Brilliant Response by Niall about ''The Second Superpower''

by phil on Friday Apr 4, 2003 11:22 PM

I think the Moore's ideas are interesting, and will turn out to be prophetic. The value of his argument is dimmed somewhat by its myopic fixation on the US as the sole problem or threat that needs to be responded to, and it's clear he only half-sees what he is on to as a result. But if you state his argument just a bit differently, you'll see its power.

Suppose instead of the US, we state that the world superpower is the nation state. For if any institution has monopolized most of the highest level power in the world, it's the nation state. That is the true superpower, not just the US. Any nation-state government that had the power of the US would behave in much the same way — prioritizing its own interests above those of the misty, mystical "international community". France does this now, and it has hardly any power at all. Ditto for Russia and China.

Here we arrive at the key achilles heel of "internationalism" — as long as this is conceived as a type of relating among nation states, it is doomed to failure. Nation states will only support internationalism/multinationalism when there is something in it for them. That is why weaker states, less able to accomplish their goals independently, are the most committed to internationalism.

What Moore's argument does is call into question the sole legitimacy granted to nation states as exercisers of political power. This is implicit in his outline of how "emergent democracy" would develop. This is very perceptive, and I think will ultimately turn out to be true. The model of the nation state, as we now understand it, is a relic of 19th century ethnic European politics. Prior to that, it was empires that dominated the political landscape, not nations. Though we now look at nations as the divinely annointed vessel for perfect government, we now see and know enough about them to begin to doubt that, even though we can't quite put the doubts into words or meaningful action.

We see how democratic nation states more and more have begun to resemble their opposites. We begin to see how once democratic nation states become complex and large enough, they cease to meaningfully express the will of their citizens, and instead develop their own priorities, interests and instruments of power, which are in turn often turned against the people who make them up. In other words, the "democracy" part of the nation state has long been seen as its unquestionable claim to legitimacy. Once we begin to doubt the reality of the democracy nation states offer us, then the very notion of the nation state goes up for grabs.

Doubts also arise because nation states seem quite ineffective at dealing with trans-national powers, such as corporations. If Exxon can do what it likes, then how necessary are nation states really? It's hard to avoid saying, "Not really."

Lastly, technology has "disintermediated" the state and its infrastructure to a large degree, though still not entirely. But enough for people to envision being completely independent of them. The internet, cell phones, etc — the entire context of direct connectivity makes us doubt, ultimately, why we need the bureaucratic and autocratic apparatus of the nation state to help us do these things. As individuals become more empowered — or even if they just believe they are more empowered — to directly influence events, to that degree they will be less committed to the indispensability of the nation state.

I think in this century we will see the development of powerful forms of "consociation" that are neither corporate in the business sense nor governmental. As such forms of consociation become dominant, the nation state will retaliate, but then become a secondary function. This will lead, of course, to all kinds of new abuses of power created by the new forms of association, but that's another story.

The nation-state has run its course, I believe, as the sole form of legitimate political empowerment. It was basically two notions grafted together: Athens and Ruthenia. Abstract rational democracy grafted onto the most tribal yearnings for ethnic community and destiny. This combination is most unstable now in Western Europe, where we see the most highly developed tribal societies in history; yet they are essentially tribal nevertheless.

The nation state is the sole superpower. It will ultimately, perhaps in our lifetimes, be replaced by something quite different. ONe hopes the result is better.


^^ mrwarmth on

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