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Ostensibly, states exist for their people. However, the state has failed to achieve this simple objective for thousands of years. Instead of existing for the people, the state exists mostly for itself. This means the state uses its power to control the people, and when it is unable to control them, it resorts to violence. In the Middle Ages, the nation became an individual with a conscience and a will according to the doctrine of national sovereignty. This individual (will) was used by rulers as representatives of the nation on behalf of itself. When this sovereign will of the nation was represented with a government by the rulers, there emerged a state.[1] And this state was sovereign. While the German philosopher Max Weber observed how the state had a legitimate monopoly on violence, Sigmund Freud went further and said:[2]

Individuals are being defrauded by the state. They think that the state is representing them; however they are under the sovereignty of the state. Thinking that the state will act likewise, they give up their instincts…When the sovereignty of the state is established, the citizens no longer exist.[3]

This situation reveals an interesting contradiction that emerges between the public and the state. The public, while handing over its sovereignty to the forces that govern the people, actually creates its opponents and its oppressors in a dialectical way, by giving them the monopoly on violence.

Material and Social Forces

In my opinion, the basic principle of institutionalization of the state in this manner is related to the two force fields that constitute the state, namely material and social forces. Material forces, in general, are the armed forces, police and gendarmerie, local extensions of the government structure, the economic system, and the bureaucracy of the state. Social forces constitute the public (individuals, groups, civilian and non-civilian society), which is outside of the sphere of material forces and independent of all kinds of class system, layered (temporal), economic, political and ideological differentiation. It is the individual and collective forces with their ideas and actions. The sovereign state with its government, controls material forces and wants to literally be a mechanism that controls social forces. Especially in non-democratic regimes and even in hybrid ones, this control turns into a state obsession. The state not only establishes, governs, and controls material forces with all of its powers, but it also molds the social forces into the ideological stereotype it desires.

In the 21st century, the nation state should divest part of its authority to local governments by shrinking the central structure that controls the bureaucracy as a whole and its material forces.

That is why German-born American political theorist Hannah Arendt describes bureaucracy as, “the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act,” because, according to her, a sovereign state can transform the public through oppression and evolutionary means through a process in which every field and actor are seen as a problem for the state unless they can be controlled.[4] In the 21st century, social force is a field that is becoming harder for the state to handle.

Undoubtedly, any political power will take control of all material forces when it takes over the state, and the next thing to do is to take control of social forces. There are two fundamental reasons for this: (1) to extend its sphere of influence and (2) to sustain its power. According to Duguit, even if the individuals that comprise society are autonomous, theirs is a secondary and dependent sovereignty. Therefore, the relationship between a sovereign state and its ethnic groups is a relation subjected to law, deriving from the dependency of ethnic groups between the subordinate and the superior against the state. This is the underlying “state logic.”[5] The state may sometimes seem to justify people, which is only another means to achieve its aim of keeping the balance of social resistance with as little energy as possible. Hence, as Carr points out, “national integrity,” derives from an approach that desires to impose the sovereign power they want to reinforce on social forces implicitly.[6]

The mentality of political hegemony – imposed on social forces by legislating laws and regulations, creating routine practices and by changes in education, economy, and social life – is demonstrated by the violence it practices. The two extremes of this scale are either – to use a relatively civilized word (!) – assimilation or ethnic cleansing and genocide – the more barbaric form of the same goal.

The Nation-State vs. the Democratic State

The logic of the state was nationalized during the French Revolution as a national state, and transformed into a nation-state during the imperialist period, when the state no longer pursued a heterogeneous monopoly but a homogeneous one. The fundamental difference between a national state and a nation-state is that the latter uses assimilation as a way of achieving its monopoly. The process of transforming heterogeneous societies into homogeneous societies also creates the problem of identity, which in turn becomes a significant problem for the state that is difficult to handle, especially when combined with the search for new justice and rights.

In homogeneous societies governed by the oppression of a nation-state, a significant, sustainable energy must be directed at social needs in order for the state to sustain its power. In heterogeneous societies, on the other hand, no such energy is needed for public control. Therefore, in heterogeneous societies, the state invests its resources in justice, law, and the wealth of society. The characteristics of a 20th-century nation-state, i.e. a political structure with sovereignty, central administration, territorial integrity, monolingualism, citizenship, and a constitution, undoubtedly need to adapt to the age in which we live.[7]

While the nation-state practices oppression and violence against society, the democratic state emphasizes the norms of law and the notion of rights that enable society to coexist.

In the 21st century, the nation-state should divest part of its authority to local governments by shrinking the central structure that controls the bureaucracy as a whole and its material forces. This relinquished power actually gives the whole state new vigor. The state must recognize that monolingualism should apply only to the official language, that the public is free to use its own language and that a universal language is a prerequisite for global relations. The state should not forget the universalism of citizenship, must view individuals as citizens, and must recognize that universal citizenship is a global right in its relations with individuals and the public. It should agree to establish and protect universal principles, namely the rule of law, human rights, animal rights, protection of the environment and nature, as important values of a constitutional political system and democratic life.

