No More Nation States?

Author, social philosopher, historian, and speaker Roman Krznaric is one of my most favorite writers. I have utilized much of his work in my blog-posts, especially his writing, theories, and organizations promoting a more significant, impactful life with friends, family, coworkers, and community. On Roman’s website he writes an intriguing, thought-provoking article about the modern signs of returning, rising city-states similar to that of 14th – 17th century Renaissance Era”s Venice and Florence, Italy. Are there more advantages than disadvantages to this possible/probable trend?

City-State vs. Nation-state

Britannica.com defines city-state as “a political system consisting of an independent city having sovereignty over contiguous territory and serving as a centre and leader of political, economic, and cultural life.” There is a large consensus that the term does apply to at least three different modern cities:  Singapore, Monaco, and Vatican City. What distinguishes the three city-states comparatively are their higher degrees of sovereign autonomy.

Singapore

Singapore is considered one of the most successful, happiest city-states in the world

A nation-state according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a form of political organization under which a relatively homogeneous people inhabits a sovereign state; especially : a state containing one as opposed to several [ethnicities and] nationalities.” Naming examples of nation-states is not an exact science. It is hotly debated due to the many complexities that make up a nation or a state. Dr. Atul Kohli of Princeton University describes them as “Legitimate states that govern effectively and dynamic industrial economies are widely regarded today as the defining characteristics of a modern nation-state.” Perhaps what differentiates the nation-state from other forms of governing is to what degree it utilizes its complex social, cultural, and economic instruments in unison. Historically these factors morph and change, further fueling contrasting debates. For instance, does a culture of North and South or Confederacy/Union still exist today in the “nation-state” called United States? What does a current approval rating of only 17% for the U.S. Congress indicate?

John Fullerton, founder and president of Capital Institute and contributor to Huffington Post, explains our current nation-states this way:

Ideological rather than pragmatic, a political abstraction that has no grounding in the concrete reality of where and how we live and how life-supporting ecosystems function, the Nation State, together with its political party structure, is not well equipped for today’s most important globally interdependent challenges that cannot be solved through inter-State rivalries where self-interest and might rule the day.

The “City State” predates the Nation State; it endures. Rome is older than Italy, Alexandria is older than Egypt. Cities are expanding as we know. They are already home to more than half the world’s population, and 80% in the developed economies. They are home to 85% of the global economy (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) and much of the evolution of our culture. Like it or not, we have become an increasingly urban species. Visionaries like Jonathan Rose are showing the way to regenerative cities with his timely publication of A Well-Tempered City. At the same time, rural culture, small towns, and life-sustaining rural landscapes, historically understood as essential extensions of the City State, have never been more vital…

Film producer Sharon Chang is optimistic of a more pronounced city-state political, economic, and cultural movement that is more quickly in tune with its citizen’s needs and unleash their ingenuity.

Our political, educational, and industrial systems to date have been designed to operate with constraint rather than abundance. These systems encourage and reward behaviors defined by a zero-sum attitude. Even the most brilliant innovations have been limited within the mindset of arbitrary, war-born lines on centuries-old maps. For some reason, they’re untouchable. We’d never dare to think — let alone color — outside the lines.

[…]

When we put modern industry and technology into a new design of city-state, we cross-pollinate two extremely powerful concepts: exponential growth and diversity. We forge a path of least resistance to true abundance.

In Krznaric’s article The Return of the City State, he cites three contributing factors for the modern rise/need of the city-state. His last and most compelling factor is that nation-states are no longer well-structured for adaptability:

They have failed to deal effectively with issues arising from migration, climate change, wealth inequality and terrorism. This failure partly explains the declining faith in traditional political parties in many countries and in the value of democratic government itself. But it is also behind the rise of cities, which are much more effective at pragmatic problem-solving on issues ranging from flood management to dealing with increasing numbers of refugees.

These are all valid arguments for the removal or reduction of nation-states and the need for a modern return to city-states — that is “valid” in a perfect world of equality, extensive understanding, and overall peace.

