The Rationality of Nationality
Identity, Tribalism & Nationalism
Nationalism and globalism appear to be at odds, but they don't have to be. Both are integral to international community-building.
To join or leave a community or make a deal, one must know where one stands and develop a sense of boundaries - both preferences and 'red lines'. These thresholds shift over time, in response to differing situations.
To configure withinternational laws, agreements and institutions, a nation must have its people's backing and be accepted by other nations. This involves transparency, negotiation and a reduction of idiosyncrasies.
This is an identity and legitimacy issue, and identity-formation is multifarious, different for each nation.
Ideally, inherent identity moulds a nation by dint of ethnic, historic or geographical factors. Egypt has had consistent nationhood for 5,000 years. But identity can be built up too – France's unity and identity were hammered out in medieval times.
Some peoples could be unified but they are not – Irish, Kurds, Armenians, Koreans and the descendants of Mayans. Others are held together by geopolitical sellotape, inertia or grace – Afghans, Iraqis, Swiss, Nigerians, Turks, Brazilians, Mexicans, Americans, Canadians and Indonesians – and stress could divide any of them.
As globalisation stirs up our perspectives, identities and interests, some peoples feel a need to pull closer together while others wish to loosen their sovereign autonomy.
By the late 20th Century national interests could no longer be defined in isolation. Nations each affect all others as a result of travel, trade, pollution, migration, leaky borders and cultural interdependence.
During the 20th Century sovereignty, stable borders and non-intervention were the norm, though periodically broken. The 'pre-emptive' US invasion of Iraq in 2003 pretty much ended this.
People hold on to sovereignty, but it has already been lost to trade, economics, crime, pop, media and organisational border-hopping. Ordinary people have weakened borders through migration, consumption, travel, pan-national ideas and cross-border movements.
This has left a mess, kept clamped down and under wraps. It's acceptable to those who profit and unacceptable to those who don't. Were it not for nationalism, vested interests, the scale of the problem and difficult borderline cases, a full redesign of nations and borders would be sensible. But this is a hornet's nest.
Nations are being quietly eroded from above and below. Both unpopular and sought after, globalisation proceeds apace without full discussion.
The issue isn't whether or not globalisation should happen, but how it happens and how it impacts on humans and nature.
Globalisation has a standardising aspect which fires up an equal and opposite counterforce, localisation. Local governance and emotional identification are finding new relevance and distinction.
Globalism and localism aren't contradictory. Globalising forces have bulldozed local obstructions and pushed hard at human tolerance, provoking a localist and nationalist gut-reaction. The scale of globalisation is enormous, and yet 'one size fits all' is not succeeding.
Societies are cleaving and splintering along new sectoral, generational, regional and belief-oriented lines. This is humanity's communal tendency at work.
This new tribalism is experience-based. Nowadays we separate out less by clan than by interest-group.
Are nations relevant nowadays?
Nations are emotionally valid because we humans need locational and identificational anchorages. Something in us craves a landscape and social matrix in which to feel at home. This urge, when under assault, becomes rigid, conservative and nationalistic.
For the future, we don't really know what needs reinventing and what needs preserving. Preservation is fine as long as things are not just freeze-dried but alive and developing. If the creative life-spark inherent in tradition withers, we lose our way.
Reinvention or 'modernisation' has problems too - old errors are repeated or costly lessons are re-learned that we already knew - or they remain repeatedly unlearned.
Nations act as containers of identity and culture. They have relevance, but that relevance is changing.
States are valuable as political and administrative entities and holders of regalia. But they vary so drastically in size and have evolved in such haphazard ways that they only sometimes reflect the de facto needs and life-patterns of people, geography and nature today. Today's states are frozen as entities unless crises forcefully re-shape them.
The status of states is shifting. Regions are in the ascendant while nation-states are weakening. Power has also shifted upwards into globalisation and, nowadays, if you want to have an influence in a global world, you need to be a big guy: EU, USA, India and China demonstrate this.
Who knows how, but we are likely to see states change massively in coming years. Some could break up, some might transfer or exchange territory and some might merge or federate. New states might appear. Sovereign insolvency - national bankruptcy - might oblige some states to be taken over.
The overall trend is for nation-states to melt surreptitiously in significance - even though a lot of fuss is still made about them. A conglomeration of continental and cultural blocs is forming. But also, the regions and megacities within nations are becoming stronger. So power is shifting both upwards and downwards from nation-states.