While the nation-state homogenizes society, the democratic state tolerates heterogeneity. While the nation-state practices oppression and violence against society, the democratic state emphasizes the norms of law and the notion of rights that enable society to coexist. While the basic driving force of the nation-state is ideology, the democratic state is based on contemporary theoretical realities. Ideologies demand society’s allegiance, whereas theoretical consciousness prompts society to think, which means that civil society confronts the state as an actor. According to the nation-state, civil society is an actor that needs to be suppressed, whereas in the democratic state, civil society is an inevitable counterculture. Civil society is formed as a dialectical result of the oppression practiced by the nation-state on society. The democratization process in the democratic state is due to its ability to include the opposing civil society.

An undemocratic, untransformed nation-state is a political power that monopolizes legitimate force, so it is prepared to use violence to achieve its objectives. The interesting point is that the political power and violence of the state are neither opposites nor parallels. These two forces are interwoven, and the hypothetical sphere they occupy does not change. This sphere is only as great as the field or force that political power controls. Therefore, an increase in one means a decrease in the other. That is the reason for the increase in violence applied by political power when its control over social forces declines. The magnitude of this violence, however, depends on the extent to which political power has lost control and on how the material forces are employed by political power.

Factors That Affect Political Will

Because political will is interwoven with violence, ideology and theory act as two important factors influencing its decisions. The two fundamental elements of ideology that affect political will are religion and nationalism. In the Middle Ages, religion was the dominant ideology. Medieval men were willing to die in order to carry their faith and its promise of salvation to the unenlightened heathen.[8] Religion was a value worth dying for, and political will took advantage of this. With the formation of the national state, nationalism replaced religious ideology and nationalistic ideology encircled political will. According to Kedourie, nationalism is the most malignant and hate-filled force that the West developed and spread to the world,[9] and according to Mitrany, it is the biggest obstacle to peace.[10] Although its effect on the Western world is relatively diminished in the 21st century, nationalism surrounded the political will again on the basis of religious ideology and of religious contradictions (Christian-Muslim, Sunni-Shiite) outside the Western world. Thus, the religious roots of some non-Western varieties of nationalism go even deeper than their Western counterparts. In Iran and Turkey, Islamic nationalist movements developed as a reaction against top-down, forced Westernization and secularization attempts.[11] Of course, we have already seen the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) utilize the same concept.

The second factor affecting the decisions of political will is contemporary theories, built upon contemporary realities. Because theories are based on realities, they prioritize and encompass changing conditions as they mature. For this reason, they are not dogmatic and resistant to change like ideologies. However, the power of theories comes from their ability to change, which is how theory affects political systems.

We can say in summary that during the lifetime of a state, the unsolved problems leftover from a previous period’s ideologies and principal theories cannot be solved by relying again on the same theoretical consciousness. Political will can change the political discourse and action according to contemporary theoretical knowledge by constantly improving, transforming, and by internalizing the theories that produce actionable knowledge, enabling it to resolve its issues from the past. If this is not done, that political will misses the opportunity to solve problems due to anachronist theories and ideology.

According to the nationstate, civil society is an actor that needs to be suppressed, whereas in the democratic state, civil society is an inevitable counterculture.

Indeed, the notion of “national interest,” an idea which emerged in the 1640s and in which all nation-states have taken refuge for problems they could not solve, has always promoted power and the state.[12] This idea has been espoused by a broad spectrum of realist theorists from Morgenthau,[13] to Carr, and Waltz.[14] In brief, states have interests which determine state actions. However, the state never sacrifices itself. It is egotistical.[15]  These theories that are based entirely on the power and capacity of that state suggest that major powers control the international system and that this will never change.

Even if ideologies based on nationalism and radical religiousness, which are essentially anachronistic theories, continue to be held, they are no longer valid. Issues that could not be solved when these philosophies were predominant and have consequently continued to plague us cannot be solved without using the contemporary means including the theoretical realities and the values of our time. Insisting on solving them in this way will only create political blood feuds, which means employing incompatible instruments to solve one issue with what is in fact another issue.

Problem-Solving in the 21st Century

Now, let’s move on from theoretical foundations and ask ourselves how the ethnic and religious issues causing great pain and loss in Turkey have failed to be resolved for 40 years.

There are two principle elements to solving problems. Firstly, if an issue is seen, defined, and accepted as a problem, it can definitely be solved. The second element of problem solving is related to modification of the state structure.

In the first case if the problem cannot be solved, either no problem exists, or there is a problem in reality that is defined and acknowledged, but the political power does not have the will to solve the problem, or its theoretical knowledge about the solution is inadequate.  