300: Rise of an Empire

Fall of Athens, 404 BCE

The Historical Record of City-States

Probably the most notable city-states in history were those of ancient Greece:  Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes. Others were those of Mesoamerica:  Chichen Itza, Copán, Monte Albán, Tikal, and then the cities, or metropoles, of Renaissance Italy like Florence, Genoa, Milan, Pisa, Venice and several others. Though it can be argued that these cities far outlasted their empires which surrounded them and subjugated them — several are still in existence today — they lacked the natural and human resources to defend themselves against large empires or nation-states. Almost every single historical city-state has fallen to mega-states or empires at least once, in certain cases several times.

If our modern world is to return to forms of city-states, hence allowing freer ingenuity and progress, yet weakening or hollowing out present nation-states, how do we avoid the envious big bullies around the corner or on the next continent? Do we make “unbreakable” alliances with all other progressive city-states around the globe to come quickly to our rescue if Goliath attacks? Is that even possible? Will there ever come a day when all imperialistic-minded, narcissistic megalomaniac males are extinct or psychologically pathologically reprogrammed and their potential gullible (like-minded?) masses or followers redirected?

As a diverse species, are we ready internationally for this sort of change or return to a much more localized form of mercantilism, culture, technology, and governing?

(paragraph break)

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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52 thoughts on “No More Nation States?

    • Great points John! Gone are the days where a nation-state is isolated or purely neutral — those shrinking pockets of indigenous cultures/tribes (states?) are all that are left of any hints of pure isolation to an increasing global culture, economy, and hybrid-politics. Ironically, in some ways the U.S. could be arguably labelled one of those “indigenous cultures” when considering our stubbornness (fight?) to hold on to ancient traditions that influence or dictate our policy-making and stunt/slow our progress and advancements.

      That said, in the coming decades or century would 10-12 allied city-states be able to defend themselves against an aggressive dictator leading a powerful nation-state? 🤔😟

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m ready, but I like the old ways. I really like the idea of local mercantilism. Is it safe? Probably for right now, but we all remember the barons of the Middle Ages. But I like the idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Despite my limited study of the subject, the notion of Anarcho-Syndicalism has its appeal to me. Jim and John are (I think) pointing to something broadly similar, though John with a political hierarchy attached. From Wikipedia:

    Anarcho-syndicalists view the primary purpose of the state as being the defence of private property, and therefore of economic, social, and political privilege, denying most of its denizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it. Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred around the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must either be dismantled or replaced by decentralized egalitarian control.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Not with you Jim, which is the former ‘system of equality for all’? Am I being dull-witted? The egalitarianism of Anarcho-Syndicalism is in relation to the individual’s exercise of agency on behalf of the whole — what formerly was ceded to political entities — not to equality of outcome. Yes?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Love the concept Hariod! That is certainly an ideal to strive for. I have my questions (doubts?) as to the exact implementation when we have a long, long, historical genetic disposition for power and making our “sand-boxes” bigger and better than the next guy’s. As one recent leader yelled from his fake “podium”… “My [sandbox] is bigger than yours and it works!” 😦

      Should we begin considering tampering with specific non-egalitarian genomes in teenagers or young adults — ala the 1997 film Gattaca — in order to reduce and eventually remove undesirable human biology and neurology? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, but those same reservations would or could equally apply to city-states and nation-states, yes? Again, the egalitarian aspect of Anarcho-Syndicalism does not apply to outcomes (such as wealth distribution), but rather to each citizen of the community having an equal say in the running of the community — as opposed to ceding agency wholesale to leaders and political entities, albeit elected ones.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Professor, I envisage the collapse of nation states in a not too distant future as a result of climate change disruption. There’s also the threat of a nuclear World War III. Under such conditions, viable surviving cities will rule the day.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That is a valid theory Rosaliene. Applause for you Ma’am. 🙂

