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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Decline of the Nation-State

Having recently visited Scotland, we watched the vote for independence from Great Britain with interest. "No" won quite decisively for lots of reasons. Yet the process was instructive for all of us.

I think it portends or even demonstrates a transforming global political order. One in which power will devolve to cities, within ever expanding yet redefining regional connections, where local self-determination and participation is accessible and exercised in ways that persons, families, and neighborhoods can thrive. But perhaps that is just wishful thinking.

Empires have been a historical certainty. Persian, Chinese, Babylonian, Egyptian, Athenian, Roman. Eastern and Western feudalism led to nation states within empires run by a centralized, hierarchically organized ruler. But empires collapsed with the First World War. Sure, we still have areas of influence which came to a head in the Cold War with groupings of national allies. And the US portrays much of the markings and behaviors of an Empire. But not the way of the French Napoleanic empire ruled from Paris. Or the British or Turkish empire. The resurgence of empires in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan or even Stalinist Russia was denied. And now the American Empire, even with its almost-monopoly of the means of violence, is dissolving much to the woes of neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, and nostalgic "patriots."

Now are nation-states going the same way?  Economically, transnational corporations exert the most influence by virtual plutocracies that transcend national boundaries. Civil wars cross national boundaries. The Islamic State is an anachronism in trying to establish an Islamic Caliphate as would be a Christian attempt to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. It is actually a grouping of "liberation" or "terror" (depending on your perspective) movements in the Middle East. And consider the Kurds, the Basques, the Palestinians, the Bosnians, and others throughout the world where peoples are grouping through culture or economics or politics or all and using the misleading language of "two (or more) civilizations" or "war on (or of) terrorism." Even the US Civil War is not over.

I read Francis Fukuyama, a recovering neocon or neoliberal, because he makes me think.  In his "End of History and the Last Man," he poses that history as Hegel understood it (a dialectic) and its conflicts are surpassed in the triumph of liberal, capitalistic democracy. He was wrong, but really it was Hegel and Marx who were wrong and all those who speculate that we are reaching some pinnacle of history and humanity in western liberal post-capitalist democracy. Fukuyama did indicate in his book the rising wave of tribalism that could keep the conflicts of history going.

His book on "Trust" studied the importance of bridging social capital (Putnam's term) in regions both within and among nations in raising the economic standard of living. And then in his "Origins of Political Order," he works out his Political Development Model of State Building, Rule by Law, and Accountable Government. In all these works, he presents the cognitive tools for our move beyond empire and the nation-state into intra and inter regional thinking.

The striving for justice and peace remains an imperative. It is linked, I think, to our fundamental desire for recognition and respect (as Fukuyama draws from Plato) which is achieved in public space, i.e. politics. That politics is being gobbled up by the forces of private enrichment in which plutocrats and their institutions rule. What form will the restoration of public space with justice and peace take now that empires and nation-states are in decline?

I believe that to be the most important question of our era.


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