Ritualistic state

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A ritualistic state is a social phenomenon when "a state in which the regulatory powers, lost in certain areas of society due to the loss of state control, are replaced by simulated activities of the state apparatus, which are of ostentatious, ritual nature. At the same time, the necessity of the existence of these or those power structures is justified to society by the necessity to perform such rituals and ceremonies."[1]

Under globalization, states inevitably lose the functions of regulating social relations in globalized areas of society, for example, in economics, finance, culture, and information exchange.

The political regimes of particular states captured by political or economic clans, military or police elite, are unwilling to participate in the global supernational alliances that are forming now. Instead, they increasingly impose an ideology of fundamentalism and isolationism in society and seek to limit natural human rights to participate in the free exchange of information and expression on the Internet to preserve personal political and economic domination. "Ardent supporters of the fetishization of the role of the state are bureaucratic clans and the cooperation of "power" bodies, pursuing vested interests of retaining superpowers to protect their economic and political influence in society. These professional communities detached from the public interests often frighten society with imaginary or artificial threats created by them and "ritualize" the functions of the state."[2]

Such actions and decisions of state authorities inevitably lead to the loss of public trust.

In 1982 the British sociologist Anthony Giddens suggested that the structure of the social system is based on practices regularly reproduced in space and time. He believes the rituals distinguish from all other regular practices by a lack of obvious common sense. In his book “Power, the Dialectic of Control and Class Structuration” [3] he says that the rituals have a special value for the performers of the ritual; probably their value consists in prolonging the life of the social group as such.

The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas was the first who wrote about the signs of the ritualization of the society by states with a fundamentalist ideology in his work "The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" published in Germany in 1986. Analyzing Max Weber's work "Sociology of Religion" Habermas noted that the ritualization of social consciousness by states leads to dismissal of the modernist scientific cognition of the world set up in antiquity. New non-transparency and mystification of consciousness that plunge modern society into postmodernity have reappeared.

Niklas Luhman, the famous German sociologist, discusses in his works the substitution of modern politics for collective media rituals through large state media.[4]

In 2003 Anthony Giddens in his work "Runaway World: How Globalization Reshaping Our Lives"[5] was blunt about the process of degradation of state functions and institutions in the context of globalization, their loss of managerial powers and their transformation into "fake institutions" that differ from "effective institutions". He notes that in a decentralizing world, politicians can no longer rely on previous forms of pompous and solemn ceremonies to justify their activities.

History knows many examples of the ritualization of power as a substitute for its effectiveness, which became visible in times of decline and collapse of empires. In the Early Middle Ages, after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the institution of statehood in the globalized European society was supported mainly through collective rituals. During this period, the power of the sovereign was not finalized either at the legislative level or territorially delineated. Rulers showed their power to society by performing public rituals, which were perceived by society as its manifestation, while the real regulation of relations in society was carried out at the local level by self-governing professional communities (guilds, chambers), as well as in a family-traditional and communal way. During this period, the phenomenon of the "ritualistic" state was equally applicable to the "successor" of Rome - Byzantine Empire, which lost economic and political influence in foreign and domestic politics, replacing it with bureaucratization and ritualization of state functions. It is described in detail in the “Book of Ceremonies of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos”, compiled for Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (913 - 959 AD). E.). In his research of the Byzantine rituals Robert F. Taft says that this book describes court rituals in detail, often with minute details, from the viewpoint of masters of ceremonies, giving rules bureaucrats, and the court nobility[6]. During state decline in Byzantium, there was a total replacement of state functions with bureaucratic rituals. For European society, it occurred in the post-imperial period, when new states had not yet been formed. The strong ritualization of the state also manifested itself in the late Pax Romana period, in the "era of the talentless Caesars," in a caricatural way imitating the great predecessors Julius and Augustus who relied on endless rituals, fundamentalism, and terror, rather than the will and opinion of the Roman people.

A more modern example of the "ritualization" of the totalitarian state was Hitler's Germany, which consolidated society around its weakening power with collective rituals: demonstrations, festivities, and the pseudo-religious cult of the Nordic race.

In 1968 the Soviet scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov wrote that “intellectual freedom is essential to human society - freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such a trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship."[7]

One of the forms of ritualization of the state apparatus is bureaucratization - a pseudo-management ritual that is a true sign of degradation of states. Hence, de-bureaucratization is the de-ritualization of state administration.

The ritualization of the functions of state bodies also affects their lawmaking resulting in a "ritualistic" law, similar to the late Byzantine one, when the authorities issue numerous legislative and other regulations aimed not at the actual regulation of relations in society, but at the endless regulation of the actions of the bureaucracy, building its hierarchy, as well as at the establishment of different celebrations, honors or prohibitions. At the same time, accepting these norms, the state authorities do not bother to assess the effectiveness of their regulatory impact on the actual social relations, substituting the effective legal regulation with the declarative "ritual" lawmaking.

The substitution of state administration with rituals and the propaganda of collective media rituals are means of manipulation of society. The ritualization and mystification of collective consciousness break society's connection with reality, immersing it in mysticism and postmodernity.

Ritualization of the state by pseudo-managerial rituals should be distinguished from religious and cult rites (ceremonies), which constitute a layer of spiritual life in any society, as well as the Confucian understanding of a ritual as a way of building positive relationships, adaptation to the new in communication with the outside world.


  1. Izmestyev S.V. The Crisis of a State as a Social and Political Institution in the Era of Globalization THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT № 7 (2020) https://doi.org/10.24158/tipor.2020.7.11
  2. Izmestyev, Sergey The crisis of a state as a social and political institution in the era of globalization https://doi.org/10.24158/tipor.2020.7.11
  3. Giddens A. Power, the dialectic of control and class structuration // Social class and the division of labour. Cambridge, 1982
  4. Luhmann Niklas The Reality of the Mass Media // Stanford University Press. Stanford, California, 2000
  5. Giddens, Anthony (1999) Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. London: Profile
  6. The Byzantine Rite: A Short History, Collegeville 1999 (translated in several languages)
  7. Sakharov, Andrei (1968). Thoughts on progress, peaceful coexistence and intellectual freedom. Foreign Affairs Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-900380-03-7

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