A shrinking world?
Nations, states, superstates and the scaling of political power
The state in a shrinking world?
• Link to previous lectures: in the context of a
‘shrinking world’, all older certainties seem to be under threat
• What is happening, then, to what is arguably the most taken-for-granted unit of political power in the modern world: namely, the state?
• Is the state – as an idea / a way of organising political life – under threat?
• Is it perhaps ceasing to have relevance, indeed power, in the face of a crazily speeded-up, hyper joined-up global economy?
• Or are there ways in which it is reasserting itself or taking on new forms?
• Modernity’s ideal: nation and state overlap perfectly within the same geographical territory
N and S
= The ‘nation-state’ (nb. secular)
• Modernity’s reality: usually there is no neat overlap
* States may contain several nations which are not/have never become ‘states’: hence conflict and/or ‘separatist’ ambitions
* ‘National’ groupings may stretch/leak across state boundaries
* Dominant ‘national’ groupings in a state may seek to ‘purify’ it of other ‘national’ groupings =
The nation-state as ‘container’ 1
• Rise of modern world, from c. 16th century, parallels rise of the state – the two are interlinked
– And rise of the nation-state ideal
• Increasingly, the political unit for ‘organising’ the world (initially Europe, then beyond) becomes the state (idealised as the nation-state)
• It becomes regarded as the meaningful ‘container’ for all manner of economic, social and cultural processes, events, etc.
• It is thought to be somehow the right size/scale for performing this crucial role
The nation-state as container 2
• Anthony Giddens, a sociologist, argues:
“[t]he nation-state replaced the city as the crucible of modern power … from the late-eighteenth century onwards in Western
Europe and the United States” (Giddens, 1981, p.189)
• Equations of nation, state, military control and capitalist development
– Nation = ‘nationalist’ sentiments manipulated by powerful elites / emergent capitalist interests
(eg. of ‘British’ nationalism, creating a spurious sense of an overall, singular
British nation-state, ‘annexing’ the older Celtic ‘nations’/peoples)
• What also mattered was territory:
“What also makes the ‘nation’ integral to the nation-state … is not
[just] the existence of sentiments of nationalism, but the unification of an administrative apparatus over precisely specified territorial bounds (in a complex of other nation-states)” (Giddens,
The nation-state as container 3
• But, what has this to do with an apparently ‘shrinking world’?
• The argument is that, with increasing time-space compression, etc., the nation-state has now ceased to be the right size/scale for ‘organising’ life
• Saskia Sassen, a sociologist, argues:
“The assumptions about the nation-state as the container, ... as synonymous with [a given] territory, work well for many of the subjects studied by in the social sciences. But they are not helpful in elucidating and developing research techniques when it comes to globalisation [time-space compression]” (Sassen,
The death of the nation-state ? 1
• A common claim now is that the nation-state is ‘dead’ or at least
– A casualty of a ‘shrinking world’
• Patrick Buchanan, US
“The nation-state is dying. Men [sic] have begun to translate their allegiance, loyalty and love from the [established] nations [= nation-states] both upward to new transnational regimes that are arising and downward to the nations whence they came, the true [‘old’] nations, united by blood and soil, language, literature, history, faith, tradition and memory” (Buchanan, 2006)
The death of the nation-state? 2
• If there is a death of the nationstate, it is occurring simultaneously in two directions
– Towards transnational entities, which might be