Bleg: Beyond/Beneath the Nation-State

21 Sep

Two days ago I put up a post in which I asserted, by the time-honored method of pulling it out of my arse, that

in the long run, more and more political action which shift to cities and thereby ‘hollow out’ the increasingly sclerotic system of nation states which governs the earth and the global level. In a century the nation states will be husks of what they are now and most of the world’s civic business will be conducted by shifting coalitions of cities and regions.

I’m interested in exploring that notion.


Anyone have ideas, suggestions for things to check out, etc.? Any relevant science fiction?

* * * * *

In that post I cited, as examples,

  • the Second Vermont Republic, a group of citizens who want Vermont to secede from the USofA,
  • the Transition Town movement, folks who are adamantly apolitical but who, in anticipation of peak oil, are working toward local self-sufficiency in food and energy and all that that implies, and
  • Mayors of Peace, an international organization of cities seeking to end nuclear weapons by 2020.

What else is there like that, where “like that” is interpreted generously?

Do sister cities programs belong here? The Wikipedia definition:

Twin towns or sister cities are cooperative agreements between towns, cities, and even counties in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties.

And the charter cities movement? Again, the good old Wikipedia:

A charter city is a city in which the governing system is defined by the city’s own charter document rather than by state, provincial, regional or national laws. In locations where city charters are allowed by law, a city can adopt or modify its organizing charter by decision of its administration by the way established in the charter. These cities may be administered predominantly by citizens or through a third-party management structure, because a charter gives a city the flexibility to choose novel types of government structure. Charter cities are similar in administrative structure to special administrative regions.

Special administrative regions:

A special administrative region (SAR) is a provincial-level administrative division of the People’s Republic of China, for which creation is provided by Article 31 of the 1982 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (while the administrative divisions are provided by Article 30 of the Constitution.) Article 31 reads “The state may establish special administrative regions when necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People’s Congress in the light of the specific conditions”.

At present, there are two special administrative regions, namely Hong Kong and Macau, which were former British and Portuguese territories respectively. Neither of them is part of any other administrative division.

Beyond that, will China be able to sit on Tibet forever? What about the Uyghurs in Zingjiang?

And then we have the curious legal status of Native American peoples within the United States:

Tribal sovereignty in the United States refers to the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States of America. The federal government recognizes tribal nations as “domestic dependent nations” and has established a number of laws attempting to clarify the relationship between the federal, state, and tribal governments. The Constitution and later federal laws grant local sovereignty to tribal nations, yet do not grant full sovereignty equivalent to foreign nations, hence the term “domestic dependent nations”.

The conventional money, of course, says that those are all just curious exceptions to the rule of the nation-state, which is here to stay. And perhaps it is. I note, however, that cities didn’t disappear when nations rose up around them. The nations may well stick around, but in somewhat reduced form.

The imaginative money notes several things. In the first place, many existing nation states are colonial constructions cobbled out of disparate peoples who have little more in common than they fact that they lived in contiguous territories ruled by colonial powers. Secondly, while many things no doubt contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, with economic stress perhaps chief among them, it never really was a unified nation in the sense that America has been. Three, Vermont is by no means the only contemporary secession movement in the USofA. Indeed, the world is riddled with secession movements. Four, the European Union is looking mighty shaky. Will it hold, or break up?

Perhaps the biggest threat to national sovereignty comes from the large multi-national corporations, who can, among other things, deprive nation states of tax revenue by moving money around internally. Who rules the USofA anyhow, the citizens through their elected representatives, or the large corporations through their influence on the electoral process? One could make an argument that 100 years from now, or less, the international order will be dominated by these corporations rather than by nation-states.

Not a happy prospect.

Finally, over the long historical haul things change, radically and fundamentall so. The nation-state is a relatively new form of government, less than a millennium old. Why should it be eternal? Is there any reason to believe that humankind has run out of political imagination? I see none.

And so I see the possibility of radical change in the future, but based on principles and mechanisms not yet articulated.


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