The Inevitable Demise of the Nation-State

As a futurist, one of my aims has been to bring forward some of the more challenging and insightful predictions of the political future. Of these, the most important is the idea that the Nineteenth Century nation-state model, currently accepted as sovereign, must go.

Bad politics, or politics of the future?

With the inevitable doom of borders and the ever greater flows of information across the world, there must be a different kind of sovereignty imagined altogether – sovereignty by and for the whole of humanity. Withdrawal of recognition for every nation-state in favor of the human family is a long term fact of the political future, so movements that embrace this outcome should be equipped to make headway in the long term.

Predictably, publications will tell you that aggressive, vitriolic remarks rejecting the very notion of nation-states are “bad politics” and therefore do not really belong in mainstream political discourse. This is correct, by any standards supplied by current society to judge politics, but I believe a strong anti-nation-state position will eventually make its way into mainstream political discourse. It might not happen soon, but it will happen eventually, just as atheism eventually became acceptable speech.

Nation-states, like religious identities, are usually neither offensive nor threatening to most people, but there is hypocrisy demonstrated by the people who praise them. Think how a religion; e.g., Islam, is now commonly accused of being archaic and opposed to modern freedom of expression. However, so-called modern nation-states; e.g., the United States, are as easily offended and provoked to violence as religious extremists. For every Islamic artifact that could be desecrated and invoke violent protests, there is an American artifact that would produce the same reaction.

In any world without fairy tales as the basis for power, nation-states have no right to exist. Any future world order must be borderless, stripped of the arbitrary and self-indulgent claims of nation-states.

A theory of the nation-state’s demise: Immanuel Wallerstein

Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century will plunge the reader into the theories of American historical social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein, giving valuable futurist insights and guidance on the elusive direction of global politics. Wallerstein originally presented this information in 1997 at the University of Auckland, and the book is short enough to be studied by any reader in a day.

Of its messages, the clearest is that any succeeding civilization to the current one will likely depart from the current arrangements of sovereign states and “citizens”. In Wallerstein’s theory of the history of social change, as presented in his main academic works, the current world order with its exploitative economic features and disparities originated in the Sixteenth Century. A number of revolutions provided pressures for this world order to gradually evolve, although ratios of global inequality and exploitation have not decisively changed since the Sixteenth Century.

The French Revolution disseminated “widespread assumptions of what is accepted as the legitimate premises of political action”.  ((Wallerstein, I. M. Utopistics (The New Press, New York, 1998), p. 14)) Modern politics and state legitimacy emerged from the French Revolution.  ((Ibid. p. 15-19)) National revolutions present no challenges to the world order, because they do not yet threaten to eliminate the existence of nation-state regimes.  ((Ibid. p. 10))

The merits of anti-statist foreknowledge and action

Anti-statist foresight and action is already able to enhance politics and refine ideas. The maintained stances in the political columns reprinted in Flagless: Accepting the End of Nations ((Bentham, H. J. Flagless: Accepting the End of Nations, retrieved 28 January 2014)) aim to challenge nation-state prejudices, offering viewpoints encouraging a departure from nation-state belief. Presented cogently, these stances can easily be integrated into statist publications without controversy.

Wallerstein contends that “pervasive antistatism” undermines an “essential pillar” of the system used to justify disparity.  ((Wallerstein, I. M. Utopistics (The New Press, New York, 1998), p. 32)) “So-called globalization” is “the crisis of this system” ((Ibid.)) and does not actually benefit the powers that be.

Ultimately, “state structures” are weakening and the trends result in the weakened capacity for monopolies that create global wealth and “development” disparity. ((Ibid. p. 46)) We have the “growing collapse of the ideology of liberalism and the vulnerability of corporations”, as caused by the “increased democratization of the world and the deligitimation of the states linked to it”. ((Ibid. p. 48)) This forecasts a future that is inevitably unaccommodating, both to corporations and the mighty states they rely on for support and the enforcement of the so-called “free” markets they need for exploitation.

Wallerstein notes the democratization of technology (especially weapons technology) and continued social ramifications of migration as two key disintegrating forces working against modern states. He forecasts that “the world of 2050 will be what we make it” and will require “terrible political struggle” to define the next five hundred years. ((Ibid. p. 82)) We must strike the historical iron while it is hot.

Should we be citizens of the world, or anti-citizens?

Wallerstein identifies three defining dilemmas that can be used to assess whether a global system is healthy: material abundance versus material inequality, liberal political structures versus the exclusion of most humans from decision-making, and longevity versus degraded quality of life. ((Ibid. p. 66)) With the troubling scale of modern inequality, ((Ibid. p. 89)) all the social divisions and borders instituted by the nation-state political norm must go.

The nation-state question focuses primarily on the institution of what we call citizenship. National citizenship, Wallerstein teaches, exists to exclude some and confer privileges to others. National borders protect inequality by “excluding from the division of surplus value and political decision making the vast majority of the world’s population”. ((Ibid. p. 21))

Will citizenship remain dominant when it comes to group loyalty and affinity? If the Nineteenth Century notion of citizenship is doomed to fade with the growing porosity of countries, the assertion of new groups to replace old identities, as anticipated by Wallerstein, ((Hopkins, T. and Wallerstein, I. M. et al., The Age of Transition (Zed Books Ltd, London, 1996) p. 239)) will eventually push every nation-state claim into irrelevance until their whole concept is meaningless and unrecognized.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist blogger who has been a contributor at a number of think tanks including the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies since 2013. His work at Press TV and the multi-faith Beliefnet website has gained increasing attention and praise, including in the international media. Commentaries on political and ethical controversies by Bentham have been published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, H+ Magazine, Dissident Voice and numerous other publications. He edits The Blog. Read other articles by Harry.