The nation-state is making a global comeback – and we should all be very afraid – Quartz


The British people have spoken. And the old European Union and the particular international order of which it was a part are now a thing of the past.

What has brought us to this point is a crisis of national sovereignty, the sudden realization that the boundaries we have erected to differentiate internal and external realities are all illusory. Globalization is the underlying driver of this change, as connected economies reshape local markets, natural and man-made weather disasters sweep the seas, and the reach of the military and activists expands with ease. related.

This realization, in turn, shakes people’s faith in the legitimacy of their multilateral institutions.

It is now clear, of course, that Britain’s Leave campaign succeeded largely through misleading propaganda, stoking people’s deepest fears and darkest impulses and unleashing waves of openly racist and xenophobic hostilities. And yet, Leave also played to a packed crowd, already strained with anxiety and emotionally nervous. It was about a group of people worried about being left behind in a rapidly changing world and resentful of those who they believe are profiting at their expense.

Faced with such fears, Britain and democratic societies more generally have responded with calls for action. But the threats we face only seem to be getting worse. This realization, in turn, shakes people’s faith in the legitimacy of their systems and institutions. Zika does not need a passport to travel. Fukushima radiation will not be stopped by customs. Financial contagion cannot be stopped by control agents. And the multilateral agencies like the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund, supposed to handle such things for us, have seemed woefully inadequate.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, there was consensus around the idea that the nation-state was a restrictive organizing principle.

The European Union indeed embodies this modern form of diminished globalism. It is above all a common market. The movement of citizens of its Member States is not subject to any restrictions. But there is little social and political integration. There is no central, regional identity. The purpose of the mobility of people is to facilitate the mobility of capital, not the other way around. And that, in short, is the problem. Rather than having disposable income, we made people available to serve capital.

While EU member states are democratic and there is a functioning European Parliament, too much of the EU relies on a complex arrangement of appointments made by constituent leaders. This has made matters worse, as the elites and expert committees that run the business seem distant and arrogant, isolated from the people they are meant to serve. To top it off, they remain impervious to criticism and calls for change, even when they reluctantly admit mistakes. We saw all of this play out recently with the Greek debt crisis. It could happen again in Spain.

This does not mean that we are helpless. In the aftermath of World War II, there was a remarkable consensus around the idea that the nation-state was a restrictive and ethically dubious organizing principle, and that the federalization of certain powers on a global scale would ultimately necessary to prevent future war, promote human rights, maximize freedom, and build lasting peace. Supporters included everyone from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Albert Einstein and Hans Morgenthau. Critically, there was significant popular support for this vision.

Of course, there were also opponents. They ultimately prevailed, and their choices laid the foundation for the bounded form of internationalism we know today. But maybe it’s time to reconsider and reevaluate. Perhaps it is time to create a truly responsive and democratic form of globalism, one where the voices of localities and regions as well as nations actually give birth to the international policies that affect them. To have a world government and not only a world governance.

The alternative awaits in the wings: an array of carnival barkers, snake oil salesmen and absolute strongmen ready to usher in a new era of authoritarianism. You have to choose… and quickly.


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