Why We Still Need the Nation State

Overshadowed by international organizations, global commerce, and even individual cities, the nation state still has a vital role to play.

Illustration by alextrims/Shutterstock

With the Scottish Independence referendum still reverberating, the nation state is back on the front burner of global politics. While in the end Scottish voters opted to stay inside the United Kingdom, the issues raised by “yes” voters aren’t going anywhere, either.

The Scottish secession discussion wasn’t about close-minded nationalism. Instead, the “yes” vote argued against the brutal austerity policies imposed by the U.K.’s Conservative government and for a fuller, more robust democracy. These shared values and the political action they sparked nicely illustrate the essentials of a nation state: geography, politics, and culture.

But, your inner Thomas Friedman is wondering, isn’t the nation state out of date in a globally interconnected world, anyway? Aren’t we attempting to replace the dangerous nationalism that sometimes accompanies strong nation states (thinking back to the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s) with global institutions and solutions?

There have been numerous predictions about the death of the nation state, including one by my friend Parag Khanna, who suggested in his 2011 book How To Run the World that we were entering a new medieval era and that cities and regional economic groupings, not nations, would shape the future. But, not so fast.

The 2008 economic crisis and the ongoing fallout of subsequent austerity policies the European Union imposed on its southern zone have shown that transnational institutions can still lose touch with the needs of local populations. While global capital and institutions grow ever more powerful, national politics can still provide a vital check, especially in regulating financial markets and technology innovations. Without representative input, the complete (and continuing) lack of accountability from global finance shrinks the ability of nation state citizens to respond to the fallout from economic decisions over which they have little to no control. In comparing the stimulus’ effects on the American economy versus the pain of EU-imposed austerity on countries like Greece and Spain, it also seems the nation state may best determine its own economic investments.

Jonathon Shafi of Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign called last week’s vote a “huge opportunity to restore democracy.” Clearly this isn’t simply about having a Scottish Parliament making Scottish laws, it also reveals a desire to create a politics that is truly responsive to the needs to the nation’s population.

Of course, there is no guarantee that nation states will play a more constructive, empowering role simply because they exist. Plenty of nation states today employ no version of true democracy whatsoever, making the international organization appear like the more legitimate enforcer and protector of people. But, there is a way for nation states to make themselves indispensible.

It’s time for governments to go back to the trust-busting model that U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt pursued in the early part of the 20th century. While international and transnational bodies contend with war, terrorism, and other violence, the concentrated power of incumbent players and monopolies in industry is sharpening inequality, leaving millions, if not billions, impoverished and blocking needed innovation. More than a century after Roosevelt’s term ended, according to analyst Matt Stoller, Zephyr Teachout rallied voters around her insurgent campaign to oust Andrew Cuomo as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York by telling audiences “it’s time for some good old-fashioned trust-busting.” That’s exactly right.

In order for the nation state to make a comeback, its focus should be on confronting and taming the power of monopolies and unaccountable capital. That’s no easy task given the amount of corporate special interest and money in politics, but it’s also apparent that corporate bureaucracy is in the end less accountable than government bureaucracy. It’s time for nation states to confront the global monopolies and reassert their power for a commons good. In this way, the nation state is poised for not only a comeback but maybe even a retro cool one, as well.

AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less