The Midnight Hunter Musings, ruminations and wild rants about life from the Midnight Hunter.

December 16, 2009

Signs of the Revolution – Decline of the Nation-State

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 9:31 pm

In my previous post I spoke of awaiting the revolution. OK, it’s fair to ask, “What does this revolution look like and how will I know when it’s come?”

It’s a fair enough question, but not one I can readily answer. It’s much easier to imagine what the revolution will NOT look like than what it will. There are several things I’m pretty certain will not survive the revolution, the predominance of the nation-state and the personalization of corporations to name a couple.

Here I want to talk briefly about the decline of the nation-state. I’m sure I’ll tackle the personalization of corporations in a future post.

Revolutions are hardest on people who like things to be “the way they’ve always been”. To many such folks, and even to many who like, or want, or crave change, the nation-state may seem to be one of those things that’s always been. They have a hard time even imagining any other way of organizing the world politically. Historians, however, know that the nation-state is actually a rather recent creation. Many historians point to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, out of which the concept of national sovereignty grew, as the beginning of the nation-state. Others view the rise of nationalism in the 19th century as the true beginning of the system.

Either way, the nation-state is a recent arrival in the history of man, which stretches back several thousand years. “What, then”, you might ask, “came before the nation-state system?”

Well, the feudal system is in many ways seen as the predecessor to the nation-state system. This system treated land as private property of the ruler, to be disposed of as he or she wished. Imagine, for instance, if Barack Obama decided that on his death he wanted to split the United States into to separate pieces, two different countries, one ruled by Sasha and the other by Malia. Or suppose he decided that since Texas didn’t vote for him, and it’s kind of pesky and he doesn’t like it very much, he’ll negotiate with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to trade it for New Brunswick, which seems like a much nicer place. During the feudal era, this would have seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. This is how Germany came to be divided into hundreds of little independent states, the French-speaking Channel Islands came to be ruled by the United Kingdom and the town of Llívia, Spain is completely surrounded by France.

Before the feudal system, there was an even older system, based on tribal membership and laws. Under this system, if two people living in adjacent homes committed the same act, one might be “breaking the law” and the other not, depending on which one belonged to which tribe, and what the laws of those tribes were. All if this is a round-about way of saying that nation-states, far from being the only method of politically organizing the world, are only the most recent of a long string of political systems. And in my humble opinion, not a system that has held up particularly well.

Why is that? Let’s take, for instance, the little matter of migration. The nation-state is predicated on the idea that this nation lives in this place (state) and that nation in that state, forever. Humans, on the other hand are always on the move, crossing boundaries, and bringing their national affiliations with them. Whether it is the Mexicans “invading” the U.S. or Eastern Europeans flooding into Western Europe or refugees from war-torn Sudan fleeing throughout Africa, nation-states don’t cope well with the innate nature of humankind to move. And then there’s the problem of nations without states, such as the Catalans, or the Kurds or practically any African people you could name, not to mention the problems caused by multinational corporations that are wealthier and often far more powerful than all but a small handful of the largest nation-states.

Back in the mid seventeenth century, when it all started, the idea of nation-states must have looked like an attractive and revolutionary answer to the myriad problems of feudalism: the incessant warfare, the dizzying proliferation of states and the fragmentation of peoples. But today’s nation-states have come with another set of problems: incessant warfare, a dizzying proliferation of multinational corporate and non-governmental powers stepping in to solve the problems nation-states won’t and the separation of peoples across ever more meaningless borders… Like I said.

Until the revolution, Yours,


December 6, 2009

Awaiting the Revolution

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 8:54 pm

I will start my blogging career with this post.  I had considered naming my blog Awaiting the Revolution but decided not to because it might be confusing, since the rest of the site is The Midnight Hunter.  So what about this revolution?  What revolution?  And why wait for it?

You might think that as an Historian, I could be referring to the American Revolution, but that would be silly since it happened two and a quarter centuries ago, so there’s not much need to wait for it.  Or you might think that as a Socialist, I could be referring to some revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. Here you would be a little bit closer, but I refer to something larger than even that. The world, or at least America, today stands ripe for change, and not just some evolutionary minor adjustments, but truly revolutionary change.

Change seems to be a popular word these days; popular enough to risk becoming cliché. But for all the talk of change, all the demands for change, all the declarations of change, not much seems to be actually changing. At least, that is, changing for the better. In fact there has been significant change over the past few decades and none of it good. More people are uninsured; more people are under-employed; more people are over-educated. Our infrastructure deteriorates at a frightening pace, our schools, our highways, our airports and our planet are increasingly overcrowded. Our warms, our seas rise, our farmland and wilderness disappear beneath acres of asphalt, all with alarming speed.

And yet, despite years of debate, argument and protest, despite promises upon promises of change, nothing has reversed these worrisome trends. One could blame Mr. Fukuyama and his End of History theory, but I am no fan of his. Socialism is far from dead and capitalism’s star shines much less brightly these days as banks go bust weekly and unemployment soars. A future such as that envisioned by Mr. Fukuyama, in which no one challenges the ‘accepted norms’ of political and economic reality, would inevitably degenerate into a dystopian hell that would look very much like… well, very much like the world we live in now where everyone demands change and yet no one seems to be able to actually achieve it. The famous popular definition of insanity comes to mind: doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results.

This is exactly why I believe the world is ripe for change, true change; revolution. The changes we haven’t been able to stop; climate change, economic decline, social disengagement, are on the verge of making the world we’ve lived in simply no long viable. Change will come not because people want it too. In fact, many of those most loudly demanding change fear actual change more than anything. But true revolutionary change will come simply because it has to come. There is no possibility of maintaining the status quo ad infinitum. It is just not an option.

“So,” you ask, “why wait for it? Why not get off your ass and do something to make it happen?”

Well. I’m not young enough, or healthy enough, or wealthy enough, for that matter, to go rollicking around the country protesting in the streets, engaging in acts of non-violent resistence, etc… Besides, the type of waiting I’m referring to is not the passive, sit and stare at the walls type of waiting. Quite the contrary. The Biblical parable of the ten bridesmaids comes to mind(Matthew 25: 1-13). In the parable, the five bridesmaids who squander their ‘waiting time’ miss out on the party, while those who take time to prepare for the eventual arrival of the bridegroom are rewarded.

This is the type of waiting I am referring too. Keeping watch. Keeping an open mind. Looking out for real, revolutionary change, not the tired, meaningless clichés we are constantly fed.

Until the revolution, yours,

T. E. Tyler

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