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The Modern ‘Western’ Nation State Does Not Have a Viable Future: 1

November 4, 2017 20 comments

A couple of years ago, I first considered writing a series on the many, and now very apparent, failures of USA as a nation-state. However, every time I started writing, it became obvious that this ongoing process was not unique to USA. In fact, every single type of systemic failure attributed to the american system can be found in one or more other western-type nation states. It is just that the american state exhibits more signs of systemic dysfunction and failure than other similar nation states.

As many of you also know, predictions about the looming demise of modern (post-ww2) nation states have been a staple of libertarian public figures and their corporate funders for the past decade or two. It is therefore necessary to be very clear about what I am talking and how it is different from what those idiots and shills are peddling. Hence, I have compiled a short list of precise meaning of each term to show how it differs from other usages of that term.

So, let us begin..

1] Readers might have noticed the use of a peculiar word construct (modern ‘western’ state) in the title. So, what am I talking about? It goes something this.. the first iteration of the state as we understand it today came into being in nascent industrializing west-european countries during the early 1800s. This iteration accepted or tolerated slavery, had very limited electoral franchise, possessed limited bureaucracy and perhaps most importantly lacked the ability or desire to provide public goods and services to the majority of people living within its boundaries. In other words, it was a slightly more representative version of late feudalism.

The second iteration, which started appearing in the mid-1800s, was the first version that would be somewhat recognizable as a state to most people living today. Its most relevant advancement over the previous version was provision of some public goods and services such as clean drinking water, public sewer systems, free basic education etc. The third iteration which started appearing towards the end of 1800s, was was marked by even greater public access to goods and services and the beginning of universal suffrage. It is also most associated with nationalism and the two world wars caused by that ideology.

But what does any of this background information have to do with the concept of a modern ‘western’ state’? and why put single quotation marks around the word ‘western’? Well.. it comes down to defining the fourth (post-ww2) iteration aka the modern nation-state which has become the default for all major countries in the world today. While it may have originated in western countries, this type of nation-state organization is now seen in countries as diverse as Russia, China, India. So what made it acceptable to people in so many different countries, many of whom never went through the first three iterations?

It comes down to an implicit deal offered by this particular mode of organisation- to all parties involved. The ruling elite of a country and their flunkies could maintain popular legitimacy as long as they can provide (or facilitate the provision of) extensive public goods and services including an environment conducive to continual increases in material well-being of the general population. In return, the general population provides a safe and predictable environment for elites and their flunkies to live large and lord over others. This deal is how things used to work in USA from 1945 to mid-2000s and is still how things work (for the most part) in many other countries.

In future parts, I will explain the many interconnected systemic contradictions which unraveled this deal and why the rise of neoliberalism is more of a symptom rather than the main cause of the slow motion demise of modern ‘western’ nation states.

2] The other somewhat odd term used in the title is ‘does not have a viable future’. While it does sound a bit like ass-covering legalese, that term is used to convey a very specific concept. Unlike many libertarians and other assorted retards, I do not think that modern ‘western’ nation states will collapse all over the world within a very short timespan. Nor do I think that they will be replaced by largely autonomous and small libertarian city states. In fact, it is quite possible that nothing will be able to fill the giant gaping hole left in the aftermath of their slow demise.

What I am trying to tell you is that the current system will lose viability as it loses popular legitimacy. Think of it as analogous to people slowly losing faith in a religion which no longer provides a believable explanation of the world around them. Or people slowly losing faith in a god or deity who has apparently stopped answering their prayers. But how can the most successful system of socio-economic organization in human history lose popular legitimacy, especially given lack of a well-known alternative? Well.. for starters, the legitimacy of a system or belief in it are not linked to the availability of alternative options.

Instead, popular legitimacy of the current setup is almost completely linked to its ability to provide an extensive list of public goods and services in addition to continual improvements in living standards. Consequently the inability of provide them, even if that occurs gradually, will result in the system losing popular legitimacy. Note that I am talking about actually providing public goods and services, rather than simply possessing the means to provide them. Observant readers might have noticed that I have not linked a government being democratically to it being perceived as legitimate by the general population. Once again, I will explain that concept in more detail in future posts.

I will try to make future posts in this series sound less stilted and explain each concept with multiple contemporary examples.

What do you think? Comments?