      Assuming the imperialistic-minded, narcissistic megalomaniac males are wiped out along with most of their brainwashed bullies (for the simple reason that actively collaborative humans survive better than the ‘Me-Me-ME’S’) in natural disasters caused by climate-change or in nuclear WW3, any ideas as to how the city-states function in egalitarian terms with surrounding rural communities and other city-states? That is, if you have the time to speculate Rosaliene. 😉 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

        • It is difficult speculation, granted. I would hope in those tragic collapses that equilibrium (mutual reductions?) was somehow restored/maintained in order for a more organic/natural reformed rebirth to occur. Of course, that isn’t the case when there is a clear victor, ala the Roman Empire at its pinnacle in the 1st thru 3rd century CE Levant (Holy Land).

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  4. Fascinating read, Professor – as usual!

    My first thought while reading was the old “The rest of NY is just the suburbs of The City” joke.

    The next thought was “Einzugsgebiet” – a German word I’ve had explained to me as “Draw-in area”. It describes the sphere of influence of any given city, the way a German sees it. From how far away does it draw its work force, its local resources etc, and how far does its cultural influence and political clout extend.
    The USAG Graf is considered “Einzugsgebiet” for the small-ish city of Weiden (which itself is considered a ‘tributary’ of Regensburg), but we’re barely a hop and a skip from the massive sphere extended by Nuremberg. Which – and here is where it gets fascinating – used to be a Free Imperial City from ca 1220 to early 1800-something. A classic city-state.

    Even more fascinating – Nuremberg had a fellow “Reichsstadt” rival to the south: the before mentioned Regensburg. And that rivalry echoes in the local culture to this day. As does the influence of these cities on the area.

    One of those ‘echoes’ is a penchant to bridle at too much Federal interference. On the surface, it’s vaguely similar to Americans bemoaning “Big Government”. Right underneath the surface it’s quite different, though. I’m too much of an outsider to really understand the intricacies at work here, but it sounds like a practical mix of ancient feudalism with a seemingly contradictory insistence on personal liberty. A firm basic structure, beyond which everyone pulls in whatever direction they please.

    What you get, apparently, with two former city-states still maintaining their cultural power (and regaining much of their economic pull it seems), is two blatantly different yet similar enough to exist harmoniously subcultures within a 100 mile distance.

    Catholic, medieval, UNESCO-famous Regensburg has BMW and a world-class university hospital. It has glamour. It has romance. The Thurn&Taxis family with castles and parks. 2000 year old Roman fortifications, the oldest still standing (and functioning) bridge in Germany. Tourism galore.

    Mighty Nuremberg of Protestant merchant power is no less ancient, but having been bombed to hell in WWII it shows a slightly different face away from the Imperial Castle and some rebuilt beauty showcasing the wealth of Free Citizens. It has clout. It has one of the strongest economies in the entire Federal Republic. It has innovation. Universities. Many of those focused on engineering, technology.

    If those two aren’t city-states wearing a veneer of “we play along because it’s good for trade but don’t think for a minute we’re your vassals” – I don’t know who is. Maybe NYC? 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodness Shiarrael, I hope you comment here as much as possible! What an excellent elaboration! Thank you.

      I’ll simply ask Are you from or currently living in Germany? Those German cities often arise in studying city-states, along with 2-3 others in Germany. Do you think that if someone like say… an Iranian-Iraqi-Afghani-Syrian Neo-Persia attacked these German city-states today or say in 20-years, would they survive? Why or why not? If you have the time for this speculation, of course. LOL 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Are you from or currently living in Germany?

        Native NYer currently stationed at US Garrison Grafenwoehr.
        Also, sporting (probably) some German ancestors on my mother’s side (we think Alsace-Lorraine and/or Sudeten German).

