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,