Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The End of an Era?

The following is the musing of a historical autodidact, admittedly, but it's something that I have been thinking about lately.

The nation-state as we think of it was really a product of the age of Napoleon, i.e. the age in which revolution, war and collapse of government brought a pretty decisive halt to European monarchies.  The truly large nation states mostly all came into existence in the century after that:  The United States, Germany, the British Empire in its terminal form, the Soviet Union, Brazil, and only shortly after that, India and China.

Now that a couple of centuries have passed since the demise of Napoleon, I am beginning to wonder if the world can really afford to have countries that are so large and powerful that they can pose a threat to the world that can only be stopped at a price of the deaths of tens of millions.

Maybe it is time to admit that, after a couple of centuries on an even keel, the United States has been so subverted by the rich that it cannot be permitted to continue to exist as a single entity, with the clear threat of turning into a sort of Nazi Germany with nuclear weapons.  Maybe the immense wealth and resources of Russia cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of a single right wing ruler.  Maybe we cannot tolerate a country like China, run by rapacious sociopaths, who cover their corruption with a veneer of popular ideology.  Maybe all of these countries need to be broken up.

In particular, I wonder if it will not prove to be essential, in the next century or so, to split the United States up into several countries, to protect the whole world from its worst elements.  Let the West Coast run its own affairs without interference from right wing demagogues, and let the Northeast do the same.  And most certainly, let the States of the former Confederacy sink or swim on their own, without their endless appropriation of resources from people who hate what they stand for and the way they behave.I don't quite know how to split up the rest, and actually I don't care where they end up.

Well, you get the idea.  The same should happen in Russia, China and India too, if it happens here.  It might make for a happier world.


Deanter said...

But if the very problem with these giant states is that they're too powerful, then who would have the power to split them up? The US or India might fragment along natural internal cultural fault lines, but it doesn't seem likely, and no such fault lines exist in China or Russia, except to split of insignificant minority areas. It's hard to see how this could happen.

Green Eagle said...

Well, Russia has already been reduced far beyond what it controlled when it was the Soviet Union. A decade or so of severe sanctions could so weaken the central government that large areas would be uncontrollable. And please remember that the notion of the existence of China as a country within the boundaries we know today is largely a product of Western ignorance. As recently as the pre-World War II era, large parts of China were controlled by Japan. Mongolia and Tibet are still the subjects of questions about their relation to China. The Uighurs have been a highly disruptive element in the West, and I think there are large ethnic groups in Southern provinces that still resent the control by the Han majority. In fact, I think it is another part of the whole mythology of nation states that they are relatively immutable. I'm not saying it is likely, because of course the central governments of the large countries will fight this to the death, but it is not impossible either.

So, I understand what you are saying. I just feel that the existence of these super-states is becoming more and more of a burden on the world, and suspect that it is a hidden problem that no one really wants to face.

Magpie said...

This is a subject of breathtaking scope and I’m not sure I agree with all that you’re saying.

Napoleon was an opportunist. A warlord who stepped into the chaos of revolution and took hold of it. For that brief span of very bloody time, France was an Empire, with an Emperor.
The established monarchies of the day defeated him and Pax Britannica really took hold after that. Waterloo settled what was then a global war and things did not get out of hand on such a scale again for another 99 years.

Countries aren’t just regimes or areas, they are ideas.
A person in China sees themselves in context of 4000 years of history. ‘China’ has been blown to bits by countless wars and invasions and occupations and contains many cultures but it is a continuous civilisation.

If you take away the overarching identity of ‘nation’, you can unleash very unpleasant forces that it holds in check. Historically when countries fragment, war tends to follow.
Unity works more efficiently than disunity, for good or for ill.

Also, geography doesn’t care about borders. A divided USA might still share the same rivers. I’m not thinking of any one specifically, but a “former confederacy” state could poison the water that runs into someone else’s polity.
It’s like if my neighbours start behaving badly but they don’t belong to my country... how would I deal with them?

Government and statehood is the principle problem in a case like North Korea, but it is rapacious corporatism, self-entitled greed and corruption that blights America. The United States in its basic principles is, in my opinion and I’m pretty sure yours, a noble thing. There are certain ideas of governance that I wouldn’t want in my country, but those are points of detail. Its constitution is good. The Bill of Rights is good. The division of powers is good.
But modern day robber barons have taken hold of it and the inequities that are glibly called ‘freedom’ are killing it.

Green Eagle said...

Magpie, can I make a confession? I'm not sure I agree with it either. I have been reading "The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914," recently published by my favorite historian, Richard J. Evans, so I have been thinking about the rise of these super-states and just wondering if they are really a viable form of government, or a transient phenomenon. I am not really much of a history expert, despite my maundering away about it. I appreciate your thoughtful response to my post, but in this case it may have been more than I deserved.