This is a really thought provoking article from Rana Dasgupta about the decline of the nation state, and what we could build to replace it. The author argues that nations, as a political unit that controls individual and institutional behavior, are totally overwhelmed by corporate power and global migrations. Millions of people are wandering the globe, essentially stateless because of war, climate disaster, and other global ills. The nationalist populism we've seen in the form of Brexit, MAGA, the rise of the Hindu Right in India, and many other examples are a last gasp reaction, more often led by elites than not, to the loss of control and power of nation states. Dasgupta proposes that the moment requires global political innovation, and I'm very much looking forward to his book, After Nations, which is due out next year.
I've been interested in new forms of governance for a long time. I wrote in The Accidental American about how a democratically elected North American regional government could work. That seemed like a pipe dream in 2008, but this article suggests that such arrangements could be on their way, if we can imagine something different from our current maps and governance models.
From the article:
The crisis was not wholly inevitable. Since 1945, we have actively reduced our world political system to a dangerous mockery of what was designed by US president Woodrow Wilson and many others after the cataclysm of the first world war, and now we are facing the consequences. But we should not leap too quickly into renovation. This system has done far less to deliver human security and dignity than we imagine – in some ways, it has been a colossal failure – and there are good reasons why it is ageing so much more quickly than the empires it replaced.
Even if we wanted to restore what we once had, that moment is gone. The reason the nation state was able to deliver what achievements it did – and in some places they were spectacular – was that there was, for much of the 20th century, an authentic “fit” between politics, economy and information, all of which were organised at a national scale. National governments possessed actual powers to manage modern economic and ideological energies, and to turn them towards human – sometimes almost utopian – ends. But that era is over. After so many decades of globalisation, economics and information have successfully grown beyond the authority of national governments. Today, the distribution of planetary wealth and resources is largely uncontested by any political mechanism.
But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge the end of politics itself. And if we continue to think the administrative system we inherited from our ancestors allows for no innovation, we condemn ourselves to a long period of dwindling political and moral hope. Half a century has been spent building the global system on which we all now depend, and it is here to stay. Without political innovation, global capital and technology will rule us without any kind of democratic consultation, as naturally and indubitably as the rising oceans.