Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Flags maps and museums

conceptsI have been reading Ricoeur's "Time and Narrative", and it has led me to wonder about the place, if any, of nations in twenty first century geopolitics. There was a time, as the British Empire collapsed, when self-determination was tied to some degree to military might. We now live in a world where military might has exceeded itself; mutually assured destruction leaves military innovation essentially redundant. The Arab-Israeli conflict illustrates perfectly why nation states are not a workable solution to the world's problems. What kind of social world can be imagined and constructed for the twenty first century? The current problem is that matters of security have not been solved in situations where the state has broken down, as the recent histories of Russia and Rwanda would suggest. That the British government believes citizenship to be the missing element in British nationhood at the moment is illustrative of the problems in attempting to imagine an alternative state.

The problem is that states exist partly in order to consolidate themselves. As Hobsbawm pointed out, this is the function of universal state education. However, unlike in the time of Rousseau, there is no option to live outside the state. You are born into a socail contract which you cannot leave, less still dissolve.

The popularity and success of Sertorius' alternative state in Spain under nominal Roman control suggests that imperial powers can be resisted or subverted. Nevertheless, constructing a viable, attractive alternative to the nation state is not easy. It should not be forgooten that most nation states are very young. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can recognise that they do not represent a norm in the organisation of society. Thinking about where to begin constructing plausible alternative models is not easy, but until it happens, people will continue to massacre each other in large numbers all over the globe.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger UK plc said...

"mutually assured destruction leaves military innovation essentially redundant."

I have to disagree. Military innovation is precisely geared towards overcoming the constraints imposed by MAD. Hence, Vision 2020, Star Wars and all the rest of it. The quest is to design a system that lets you launch WMD with no fear of retaliation. This is why in the post cold-war era, defence budgets in all the industrialised nations kept rising. The US are trying to build the system, and anyone else with military aspirations is trying to compete.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I appreciate the point, but the point is that this kind of spending is pissing in the wind unless you are a lone superpower. And the only vialble aim for the US is like 1900s and 1910s British naval policy: to have enough power to take on everyone else put together. Naturally, for the modern world, this means preventing your enemies retaliating with WMDs. But for this policy to be sustainable, the US has to accept that non-state affiliated organisations can and will cause them large scale problems. The logical conclusion is isolationism, which makes the whole project even more redundant. Which is why I am surprised, frankly, that the neocons have supported Bush in the war on terror. It would have made far more sense for their political future to start with Korea, not Afghanistan, and manufacture minor tension with China. Even superpowers need an ideological counterweight. The problem is they have chosen an enemy they cannot control.


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