The second case relates to the structure of the state, which can be modified in two ways. The state’s structure is either improved, or it is degraded. If the change is being made without changing the fundamental principles of the state, then its structure is being improved. However, if the change is being made by changing the foundational principles of the state, then this means that its structure is being degraded.[16] The reason why the democratic initiative cannot be achieved and the Kurdish problem cannot be solved in Turkey for the past 40 years is because the political will is unable to create a solution by combining these two principles of problem-solving. The probability of solving such problems using anachronistic theories and ideological frameworks as a foundation and by altering the state’s fundamental principles is extremely low.

The effectual notions of theoretical approaches based on the theoretical understanding of the 20th and 21st centuries are given below. However, a political will that is transformed into a democratic state that internalizes notions peculiar to the 21st century and is thus willing to apply solution strategies based on these notions would have a much higher chance of solving the problems.

20th Century

21st Century

  1. National interest and power are the fundamental concepts
  2. The international system is anarchistic and defines the state’s behavior
  3. Self-help is essential
  4. Material force is essential
  5. Leadership is inevitable
  6. Security politics
  7. Class is essential
  8. Radical changes are essential
  9. Value-free scientific analysis


  1. Individuals, elites, non-governmental organizations and transnational networks are major actors
  2. Ideas and shared knowledge result in new conceptual frameworks; collective norms and social identity are significant concepts
  3. The international system is not a unique explanatory variable
  4. Shared meanings, cooperation and evolutionary changing are essential
  5. Civil society is essential
  6. Respect for human rights
  7. Social force is essential
  8. Beliefs change
  9.  National interests change
  10.  International institutions are essential
  11.  Interdependency


These obviously do not signify any sort of mathematical certainty but are recognized to be generally accepted. Now, if we are to associate these expressions of “theoretical consciousness” with the notion of “political will,” one might come up with the following chart.







The political powers in this box possess the will to solve social and ethnic problems in their countries, but are unable to find the right solutions because of the intellectual and physical instruments they employ.



The political powers in this box may have neither the ability nor the desire to solve problems and unsuccessful initiatives may provoke the use of violence.





The existence and willingness of strong political will combined with theoretical consciousness increase the chances of solving postponed problems, and social transformation and peace are realized on solid footing.



Even if political power and its consultants have the theoretical competency and desire to reach a solution, the lack of will to realize it results in failure.


The thousand-year-old legacy of the state began to be abandoned at the beginning of the 21st century with the transformation from nation-state to democratic state as non-governmental organizations were created as a result of the ensuing stretching and loosening by social forces. At the same time, this auspicious transformation created a great opportunity to solve collective social problems leftover from previous ages.

When I was asked to write this article, the expectation was that the main theme and the text itself would address the “democratic initiative and the Kurdish question.” However, in this article, I have not referred to any current facts about or solutions for this situation. I have tried to explain the reasons why the current situation cannot be solved and what must change in order to solve it by addressing the state in the 21st century and the political will that will govern this state. I think that this problem applies not only to the Kurdish question but also to Northern Ireland in the UK, the Basques in Spain, and the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

[1] Cemal Bali Akal, Devlet Kuramı [State Theory] (Ankara: Dost Kitabevi, 2005), p. 395.

[2] Montserrat Guibernau, Milliyetçilikler [Nationalism] (Sarmal Yayınları, 1997), p. 92.

[3] Akal (2005), pp. 475-76.

[4] Hannah Arend, Şiddet Üzerine [On Violence] (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2003), pp. 97-8.

[5] Akal (2005), p. 397.

[6] Edward Hallett Carr, Twenty Year’s Crisis 1919-1939 (New York, Harper Torchbook, 1964), p. 162.

[7] Süha Atatüre, Küreselleşme Sürecinin Ulus Devlet Üzerine Etkileri [The effects of the globalization process over the nation state] (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Gazi University, 2001), p. 256.

[8] Ferdinant Schevill, The Foundations of A More Stable World Order (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1941), p. 21.

[9] Elie Kedourie, Nationalism (Oxford, Cambridge, Blackwelli 1993), p. 9.

[10] Davit Mitrany, A Working Peace System (Chicago, Quadrangle Books, 1966), p. 10.

[11] Philip S. Gorski and Gülay Türkmen-Dervişoğlu, “Religion, Nationalism, and Violence: An Integrated Approach,” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 39 (July 2013), p. 193-210.

[12] C.V. Wedgwood, Thirty Years War (London, The Folio Society, 1999), p. 190.

[13] Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations (New York, McGraw Hill, 1993), p. 4-10.

[14] Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Massachusetts, Addison Wesley, 1979), p. 202.

[15] Morgenthau (1964), pp. 114-17.

[16] Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge, CUP, 2008), p. 172.

Süha Atatüre
Süha Atatüre

Dr. Süha Atatüre is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at Nişantaşı University, Istanbul.

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