THE FUTURE OF NATIONS
By Roland Watson
In the last article, I considered the prospects for the family, education, organized religion, and civil conflict between nations. In this one, I want to focus on the future of the nation/state itself. The structure of nations is a recent social development. Countries have really only existed for a few centuries, a minute fraction of the human span. I want to consider the question: Are they a good form of organization or not? Will they persevere far into the future?
The de-evolution of the nation/state
The way I want to do this is by examining the possibility that nations will de-evolve, back into cultures. Before the rise of nations, the world was a collection of cultures. Are nations actually a positive development? Would it in fact be better if this type of de-evolution occurred?
The reason why I even raise this question is that at the present time many nations do not make sense. In some cases, their boundaries are the result of ill-advised decisions that were taken by colonial or imperial powers, decades or more ago. Moreover, there are few good arguments in favor of sovereignty. Personally, I believe that nations, in a more reasoned, civilized age, will prove not well adapted to survive. They will only be temporary, and perish.
Indeed, what is a "nation," or "country"? We use these words all the time, but other than describing a set of borders - most of which are less than seventy years old - what do they mean? Is a country a culture with nationalism and racism - us versus them - added on? Or is a nation an organized gang that has been established to rape nature and to exploit the local people? Do we want or need such things?
Candidates for national de-evolution
There are three basic groups from which national de-evolution would be a good thing. The first of these comprises the "national" legacies of colonialism and imperialism. These are essentially "artificial" countries, and in many cases they do not even function. They are countries in name only. And, in any event, they will never work well. They have too many distinct cultures, with traditional age-old antipathies, and also more modern disputes arising from the colonial or imperial use of "divide and conquer" and "proxy wars." (As an aside, this reflects a consequence of the fact that colonial administrators were usually soldiers.) Furthermore, there is no need for them to work. There is nothing to gain. Therefore, rather than try fruitlessly for an unachievable and insupportable goal, a better choice is to let them lapse: to reorganize them in a new, less disputatious way.
Examples of such regions include the indigenous areas in the Americas, and Australia; the many former colonies in Africa, particularly in Central and Western Africa; the disparate parts of Indonesia; Kashmir; and the topographically-distinct areas in Northeast India, Burma, Southwest China, and the Melanesian nations in the Pacific.
Next, a second group comprises the legacies of other forms of conquest, by one group over another, including Palestine; Northern Ireland, which should be autonomous, not under the control of either the U.K. or Ireland; and the current Chinese possessions: Tibet, East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, and the Aksai Chin area of Kashmir.
Finally, de-evolution may be suitable for any other nations - or even regions - which have great cultural diversity and histories of conflict, which through separatist and other movements purposely choose such change. For example, this might include the countries and territories of the U.K.
The process of de-evolution
For the actual means of de-evolution, there are a variety of possible mechanisms. The first is a reasoned and peaceful process, with referendums and elections, which is initiated internally or through the imposition of external activist and diplomatic pressure. Secondly, there is change accomplished by force, again either internally, through rebellion, or from an external source. And thirdly, there is chaotic, or de facto, de-evolution. In addition, there are the various de-evolutionary stages or alternatives. These include limited autonomy; full autonomy; federalism; and other means by which the responsibility for government services can be shared.
The rise of superstates
There are also many practical hurdles in accomplishing the reversion from countries to cultures. One way to look at this is in the context of the purposes of government. And here, because it is the most modern, and reasoned, example of such a process, I will consider these issues in light of the changes that the nations of Europe are undergoing, through their process of integration.
The basic purpose of government is protection, against both internal and external threats, and such a purpose will survive national de-evolution. However, what we are seeing in Europe is that the responsibility for a military defense - against external threats, can be shared; and, the defense via police - against criminal threats, can be coordinated. Regional groupings of nations, or cultures, which are at peace with each other are able to share their military requirements. A significant part of national government, therefore, can be reapportioned to a regional, supranational organization. Such cultures will still be called upon, of course, to supply soldiers and arms, and this requirement will exist until the "Zone of Peace" covers the entire world. But, at that point the need for a military, even a regional military, would cease. The regional defense requirement would be internal, and limited to the police, and presumably it would shrink as well.
