My pensée on the erosion of the nation-state construct focused, as is to be expected from me I suppose, narrowly on politics and economics.
My contention, briefly summarized, is that the individualization of technology and the globalization of markets are creating opposing tidal forces that are shredding the nation-state. I tied the foundational idea of the nation-state to welfare state ideology; think of the nation-state as a horse and the welfare state as a rider. Both constructs just assume any government of any nation-state will possess sovereign power, defined as the ability to do precisely as that sovereign government pleases. But suppose that assumption is wrong.
Suppose the ties that bind the nation-state are being shredded by the tidal forces I described. Suppose therefore that sovereign power is leaking out of both the nation-state construct and welfare state governments. Suppose governments can no longer do precisely as they please. Suppose technology is eroding sovereign politics and global markets are eroding sovereign economics.
All that said, and I think arguably true, the attack on the 400-500 year old nation-state construct goes deeper than politics and economics. Consider the graphic I lead with in the last post in more detail.
All of the elements listed above are important. Yet I contend the most fundamental of all the elements combining to create and sustain the nation-state is culture. It’s culture that holds and focuses all of the others.
Territory can grow or shrink by war or treaty. Nationality is redefined with simple oaths of allegiance. History is routinely rewritten, most often as the adage goes by the winners. Language changes and blends constantly. Religion splits itself into dozens of sects: Christian subgroups and at least two warring factions of Islam, just as examples. None of these serves as a solid foundation of the nation-state construct. Culture does.
What does it mean to be “German” or “Japanese” or “Iranian” if not a total commitment to a deep, unconsciously embraced way of life, of thinking, of values? Why is Oktoberfest a big deal in Cincinnati, Ohio and Fredericksburg, Texas among people who’ve never been to Munich and speak no German, if not the deeply embedded “cultural ties that bind”? What does it mean to say “next year in Jerusalem” at a Seder dinner being held in Brussels or Istanbul or Moscow … be that Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Indiana … if it’s not a restatement of cultural identity and unity?
Not to belabor the point, but what does it mean for the stability and efficacy of the nation-state when we say nations are being stripped of their cultural identity? Why do we say we are fighting a culture war in the US; that a “way of life” is being stripped away? Why do we say France is losing those definitive elements that are what it means to be French? Why do national borders suddenly seem to be pointless .. all but indefensible not only in the US but in Europe and Asia as well … in the massive global migration that is now underway? In fact, why is there a global migration at all, if not that cultural ties to nation-states are breaking down.
English is now the common language of commerce the world over … even in the boardrooms and training centers of world-class French-based companies. I taught finance to managers in Munich, Nice, and Tel Aviv to groups composed of Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Britons, Arabs and Jews, all in English.
The Internet, social media, global advertising campaigns, 24-7-365 satellite-based news organizations that are impossible to fully censor or block, all contribute to the splintering of what it means to be culturally American or culturally Spanish or culturally Brazilian. We are being splintered into smaller groups of like-minded individuals much better able to communicate with others of our mindset no matter which nation-state they were born into.
What after all is “partisanship” if not just this splintering on an individual basis. Why was compromise to a commonly held set of core “centrist” principles possible here in the US before the rise of individualized communication, and less possible or even impossible now? It’s often noted that the young of the world have more in common with each other, via social media, than they have with their cultural elders. This must undercut nationalistic identity and with it the entire idea of what “citizenship” means. The strains are obvious everywhere.
Belgians have carved themselves into the Flemish and the Walloons, with a break-up of the nation-state of Belgium a real possibility. Northern Italians identify more economically and politically … and increasingly culturally … with Germans than with the Italian-speaking south. A large majority of Texans have begun to think of the culture that infects Washington, DC in the same way Catalans think of the culture in Madrid. Islamist immigration into Europe has resulted in zones and even entire small cities “seceding” from the rest of the nation; “no-go” zones around Paris and “self-policed” areas of Amsterdam and in Norway and Sweden are just the first small fractures in the very concept of the nation-state.
Not even fast-rising China is immune. The entire focus of their politics and economic policy is “cultural unity”, is it not? Which gives you a very good sense of where the ruling elite in Beijing thinks the greatest threat to the state and to their rule comes from.
Culture is explosive. It’s divisive. It’s not contained by the nation-state but is a crucial glue binding the nation-state. When infused with historical grudges or religious “jihad” … or even just a peaceful awakening sense of individualism and a desire for local control … culture becomes a weapon with the power to shatter both the nation-state and the welfare state governments that ride along upon it.
I end this post where I ended the last, wondering where this will lead. Are we facing dissolution and chaos? Or is this a return to reality after a long romance with the delusional fantasy of the welfare state? Is this the birth of a culturally stronger, geographically decentralized, more diverse global political and economic construct? I know the play is in process … and I just hope I live long enough to find out how it ends.