The organic state theory postulates that a connection exists between people and the state; all states are aggregate sums of their totals (the individuals). On paper, the theory seems like any other political premise; however, a careful analysis reveals that its adherents may support it in order to achieve selfish political goals.
The organic state theory is a school of thought that holds that states are more powerful than individuals. It advocates for a spirit of political collectivism because, as an organism, the state determines the outcomes of its organs; which are the people. These adherents, therefore, believe in the abandonment of individualistic thinking since a state cannot be regarded as an unresponsive machine. This school of thought opposed the assertion that states were mere tools designed to protect the individual’s interests, or meet certain ends.
How the organic theory meets certain political ends
The theory holds that states, just like other biological organisms, could grow, develop, and even die. Philosophers such as Friedrich Ratzel came up with seven steps that strong states use to take over weak states. He explains that this was a natural offshoot of their strength. In his deterministic views, Ratzel argued that states grow by taking on smaller units. Furthermore, he believed that highly developed civilisations gave primitive states the momentum for growth.
To this scholar, territorial growth followed a similar path to developmental growth in organisms (Steinberger, 2009). This intellectual was not aware that his assertions could be translated into aggressive, expansionist policies. What seemed like a natural order to Ratzel would later become a significant source of world invasions. A case in point was Germany’s early twentieth-century extension attempt.
Leaders can use the organic state theory as a justification for imperialistic expansions. At the time, Germans operated under the assumption that they were engaging in a natural growth process. These violations were absurd, yet the organic state theory disguised that excessiveness.
Adolf Hitler wanted to dominate the European continent in 1914. His political philosophy mirrored the laws of growth in the organic state. These efforts contradicted the other political philosophies held by other European states. Political actors can utilise the organic theory in order to execute malicious motives as illustrated in this early twentieth-century case.
Leaders can also use the organic theory to support their legitimacy in power especially during crises. When catastrophes take place in a certain state, they tend to spark-off patriotic sentiments (Schulzke, 2005). These reactions are even more likely to occur when outsiders invade a nation than when something internal takes place.
A case in point was the September eleventh twin tower attacks; the predicament led to a patriotic surge. The incident transformed President Bush, who seemed illegitimate, to a confident and able-bodied leader. Such a response came from his poise and self assuredness in post nine – eleven America. People in this state realised that they all had a common enemy.
They needed to sacrifice their individual needs for the good of the nation. These views mirrored organic state theories, which advocate for a greater focus on the nation rather than the people in that nation. Similar sentiments dominated the public sphere during Woodrow Wilson’s tenure as a United States president. At the time, industrialisation destroyed the individual’s importance in the country’s economy.
People felt vulnerable and insecure in the early 1900s. Furthermore, civil war and other social crises perpetuated this sense of uncertainty. US intellectuals responded to these dilemmas by postulating or supporting theories that moved away from individualistic perspectives such as the Lockean school of thought; the organic theory was one of these tools (Miller, 1999).
Crisis leadership is indeed a reality that this theory supports. Congress arguably controls The United States government. The president cannot make policies without consulting this group, and must try to reconcile partisan differences before his policies can be endorsed. As a result, the system undermines presidential powers tremendously in the US.
However, different dynamics come into play when a crisis occurs. In such scenarios, the president acts as a symbol of national leadership. Furthermore, the crisis situation creates openings that can allow presidents to mobilise public opinion. This forces congressional leaders to succumb to the President’s opinions. In this regard, the situation emphasizes the importance of the state as a central actor in politics.
As such, a President can circumvent the status quo and problems in parliamentary democracies through crisis leadership. He can achieve his own aims and restore legitimacy to his name during these events. In fact, history shows that the strategy is quite effective. Some political analysts have even accused presidential leaders of manufacturing crises in order to improve their authenticity.
It should be noted that individualistic perspectives can be quite limiting in certain democratic systems. Liberal and individualistic theories had their own strengths; they preserved the property and lives of a country’s citizenry. Democracies that operated under such beliefs allowed their executives to deal with unusual circumstances; however, their narrow mandate limited those responses.
In individualist democracies, citizens had a right to engage in a revolution; as such, the state could not exercise its powers excessively. The theory of the organic state provided a platform to overcome the obstacles of liberal principles (Schulzke, 2005). If one could regard the individual as a part of the whole, then one may treat a person as a specimen who must consider his or her relationship to other partners in the nation. Because of this, the organic state theory grants greater power to state executives.
The Cold War is an ideal example of what can go wrong when entities with malicious intentions use the organic state theory. When this war began, the Soviet Union’s worldview contradicted that of the United States.
However, both these entities reflected views that were synonymous to the organic state theory as explained by Friedrich Ratzel. The Soviet thought that the United States’ form of capitalism was evil and that it would consume the word with self indulgent tendencies. Conversely, the US thought that communism, as perpetuated by the Soviets, was detrimental to mankind’s liberties and rights.
The US thought that the Soviet sought world domination, and so did the Soviet concerning the US (Glassner, 1996). These countries were each interested in security and survival. To achieve these ends, they needed to maximise their powers and weaken their enemy’s power. The concept of absorbing other territories is quite prevalent in Friedrich Ratzel’s organic theory.
The organic theory postulates that a state’s needs should transcend individual needs as these latter needs are only a small component of the larger whole. However, the same theory creates patriotic sentiments during crises thus legitimising questionable leadership. Furthermore, it has sparked off key wars such as the Cold war and the First World War. Participating leaders in these conflicts perpetuated organic state principles such as state expansion and power maximisation.
Glassner, M. (1996). Political geography. NY, Wiley and Sons.
Miller, N. (1999). In the shadow of the state: Intellectuals and the quest for national identity in twentieth century Spanish America. London, Verso publishers.
Schulzke, E. (2005). Wilsonian crisis leadership, the organic state, and the modern presidency. Polity, 37(2), 262-285.
Steinberger, P. (2009). The organic state: democracy and freedom. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.