        Essentially, a monkey let loose on the banana plantation. I’m a highly inquisitive person and here I get to not only dig for long lost roots, but absorb tons of interesting stuff at every corner. Much of the information shared above was learned either through a smattering of books (mostly travel genre, but I also scored a “History of Regensburg” one with English translation and great pictures), or from the friends I’ve made locally. Always the best source for obscure folk tales/customs you never find in print, and of course for pointing out the obvious. I.e. I would have completely missed the Protestant/Catholic part of the rivalry if not for Mr Florian. When for centuries it has been an essential part of how local culture and economy progressed!

        A few of my blog posts incorporate that “American Abroad” theme if that’s something you’d find interesting.

        Those German cities often arise in studying city-states, along with 2-3 others in Germany.

        At a guess I’d say Hamburg should be high on that list, they’re practically the embodiment of the Hanse.

        Do you think that if someone like say… an Iranian-Iraqi-Afghani-Syrian Neo-Persia attacked these German city-states today or say in 20-years, would they survive?

        Wild hypothesis? 😉
        Yes.

        Why?

        They’re experts at survival, their current tolerance of a Federal Central government (in Berlin!! Ugh!) while maintaining a comfortable level of independence, giving credence to that assertion.
        (Random fun fact – Hamburg’s vehicle license plates proudly declare “HH” as an abbreviation of “Hansestadt Hamburg” – leaving the simpler “H” to which it would be entitled by virtue of being bigger and more important to the little cousin Hannover).

        I’d start by taking a look at the Holy Roman Empire – that loose, splintered association of tiny yet vibrant nation states and mighty city-states which nonetheless survived (and prospered!) until Napoleon demonstrated how shaky their alliances had become (there are other military and economic factors, but that would turn this into a book…).
        Then I’d superimpose that image over the current landscape, and examine how far the Prussian (Bismarck to Hitler) dominance has been shaken off, and how much time it had to take root (not much).

        Now enter that basic German trait of practicality (evidence of that is impossible to ignore after you’ve been here for more than a few weeks).

        Ancient rivals like Nuremberg and Regensburg already manage to coexist, even cooperate to mutual benefit. Even though their close proximity causes ample occasions for conflicts of interest.
        Sure, part of that is the central Bavarian government in Munich smoothing the waves when needed. A much bigger part is the tacit “Trade is better than yelling, yelling is better than bashing each other’s heads in” agreement. Lessons learned from a long, long history. They can be slow learners, those Germans. But once they’ve grabbed hold of an idea, good luck getting them to let go.

        During times of minimal (and mostly beneficial, if betimes annoying) outside interference they’re content to each “cook their own soup” (charming German idiom, courtesy of Ms Sabine).

        But I do think that if an outside force were to become a serious threat, simple practicality would prompt the most influential city-states to pool their resources. A temporary arrangement for mutual benefit.

        It is entirely possible this wouldn’t happen at the drop of a hat (Germans. It takes them a while to sort out the logistics. To discuss, debate, haggle over subclause 23ii section B). I’d go so far and say an initial assault would have excellent chances of doing massive damage.

        Do not. Frighten. Germans.
        Bad idea. Bad. They don’t get angry. They go practical on you.
        Not in a good way.

        It wouldn’t be pretty. It wouldn’t be quick.
        But they have the economic power, the money, the alliances, the massive experience to back them up (I just talked about Europe’s rise to dominance due to their excellence in warfare over with Jim – another wild hypothesis).

        They have all the things that win wars. Clustered and concentrated in the city-states. I’d pity the fool poking that particular sleeping giant.

        Liked by 1 person

        • HAH!!! You don’t say! Alsace-Lorraine, huh? It just so happens that my family heritage (on my paternal side) come from the exact same region Sir. If you’re interested, this post “Legacy” gives a bit of our family history. Hell, you and I might even be distantly related. Hahahaha. On my maternal side (which was much more mobile eluding the Catholic Church apostacy-hunts or genocides) the Waldensians from the Italian-French Chambons-Mentoulles of the Cluson Valley up to Charlottenburg, Germany (My Heretical Heritage).

