Friday, August 10, 2012

Decline of the Nation State

A nation state consists of two parts: the “state” is basically a political and geographical entity that claims its sovereignty from its political legitimacy in acting on behalf of a “nation.” A nation is both a sovereign territorial unit and also a cultural or ethnic entity. The term “nation state” implies the two entities coincide in one and the same place and have a polity. That is, they possess and control their own political organization. The origins of nation states may have occurred in somewhat different ways and at different times, and there are various explanations for this, but the nation state has been the dominant form of state organization for quite some time. It is the contention of this brief essay that we are now witnessing the historical break-up of the traditional nation states as we have known them. I focus here on the United States but the same processes are at work elsewhere as well.

It is reasonable to believe that if a nation state wishes to remain so, protecting its sovereignty, competing with other nation states for wealth and resources, and maintaining the safety and well-being of its citizens, there are certain basic needs that must be given priority on behalf of survival and success over time. If these basic needs or requirements are not met the nation state, as such, will eventually decline and disappear or become something else. There are clear symptoms of decline at work in the U.S.

Clearly a functioning and successful nation state requires an educated citizenry. This is especially true in the modern, highly technological world we now live in. The U.S. has for years shamefully neglected its educational system at all levels, devaluing education and learning, demonizing teachers, making fun of “egg-heads,” “pointy-headed intellectuals,” “nutty professors,” and so on. Anti-intellectualism has been exceedingly destructive to our society, shrinking school budgets, allowing physical facilities to deteriorate badly, paying very low salaries to teachers, crowding classrooms with far too many students, not providing the best and most up-to-date equipment and textbooks, raising tuitions and costs while providing fewer services, shortening school years, forcing students to take on enormous debts in order to attend, and in general abandoning any genuine interest in learning in favor of basically warehousing young people while they waste their time. At best we have turned our colleges and universities into trade schools where students prepare themselves for jobs that no longer exist. Respect for learning and knowledge for its own sake has disappeared.

Related to this general debasement of education in general has been the reduction of funds for research and development. The higher costs of education have not been passed on to better labs and equipment but, rather, to more administrators and million dollar football and basketball coaches. We have fallen behind most other industrialized nations and are not producing enough well-trained people to supply whatever demands there are. Science and research have been increasingly denigrated so that we now have large numbers of people who don’t even believe in science.

As a nation we have also seriously ignored our infrastructure. Roads and bridges have fallen into serious disrepair, buildings neglected, trains underfunded and not much better than they were in the last century while our competitors in other nations have developed high-speed trains that make our seem rather medieval. Environmental protections have been unenforced and ignored so that we have thousands of acres of contaminated ground, mountaintops bulldozed into rivers, salmon runs depleted, species carelessly allowed to become extinct, and so on. And now, having ignored global warming and all scientific advice on the subject it may already be too late to act.This has to be seen as a nation that just doesn’t care and is symptomatic of our decline.

Similarly, when a nation would rather see its citizens unhealthy, miserable, and dying rather than provide them decent universal health care and keep them healthy, because it might be “socialism,” you know you have reached a point of national suicide, a true and serious symptom of national malaise, to say nothing of idiocy.

There are still other symptoms that may not be as obvious. Our military, for example, is no longer a truly national system of collective self-defense, but, rather, an army of mercenaries. It might be seen as symbol of national pride but it no longer represents the people and those who are paid to serve in it may or may not have the same allegiance to the nation as an army more representative of the population at large. The average soldier, sailor, or marine no longer represents a cross-section of the general public but has been recruited from the margins and may have more allegiance to who pays him than the nation. Mercenary armies can be dangerous and become private armies. And when this is coupled with the obscene military/industrial/political complex that controls the military and functions more for corporate than national interests, you have once again reduced the importance of the nation state.

Privatization also contributes to the demise of the nation state as it removes the responsibility for vital services from the nation state and places them in the hands of private companies, thus weakening the power of the state. The privatization of vital needs like energy, communication, health care, Social Security, and such, when placed in the hands of private corporations, obviously helps to undermine the power and authority of the nation state and gives more power to the corporate control of our lives.

The waning importance of the nation state is directly a result of at least two related facts, the growth and power of international corporations, and the importance of globalization. A few giant corporations have managed to basically rule the world with the help of the U.S. military establishment. Because they can draw on workers and talent from elsewhere, less expensive than here at home, they don’t care about our educational system (why pay for something they can find cheaper elsewhere), nor do they care about the health of the population (they can find workers from countries that keep them healthy), and, as they have budgets larger than those of many nation states, they have the power that comes with all that wealth. Similarly, they are not as dependent on U.S. infrastructure as they were. They have their own fleets of planes, ships, and facilities that are not necessarily even housed in the U.S. They are not all even U.S. citizens, nor do they need to be. They can all live where they wish, rely on banks and other facilities around the world. Now they have even been buying up prime agricultural land all over the world, in Africa, South America, and even here in the U.S., land that belongs to them, not the nation state of the United States of America or the nations that sold that land. The requirements for a successful nation state are no longer relevant and can be and are increasingly being ignored or abandoned. As far as a work force is concerned, they can find that anywhere, cheaper, better trained, healthier, and probably happier.

This spells doom for the importance of nation states, especially for the U.S. with its ideology of social Darwinism and resistance to anything that smacks of government help to anyone other than Banks, Insurance companies, large corporations, and the wealthy people affiliated with them. Now we are even in danger of losing any semblance of control over our polity. It has always been possible for other countries to indirectly influence our politics, but with Citizens United there is no telling how much greater and more secret influence they can and will surely have. There are no effective controls over how much money China or other countries might be donating to influence our elections and government. In fact, we don’t even know who is in charge of our government, but it is obvious they do not have our individual welfare in mind. They seek profit, and there is profit galore in permanent war, the military/industrial/political complex, globalization, and weaker and less powerful nation states.


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