Nations are understood to have a right to go to war, not only in defense of individual rights, but in defense of their own political standing in a given territory. This paper argues that the political defensive privilege cannot be satisfactorily explained, either on liberal cosmopolitan grounds or on pluralistic grounds. In particular, it is argued that pluralistic accounts require giving implausibly strong weight to the value of political communities, overwhelming the standing of individuals. Liberal cosmopolitans, it is argued, underestimate the difficulties in disentangling a state’s role in upholding or threatening individual interests from its role in providing the social context that shapes and determines those very interests. The paper proposes an alternative theory, “prosaic statism”, which shares the individualistic assumptions of liberal cosmopolitanism, but avoids a form of fundamentalism about human rights, and is therefore less likely to recommend humanitarian intervention in non-liberal states.