          A few of my blog posts incorporate that “American Abroad” theme if that’s something you’d find interesting.

          I am interested in finding those blog-posts.

          Yes, Hamburg and Berlin. Apparently Bremen comes in 3rd. But as I mention in my post, naming them is not an exact science because of so many complexities of diversity and regional factors; and then there’s the time-periods or anachronisms. Would you say then Shiarrael that Germany has buried their gullible tendencies of the past toward singular-centralized oligarchies or Führers? Have they learned the power-strength in big numbers concept as opposed to a few (or one) in total control? I mean, in the animal world, especially the insect world of strength in numbers as a eusocial Superorganism, survives and continues much better than divided and subdivided. Are Homo sapiens capable of this sort of unity and behavior?

          I must also state that, at least here in the U.S., thorough advanced BROAD history and the related social sciences (paleoanthropology) have been in scary decline, almost as if it is an expendable Fine Art. 😦

          I’d go so far and say an initial assault would have excellent chances of doing massive damage.

          Like a Blitzkrieg? 😉

          Regarding the Sleeping German Giant. I will NOT argue that.

          Liked by 1 person

        • It’s Madam – but Shia will do 😉

          But oh, wouldn’t that be a riot? All things considered, the region is not that large and at least distant cousin-ship might be possible. Alas, mom’s family has never been vigilant about preserving their family history – all we have are snippets and anecdotes (other than dad, whose Scandinavian roots are not only obvious in his appearance, but can be traced quite far back).

          Would you say then Shiarrael that Germany has buried their gullible tendencies of the past toward singular-centralized oligarchies or Führers?

          From personal observation and talking with living, breathing, contemporary Germans?
          Yes.
          In fact, the vast majority (even those somewhat in favor of centralized government for – what else – practical reasons) are highly suspicious of too much power in too few hands.

          That is not to say they don’t still have their own right-wing groups and “Forever yesterday” people, these days usually to be found in the far right ranks of the AfD. Yet while said political party has grown alarmingly in past years (and even gained some measure of legitimacy by winning a handful of seats in parliament) it’s ironically because a lot of Germans wanted someone to harry the established power blocs. That, and a knee-jerk reaction to too many immigrants in too short a time span.

          You see, for the past 4 years they had a “Grand Coalition” – their equivalent of Republicans and Democrats forming a government together – (yes it took me a minute to get over that, too) and the small opposition parties were perpetually outnumbered.
          German logic? During the elections this past fall all the small parties gained between 4-15% each. (Incidentally, this is why they still haven’t formed a new government by now. Coalition talks keep running into walls).

          Still, even comparatively conservative Bavaria keeps a watchful eye on the AfD’s right fringe. Even the most “What are we, Europe’s piggy bank?” nationalists will argue economy (often comprehensively and reasonably) rather than just parrot anti-immigrant slogans. Even culture-warriors (“These people don’t fit in here!”) will all too often cite legitimate concerns, such as the distressing inability of Middle Eastern religion to conform with German law.

          What is conspicuously absent, aside from some isolated and roundly disapproved of incidents, is a Charlottesville-like outpouring of “Blood and Soil” idiocy.

          They have learned something to be sure. But they go about it in their own way 😉

          Maybe a good idea for another blog post one of these days? I promised to finish the Denmark Saga first though ….

          Are Homo sapiens capable of this sort of unity and behavior?

          I haven’t the faintest idea.
          Yet my thought is that no, we’re not built that way. Not necessarily a bad thing, if we can achieve harmony among diversity. That I think we can do.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Two years of college, lots of travel since my youth (“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,…), a taciturn but wise father, and a mother who bought me every book I ever wanted since I was 4 years old 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        • OMG Shia!!! You use one of my all-time favorite Twain-quotes and THEN share how much you’ve travelled, and then if THAT were not enough… you share two wonderful traits about your parents!!! SHUT THA FRONT DOOR Nellie… you are so damn lucky!!! You know that!? 😲🤗

          P.S. The reason I didn’t join the service after high school is because my collegiate, then pro, then finally semi-pro soccer career took flight — thus my world travelling. 🙂

          Like

        • Oh, it’s one of my favorites, too! 😀

          But yes, I know. Impossibly lucky. “Pinch me” lucky.

