The Nation State is Back
The nation state is back. As they have struggled with the pandemic, governments have amassed extraordinary powers. They can close your business, stop you travelling and forbid you to see your family. They can prevent you from holding the hand of a dying relative. They can bar you from returning to your home country.
These are not the decisions of local authorities or international bodies, but almost invariably of national governments. It is they who can close borders, halt exports, impose laws and print money on any scale. Anyone who thought that globalisation meant the withering of nation state power has had a terrible shock.
Even now, that power is underestimated. The promoters of the ill-fated European Super League had not realised that governments would do whatever it took to stop what they saw solely as a business decision. Banks based in Hong Kong did not expect to be pulled in opposite directions by nation state rivalry. And more is still to come: in a new race to lead innovation and promote greater self-sufficiency, nations will intervene in more industries, control supplies of minerals, unleash colossal spending and raise taxes. Even the mighty tech companies will face a day of reckoning with the power of the nation state.
It is a paradox of our times that this revival of nation coincides, in much of the western world, with a growing crisis of national identity. There are many explanations for that: the clustering of wealth around global cities, historic discrimination against minorities that has given rise to identity politics based on issues of race or gender, the vicious reinforcement by social media of assertion and suspicion rather than reason. More and more we are living only alongside people like ourselves — in Britain the productivity gap between regions is wider than at any time for a century, meaning that where you are born largely determines your future health, wealth and life expectancy.
While governments build the skyscraper of the modern state, the bedrock on which it rests is crumbling. In America, the great majority of Democrats support the statement that “The mixing of cultures and values from around the world is important to the identity of the US as a nation” but only a small minority of Republicans agree. If the Statue of Liberty were built today, it would be impossible to agree on the inscription.
Hague doesn’t have a particularly good solution to this problem, but it’s well worth thinking about nonetheless. You can read the whole piece here.