in Political Strategy

Trying to think rationally about the nation state

There is this weird void in rational thinking when it comes to the state, and it really confuses me.

The far right holds a belief in the state that is somewhat religious. It’s unclear exactly what they love about it, and the affection don’t seem to be based on any rational ideas. They clearly don’t love everybody living in the particular geographic area at this given time, not even the ones who’s relatives have lived there forever. Historically they’ve also been known to mess with the nation state’s geographic borders, which really is the only thing that defines it from other states.

The conservatives and neoliberals seem to have a pretty clear idea about what the state is for: they let it do all the policing and warfare and leave the decision making to the capitalists. They also like the state to bail out crooked bankers if needed. What’s confusing about them is that they pretend to dislike the state, but really just want it do all the dirty work.

The whole spectrum of the left is confused on a much higher level: “it will fade away”, “we need to control it”, “it’s the enemy” and so on. Neither the communist/social democratic or anarchist camp ever get into any deep discussions about this (believe me, I’ve read their books).

My main question are: 1) Is the nation state a relevant tool to solve the big problems that humanity is facing right now? 2) Is it a practical entity to decide on day to day issues or administer our common wealth?

If we forget about the police and military for a while (which can and often is organised locally, regionally or internationally anyway), we’re left with the governing. I would say that decision making basically is about trying to solve common problems. The thing about common problems is that they need to be addressed on the right level. Kind of what the EU calls “subsidiarity” (“the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”). It goes the other way too — you can’t solve an international problem in your local council. And geographically, it’s hard to solve a problem that happens somewhere else. In practise, this means that my city is a good place to decide about how to build our local park or how to deal with the trash, but not so good for solving the war in Syria or take international measures against climate change. That could be dealt with regionally in the Middle East (yes, that means that the US should stay out of it) or globally.

So it comes down to which entity is the right one to deal with any given problem. These entities don’t need to be geographically based, since we have ways to communicate with other people than those within shouting or horse riding distance.

So for my first question earlier, there’s the world market, climate change, global poverty and war. I would say the answer is no. These are problems on a global or at least continental level and we need to deal with them on that level. For the second question I guess it sort of depends on the issue. I might be confused about this, but I can’t really see for which particular problems the state is the exact right entity. I’m sure there are specific cases, but often it’s probably better to deal with things on a more local level.

I think this confusion has major political consequences. People feel alienated from national politics because it’s just not able to deal with things the right way. The traditional left (in a small country like mine) that still pretends it can set economic policies on a national level, will surely lose support, because people see that it’s just not working. The conservatives benefits from this, because they can still use the state for policing, but they never touch the real challenges people are facing. The far right is probably the ones taking the issues of decision making most seriously, but all they’ve got is a short term strategy of isolating each country (and being assholes to people they don’t like).

What’s lacking, especially in the left, is just some political imagination. There is no god given choice between a super strong nation state or everybody just hunting and gathering. We can organise in any shape or size, and we can’t expect one entity to solve all of humanities problems, be it the nation state, the UN or your local squat pub. But we have to be very practical about addressing some life threatening problems on the right level now, or we’re done.

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