          I remember you writing a post about soccer once – so that’s where your expertise comes from! That’s pretty damn amazing (and don’t you dare apologize for not donning the uniform, if anything we need more professors/academics/scientists/smart people than ever right now!)

          Annndddddddd… is that some kind of an issue?

          It is when you’re supposed to finish a performance review your CO has been waiting for since … uhh… last week? 😛

          Liked by 1 person

        • If you’re on my site, I’ve a category “Travel – Souvenirs from Romulus to Antares”

          If you’re in WP reader, the “About that National Security Speech” and “A Soldier’s Christmas” best fit the German/American juxtaposition theme (and add a few regional quirks).

          “Je Suis Charlie” is older, but has Germany, England and of course France

          Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a very thought-provoking idea, for sure. Ros’ point about climate change is spot-on. If large nation-states cannot work together to mitigate it, how could many more small city-states do so? Also, I cannot possibly imagine a world of 7.5 billion people coexisting peaceably under a structure of city-states. Wars would probably be smaller in scale but far more numerous. The history of ancient Greece provides an example of what we might expect, except that the weapons they had back then were simply bronze swords and shields.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed Robert. Somehow some way we Homo sapiens absolutely MUST find methods of better, more dynamic, meaningful understanding, knowledge, patience, and collaboration amongst us — no matter all the ‘divisive’ prideful “distinctions” — and view ourselves simply from planet Earth. Period! But can we ever remove or reprogramme those primate genes… soon enough? :/ 🤯

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What comes first, the change in social system or a fundamental shift in consciousness? Do we need to evolve and attain a sense of balance before we could successfully attempt something like this? I don’t believe any type of system can survive the brutally hateful, greedy, dysfunctional and power-hungry type of beings that number so many among us.

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  7. Pingback: No More Nation States? | Matthews' Blog

  8. To my mind the City States remain autonomous because nobody has thought, or had a reason to think: ”Hey, let’s invade these guys, because ….”

    The day they find a reason to build a whacking great horse and leave it just outside Le Palais des Princes de Monaco it might be a different story.

    From the outsiders perspective, I am sure a state such as Monaco must be seen as a retreat for the Rich and Famous. ”Shaken not stirred, and where’s the salon for chemin de fer, silver plate, garkon?”

    As for the Vatican?

    Hmm …. Let Christianity succumb to a terminal dose of secularism and see how long that place lasts. That is if a philanthropic organisation such as ISIS don’t suddenly obtain blanket pilot licences and a certain amount of fissionable material beforehand.

    In truth, can’t see it happening. Besides, how would we ever keep out the kytes, yids, heebies, blacks, coons, pakkis, coolies, frogs, krauts, eyeties chinks, charlie, wetbacks, wogs, slanteyes, Japs, sambos, porras, ragheads, pansies and pooftahs, lesbians, left wing scum, Manchester United supporters … and quite frankly, old boy … the likes of you!

    Sorry sport. Servant’s door is around the back.
    😉
    Ark

    Liked by 1 person

    • In truth, can’t see it happening.

      Even if something of IMMENSE value or power is stored, hidden, or built within the city-states center that an enemy or nation-state like China badly wants/needs? And a nation-state — or any other “sovereign” entity for that matter — CAN keep all those types out, for decades or centuries; in other words, completely impenetrable? What sovereign entities are always impenetrable? 😉

      LOL… Servant’s door. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

      • It all boils down to Us and Them. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours’ is your’s and if you touch mine, buster, you’re sure as hell are gonna get yours!

        In the end, we are all human beans and as Robert Hite Jr. once sang …

        Liked by 1 person

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