The other aspect of protection relates to regulatory mechanisms, for the defense against the abuses of other institutions, and to achieve equality and non-discrimination. Even as a collection of cultures, we will still need regulation, including via the judicial system, and various government agencies and private sector providers.
However, while mechanisms like the courts - and also the police, albeit with regional coordination or cooperation, would function best through being widely decentralized, others, particularly mechanisms directed at regulating corporations, could be grouped regionally as well, as with the military.
This is particularly appropriate for the regulation of producers of resource commodities, and energy and communication utilities, where great scale and a multinational reach will continue to be the norm.
For basic services, much government provision of such services can be privatized. The only residual government role regarding these services, in a world of cultures, would be the above-mentioned regulation.
This in turn would have a significant impact on taxation and funding requirements. Such requirements presumably would shrink, and also be redirected as to the regional and other supranational groupings to which a culture belonged. Indeed, a major practical issue would be the repayment, or reapportionment, of national debt.
The only other major area of government responsibility is in economic management, including of currencies. What we are seeing, particularly in Europe, is that while economies do need a currency, to facilitate transactions and trade, it is highly inefficient for every culture to have its own. Ideally, you would have a global currency, but this is a practical impossibility. It would require a world government, and also cause an incredible concentration of economic power, both of which are unacceptable.
The probable course, therefore, is a reduction in the number of currencies to a handful, for use in and between the various regions of the world, and which would be adopted by all the cultures in these regions. This would also require a regional governmental mechanism, which perhaps could be coordinated with the regional defense and regulatory organizations.
This, of course, is what is being tried in Europe. There is still centralization of power. It is migrating from nation to region, so the potential for abuse continues to exist. And, as we have been seeing, there is abuse. Countries in Southern Europe, the governments of which are rife with corruption, have effectively been taking advantage of countries in Northern Europe, which are significantly less corrupt.
Nonetheless, with time these problems can be resolved - governments in Southern Europe can and will be improved. Moreover, the types of abuse of power that we have seen in the past, including military and economic conquest by strong nations over weak, should be reduced - if not eliminated - since in such a regional forum no one nation, or culture, should have enough power, on its own or even with its allies, to dominate.
What this also reflects is that the development of supranationals is still in its early stages. (The United Nations is only sixty-some years old.) We will likely see the establishment of other such organizations, and also substantial changes in their role and functioning with time.
However, many activists - including yours truly - opposed European integration, because of the fear that it would undermine the distinct cultures of Europe, and also reduce the regulatory mechanisms that had been established in many nations, for public welfare and environmental protection.
Indeed, there is no need to create a "superstate." We do not want "community citizenship." Such a structure actually takes us further away - two steps - from direct democracy. The leaders of the cultures are elected; and the leaders of the region appointed. This leaves far too much room for abuse.
In any case, the rise of supranational institutions would appear to be a significant trend in human social evolution. Nations will lose sovereignty. Governments will be slimmed down, and at some point made truly participatory. And, they will be repositioned to contribute to regional security, regulatory, economic, and perhaps even social insurance groupings.
Impact on identity
As all of this occurs, there will be a number of other effects as well. First, there will be a change in the use of nationality as a foundation of one's personal identity. As it stands now, identity is linked to nation, but this is not a strong link, or rather, its strength varies with the times. In hard times, propagandists strengthen the link, by saying that others are to blame for them. But in good times, such appeals lose their value, and the national link weakens.
Therefore, as "nation" is eliminated, and government is reduced in power, the basis of our identity, and our relationship to the government, will change. Also, government will appear less formidable and domineering, and more professional and accountable. There will be a reversion to its role of service provider, and we will be its customers, and owners, once again.
Furthermore, throughout this process it is likely that we will establish as a concrete goal the preservation and reclamation of our many cultural identities. As we now reclaim degraded habitats, so we also must apply such efforts to traditional cultural groupings. In addition, we must recognize that while the process of national de-evolution does constitute a positive development, it is not the final development or solution. We will still have inequality, since some cultures will possess greater natural resources, and accumulated wealth, than others.
I will continue with this analysis in the final article in the series.
© Roland Watson 2015