes—or, more specifically, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”[13] The fact that Jesus invoked this image of radical immorality, Luke 17:26, as a sign of the times is worth noting; however, we will leave the eschatological implications for another essay. (It is also worth exploring the link between decadence as a means of control in the biblical view of Babylon getting the world drunk on its wine.)

Thus, government is rightly understood to have begun when God handed humanity the sword of punishment in Genesis 9:6. Before that time, coercion or punishment is not permitted to humanity but is reserved to God (as Cain is protected from retribution by Divine command.) It is only with the granting of this power after the Noahic Flood that human government enters history.  

 A non-theological view of the origin of human government based on history provides this lesson: Protection is the point of government. This accords with the biblical teaching on government.

“According to Machiavelli…protection is the first and last goal of cities.”[14] Thus, the end of government is security for the people. This leads to the inevitable problem of setting the boundary of government power to balance personal liberty with personal security.

Here Mansfield provides a hint of how to view the balance. He notes, “Aristotle explained that the reason for the coming-in to-being of a polis is not the same as its reason for staying-in-being; men come together to protect life and stay together for the sake of the good life.”[15]

Order provides a greater chance at whatever man views as “the good life” than the disorder of anarchy. Safety from pillage and murder certainly are at the top of elements we might view as elements of this “good life.” But is there more?

Different societies offered different answers to this problem. As heirs of the English Common Law tradition, America’s answer to the balance of liberty and security was to consolidate power but limit the exercise of it by placing the executive power under the law. Rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo et lege—the king should not be below man, but below God and the law.

Individual liberty and rights became important elements of political theory arising out of the England’s Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. However, the ever-expanding list of rights and liberties reached its peak in the triumph of the Sexual Revolution. Today, not only are same-sex relationships permitted, but these relationships are praised. And it did not stop there. Now even the very fabric of biological reality—male and female—are tossed aside by the sexual revolutionaries.

The dictatorship of personal autonomy

This leads to the paradox of personal autonomy. It is where the modern state insists on affirming everyone’s personal autonomy and punishes those practicing their own autonomy to call for virtue. As Michael O’Fallon of Sovereign Nations and James Lindsay of New Discourses have pointed out—Repressive Tolerance is the model for the modern technocratic state. This is where those who insist on virtue as the foundation for human society are branded as outlaws by Progressive Elites because Christians deny that “Man is the measure” of all things. Rather, Christians claim that God as revealed in Holy Writ and through natural revelation is the measure of good and evil.

The paradox of personal autonomy is that the state overrides personal autonomy by telling people what they must believe. There is no autonomy when one must recite the new creed that Men can be women and women can be men and men can give birth, etc.

This is the latest example of coercion. The state, as led by elites, demand submission to the gods of this age. Failure to submit to the creeds will be punished.

This returns us to the lesson of Babel: A power that is too powerful is too big a threat to liberty. After all, “Nothing will be restrained from them.” And that was in the earliest period of human history before modern surveillance and weapons.

The modern state combined with modern technology and run by those influenced by the ideals of repressive tolerance is even more dangerous. Add to that a global, transnational grasp for power by the technocratic elite and the danger becomes unimaginable. The ability to resist evaporates. In such a world, the citizen becomes a subject.

Conclusion: Limiting power is necessary for liberty

If the citizen wishes to avoid becoming a subject, he must limit the power of the state. God did this for man at Babel. It was left to mankind the duty of preventing such consolidation of power since.

This must be pursued in a two-fold manner. The citizen should limit the domestic power of the state.

Also, the citizen should aim for his nation to limit the power of outside rival states.

Both goals focus on achieving a balance of power. The first achieves a balance within the state. The second achieves a geopolitical balance. Both are critical. To achieve the balance domestically requires working to achieve a global balance. To achieve the global balance requires citizens to work domestically within their respective states.

The Christian citizen should avoid complacency. Yes, there is the promise of Revelation 18. While we know Babylon will one day be destroyed, that does not mean Babylon is destroyed today. In fact, the spirit of Nimrod and Babylon are alive, well, and ready to reset society. Throughout history, powers and men bid for hegemonic power. The correct response is not complacency, pietism, or pacificism.

The right response is like William of Orange and Pope Innocent XI who combined to oppose Louis XIV. They put aside theological differences to fight the danger of Louis XIV’s bid for European hegemony. This is an important lesson for us today. If we value religious liberty—the ability to worship God and obey His Word—then we must work together across denominational, theological, and ideological divides.

National states pursuing their own self-interest are the surest grounds of stability, order, and security. It is also the surest safeguard for individual liberty. The Bible and history teach us. Let us work to preserve this delicate balance.

[1] Fukuyama, Political Order & Poliical Decay, Kindle location: 3442.

[2] Or, “only power arrests power,” Hannah Arendt quoting Montesquieu in Revolution, p. 142.

[3] James Burnham, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p. 117.

[4] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, pp. 21-22.

[5] Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 117.

[6] Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 164.

[7] Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 165.

[8] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 10:8–10.

[9] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), 223.

[10] John Skinner 1851-1925, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner, 1910), 207.

[11] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 448.

[12] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 115.

[13] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 6:5.

[14] Mansfield, Machiavelli’s Virtue, p. 71.

[15] Ibid.