The ethnically homogeneous nation-state is alive and well. It remains the largest feasible focus for both belonging and democracyby Michael Lind / October 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Pity the poor nation-state. It is mentioned only to be abused. The nation-state, we are told, is too small-too tiny to be competitive in the global economy, too feeble to deal on its own with “global issues” like climate change. At the same time, the nation-state is too big. Its centralised bureaucracies are too remote from the real centres of innovation, which are cities and neighbourhoods. National cultures cannot compete with global pop culture or with sub-national ethnic and regional cultures.
As if being the wrong size were not bad enough, the nation-state is often regarded as positively evil. The idea of a connection between government and an ethnocultural nation upon which the nation-state is based is xenophobic, nativist, even fascist. Nationalism leads to murder and ethnic expulsion in the Balkans; the only wonder is that all nation-states, everywhere, are not engaged in the genocide to which they are predisposed by their very nature.
Fortunately-or so the conventional wisdom goes-these political dinosaurs are on the way out. The nation-state is fading away under pressures from above, such as economic globalisation and transnational communication, and pressures from below, such as multiculturalism and regional reawakenings. Soon, maybe very soon, the division of the world into nation-states will be replaced by a new world order reminiscent of the middle ages-a miscellany of tribes and city-states, coexisting more or less harmoniously under a few loose global institutions, the equivalent of the medieval European papacy and empire.
In a lecture series delivered in 1985, the American historian William H McNeill argued that the era of nation-states, which began in 1789, came to an end in 1945. In the post-national future, as in the pre-national past, political identity and ethnic identity would be separated, as a result of mass immigration and multiculturalism. In 1990, Eric Hobsbawm echoed McNeill in his book Nations and Nationalism since 1780. According to Hobsbawm, nationalism “is no longer a global political programme, as it may be said to have been in the 19th and 20th centuries… Nation-states and nations will be seen as retreating before the new supranational restructuring of the globe. Nations and nationalism will be present in history, but in subordinate and rather minor roles.”
But in the decade between the time these historians wrote and the present, nationalism has reshaped the map of the world and has been the main cause of conflict. More than 20 new…