Sometimes you just have to shift gears, and deal with new questions...
I had intended to address the next installment in this series on the re-examination of traditional beliefs, to questions about prohibitions on legalizing gay marriage. However, some events in the last day or two have inspired me to set that aside, and look at another time-honored belief instead.
I'd like to ask if the modern nation-state has reached the end of its usefulness.
In the modern world we've seen an explosion in the number of nations. In the 1950's there were far fewer than 200 nations in the world. Today, in contrast, there are well over 200. Many of these states have come about from the break-up of larger countries, such as the demise of the Soviet Union, or the partitioning of some of the Balkan states. Only occasionally have we seen nations actually joining together into a larger single state, such as happened with the re-unification of East and West Germany.
The nation-state as we define it has really existed for a relatively short time, historically. In the past, there have been empires, extending back to the Roman empire, the Persian empire, ancient Egypt, or some of the Chinese empires, among others. These might last for the lifetime of one empire builder, like that of Alexander the Great, or they might endure for centuries, in one form or another, like Rome.
For far longer than that, however, civilized or social man lived in what amounted to city-states, small fortified towns that typically controlled some agricultural land and perhaps access to a trade route or transportation corridor. To call these "states" is a bit of a stretch, compared to nation-states we have today.
Even further back, mankind existed as small clans, either nomadic or settled. The next valley over might see another clan, but the reach of one clan was very localized.
Life in those days tended to be short, perhaps brutish, and you typically knew just about everyone you'd meet in the course of any given week.
The nation-state as we have it today is a marvel of organization, with many levels of bureaucracy and delegation of power, with highly developed ruling elites and laws governing all levels of society. Freedom is a managed quality; you're free so long as you observe the laws and play by the rules. If you cross these lines, though, you can be sure that sooner or later you'll run afoul of the police power of the state. This can mean anything from a traffic warning to the death penalty. The modern state governs by carefully applied coercion.
This coercion can extend to the relationships between states. Warfare is a common event in the world of nation-states. This was true in the ancient Middle East, and it's true in the world today. Wars of aggression, holy wars, all sorts of organized conflict fall under this rubric.
In the twenty-first century I believe we're beginning to see the systematic failure of the nation-state. Small non-governmental bodies can wage attacks on large states, such as the attacks of 9/11. These same groups can then resist decimation by those same opponents by striking bargains with groups within the governments of sympathetic states in close proximity to the attacker's bases of operation. Guerilla warfare can go on for decades, when one group is fighting for autonomy from a national government.
On top of this new reality in armed conflict, governance of commerce is becoming harder and harder, as the world economy reacts to financial upsets in one country by plunging the entire global economy into recession.
Environmental degradation knows now boundaries. Climate change, a political football in too many countries, can't be addressed on a nation-by-nation basis. We're all on one planet; if my environment fails, the odds are pretty good that yours will too.
Population movements seem to happen regardless of policies put in place by nations that attract immigration. Borders are porous, and security is partial.
The budgets of these modern nations are undergoing pressures they haven't often experienced. The age disribution of mature populations is trending toward more and more old people. Who will care for these seniors, and how much financial burden will this place on younger people still in the workforce?
Finally, the trust that people have in the national institutions of their home countries is under attack, often from the abject failures of the ruling elites to address the problems mentioned above, and others, in any sort of timely or constructive way.
My question is simply this: Has the modern nation-state reached the end of its usefulness as an organizing principle for a technologically advanced world?
Modern-day anarchists are quick to say it has. Their solution is a stateless society, with volunteerism raised high as a social norm. Others talk about anarcho-capitalism, or agorism, or a rainbow spectrum of other social models.
Are these people hopelessly deluded idealists? Or is it perhaps time to open some territory for experimentation, to see if these models for a new society have any viability? In an age of internet start-ups, this doesn't sound so far-fetched, does it?
What do you think? Is it time for the nation-state to allow for some innovation, as a first step to gradually disappearing, and to being replaced by something really new?
I'm grateful to a fellow Twit, @PunkJohnnyCash, for inspiring this post. For some good reading to get started on considering anarchism as a possible social organizing principle, visit www.gonzotimes.com.