(Photo from worldatlas.com)
The idea of the nation-state is old and has stood the test of time, but for how much longer?
A nation is exactly what you may think it is: a particular group of people united together with some form of government that possesses defined borders. This is what we think of when we say “nation;” we think of sovereign countries. But what makes those people unite?
Well, for the most part, the majority of nations developed through a particular ethnic group banding together and expanding. Other communities have united through common beliefs or practices, but in the end, there is still a unified nation-state. Through this, the ideology of nationalism—the belief of doing something for the collective, and having pride in your nation and the cultural heritage that is sometimes tied to that—was born.
The Romans developed something similar in their own culture. Essentially, they developed the idea of a unified allegiance to a collective of individuals that you identify with. It was an idea perpetuated by the Roman lyrical poet Horace, who said so famously, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Thios roughly translates to, “It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.”
This became so important in Eurasian cultures that we forced these traditions onto the African colonies, carving out pieces of their world and creating artificial boundaries around them. This was never before part of their culture, but subsequent to the decolonization of countries such as Africa and Australia, the natives of these cultures—if they survived—had to reconcile their own country with the system that had been presented and forced upon them.
Why do we feel the need to create artificial boundaries around large groups of people? Why do we separate ourselves?
Well, for many years, there were ideas of nationalism that were put in place to preserve culture and religion. Now, however, the borders between countries are beginning to blur. The diversity present in many modern countries is quite large, and more often than not, there are a multitude of religious and philosophical beliefs present there. Now this is not to say, by any means, that there is not tension between ethnicities and different religions; however, as a global society, countries—especially in Europe and countries under the European Union—are moving away from the traditional nation-state.
I believe that this is can be a good thing. Many terrible things have been done in the name of nationalism. Countless lives have been taken in the name of conquest, religion, and culture; however, the root of all of this was always nationalism. This is not the rule, of course, but it is nationalism that motivates and gives people the ability to make any justification for their actions.
A great example of this is Adolph Hitler. He believed in restoring the German nation-state, filling it with people of perfect German blood and heritage. In his opinion, the Aryan race was the one. He also believed that he was doing the best thing for his people by eradicating anyone he believed would endanger the gene pool of his perfect people.
Those that were different were taken out of the picture. In other words, he fought hard to eradicate people—Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, cripples, and those with mental illnesses—for the “good” of the nation state.
Now, this is not to say that every nation will be like Hitler’s Third Reich; however, every country has the capacity to mirror, in some form, the ideologies of Hitler’s Nazis. Every nation in history has had the capacity to go in this direction, but not all of them have.
There are plenty of possible negatives from the further blurring of the lines between countries. The ones with the true power will be those who can manipulate culture through media and entertainment. Often, the entities that have these tools are wealthy corporations. Wealthy corporations are also the ones, through the purchasing of elections, with political policy in their pocket, i.e. Citizen’s United.
The continuation of the blur between borders and separate sovereignty signals the increase of the influence of corporations and other entities, which may or may not be a good thing; however, the continuation of the nation state—a very old and traditional system—is not perfect either.
It is important to understand the current trends, and the crossroads the nations of the world seem to find themselves.