Monday, September 06, 2010

The Twilight of Nationalism

Nations are making a comeback.

That’s the precise point raised by assorted pundits in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis. And, after all, the World’s biggest, most powerful, most influential country, the United States, is holding together well as a nation. Nationalism there, especially after the events in the last ten years, is resurgent. So it is in China, India and South East Asia, home of half of all people on earth. So, the loose experiments in Europe and loose talk in Middle East do not put nationalism on back foot. It remains, as it was always, a central feature of the modern world.

Besides, if one thought the virtual world, realm of the Internet, will undermine nationalism, it is time to reconsider. The Economist calls this a ‘Virtual Counter-revolution’ – as the nations try to claim the web and erect controls and boundaries. This is indeed very real, anyone visiting China or the Middle Eastern countries will testify. And, such nationally erected boundaries are not an aberration, but the whole reality to people living in these countries. Such national controls are now spreading on mobile communications and all the digital footprints a person may leave behind (including their financial and medical history), and this will make nationalism the most potent cultural force in control of our lives.

Why is this at all important? Ernest Gellner made the point that nationalism is central to modern life, and apart from some presumptive sensationalism from the new media types, there has not been anything significant to suggest that we should scrap nationalism and adopt any other alternative. But also, while nationalism remains such a potent force, economic forces around us is moving to the opposite direction. No one thought the European Union or the Internet will cancel out nationalism; but many people believe that globalization will make it less important.

This leads us to see a conflict, of the economic and social/political forces. It is possible to argue that conflicts such as this usually define the change of an era. A reading of early twentieth century history will suggest a similar conflict – that between emerging nationalism (bolstered by new dynamics of industrial manufacturing, which used local resources and labour but needed global markets) and the established imperialism (which depended on rigged terms of trade, global resources for the production facilities, mainly for domestic markets) – that defined the time. The conflict moved in stages, first an European conflict between established and emerging powers, then a general economic depression which tore down the laws of economics and created a new politics, and finally a globalized war, which settled the conflict in favour of the greatest ‘nation’ on earth, the US of A.

I shall argue a similar conflict is already underway. Indeed, during the time of last conflict, the Imperial Britain reigned supreme and nothing indicated its decline, till it actually crumbled. The end of Second World War may have appeared like the Second Coming of Imperialism to most. But it was not to be, the world changed. One may almost conclude that in these conflicts, economics always wins; that statement will make capitalists happy, but so will be the Marxists, who will call such conflict a conflict between the techniques of production and relations of production.

We are at that inflection point then, and I shall argue that what we are witnessing is not the Second Coming of Nations, but its twilight.

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