Replacing Nations with City States

The time has come to dismantle the 18th century nation state

by Mike Meyer

Now is a good time to start thinking about replacing the nation state. When was the last time you heard something good coming from a national administration?

There were times when such things happened but they were few and have become very far between. In fact the good things that happened, marriage equality as an example, were the result of popular demands overcoming political and/or gutless hand wringing. This was done at the local level embarrassing the national administration into ending the confusion between states.

Most national administrative announcements are ineffective, incompetent, or destructive. The list is long under any of those terms. Trump’s pointless trade war with China for bragging rights, Bolsonaro’s dancing while the Amazon burns, and India’s throwing of a political molotov cocktail into Kashmir, are just some current examples.

Then there is the G7. This is the essence of what the modern nation state has produced. Normally this is media covering a very expensive political photo opportunity that ends up with a rather vague and pointless statement. The real interest is in pratfalls, gossip, and spousal insults.

Sadly, Trump has destroyed even this semblance of order by performing his usual juvenile tantrums while exhibiting his ignorance. For 2019 even the statement was foregone as the G7 leaders were busy cleaning up after the irrational Mr. Trump. This was considered to be an improvement as Trump was sidelined and ignored but that simply made things worse.

The world was presented with a full display of Trump prancing, insulting, and talking incoherently. It didn’t help that another opportunist, Boris Johnson, was aping Trump although that level of mental illness and incompetence is hard to beat. As a result Boris simply looked small time and confused.

It has already been suggested that the G7 is an anachronism and should be canceled until such time as their is a group that could provide useful leadership without the embarrassment of people such as Trump. That would be solved by simply eliminating nations and recognizing metropolitan regions as city states. That would provide a much more pracitial, working level of administration directly in line with the great majority of the planet’s population.

Outside of the planetary spotlight, nations stumble from disaster to conspiracy to scandal. Unfortunately there is usually nothing different in between these things.

Not that administrative business fails to get done. Most things roll along beneath the smoke and turmoil unless the national level manages to become a full trainwreck. Things get really messy then as we are seeing.

We have growing problems with this in the US, Great Britain, Brazil, Israel, Turkey, Hungary, and others. The two traditional leaders of the Western civilization seem to be aimed at early collapse in some form. GB is, seemingly, set on suicide in the interest of not being part of the planetary economy and the US is on the verge of disintegration with the irrelevance of its military empire.

The problem is the nation state itself. Large bureaucratic entities that become redundant have, historically, turned to self destruction. In the past this was the fall of empires. Short of outright invasion by another emerging empire these tend to collapse under their own weight on a consistent historical cycle.

But the age of empires is over. The American Empire is crumbling, the British empire was disbanded and tried to retain the wealth and influence without the political baggage by becoming part of the EU, but even that has proven to be too much. Large nations and empires seem to have an inherent death wish when their time has some. They seek a nasty end for themselves no matter what.

Russia is proving that you can’t simply go back and build another empire once the one you had collapses. With enough money you can pull some of the pieces back in line but the more sophisticated ones are now very hard to control. There is no longer an easy to understand benefit to being part of an empire while the problems are very well known and growing.

The essence of an empire, and for that matter, a nation state is an adequate citizen population that defines itself by the successes of the nation. Historically this was the aristocracy and nobility of a kingdom or an empire who had very clear economic, political, and social advantages over everyone else. This did include an obligations to the full population but that was usually left to the discretion of the elite.

The mass of the citizenry had the benefit of a stable economy, some opportunity, and traditional protection from pillaging, burning and raping by competing populations. In the nation state the winners were a larger group, redefined as the middle class, who were given benefits and opportunities for being loyal. Increasing the size of the economic elite added wealth to the economy so there was an obvious reason to add diversity to the original aristocratic elite.

It’s a tricky balancing act with success a greater danger than failure. If fairness and equitable distribution of assets with steady growth of assets is maintained this tends to hold things together. Too much success with the inevitable problem of a ridiculously wealth elite emerging, locking in power,and playing to greed and divisiness to hold their power leads to the breakdown of common goals and, ultimately, imperial or national collapse.

We saw the death of older empires in the 20th century that were too inefficient and unable to manage mass, educated populations. The growth of communication technology clearly drove the stake through the heart of these beasts. The exceptions were the US, China, and India. These are hybridized empires that have survived as nation states. But now the nation state is consuming itself as greed and traditional bigotry spreads with no clear benefits except to a authoritarian elite.

People now have massive, direct power in communication. This power has achieved a critical mass in metropolitan centers that are direct administrative regions for populations, often, larger than the old empires. But they are compact, urban, and open internally.

The combination of flash communication, memes and shared interests heavily influenced by symbols and icons has created a new human entity that has replaced the old citizenry of an empire or nation. Most significantly they don’t need leaders.

Instantaneous and continuous social communication allows a new type of direct and totally subversive mass action. This has been evolving steadily over the last thirty years to forty years. From the People Power revolution in Manilla in 1986 to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, to the Arab Spring, and others, this has been a rising force.

Of course most of these ended up being identified as failures or short lived changes. The important thing is that these have steadily evolved and are stunningly different from anything in history. We are seeing the evolution of the first form of direct democratic, metropolitan, planetary civilization.

The large imperial nation state seems to have no other option but to take on the characteristics of old authoritarian empres. The ability to hold hundreds of millions hostage to a distant authoritarian government that is dedicated to the well being of a small, vastly wealthy elite in an instantaneous global network requires a rat race to massive technological suppression of information and communication. The inherent contradiction of needing to destroy communication and information in order to survive makes this unsustainable.

In the conflict with large, imperial nation states who have increasingly omnipresent information and massive militarized police, the route to control is continuous mass popular action with no obvious leaders. Traditional suppression is tied to identification and removal of leaders. A movement has always been driven by its human leadership and that is also its greatest weakness. The absence of leadership is a paradigmatic change.

We are seeing this in the Hong Kong insurrection. Millions of people and no leadership is forcing the PRC into an impossible situation. They can only use massive military force to suppress this rebellion but the cameras of the planet are on every step of this process. No matter the sophistication of the censorship word of the Hong Kong action for direct democracy is getting around. The PRC knows its history and the mandate of heaven can be taken away. Likely this will result in completing the breakup of the PRC into dozens of mass city states like Hong Kong.

This was presaged in a very early form by the collapse of the British Empire in India but this still needed a leader, Gandhi, to act as a voice of a voiceless population. A much later example was the Occupy movement in the US. Action was forced but the movement had to be publicly declared a failure because there was no one to hang as a symbolic leader. Whether or not it was a failure is an issue of defining goals.

Can you force change and illustrate organizational weakness of the ruling institutions with disruptive action? Can you do it with communication technology and no clear leadership respecting full democratic action. This now seems to be on the verge of success but the ultimate changes are at a deeper level than the stated demands of the actions groups. These deeper theoretical level changes need to rise up en masse in the active population to avoid targeting of leaders by the desperate nation state system.

This deeper change appears to be the elimination of the nation state. In every situation this is a movement based in urban populations often in direct support of their city. The fight is control of the metropolitan administration in the interest of the population of that metropolitan region. The enemy is the oppressive weight of the old national administration or regime.

We can include in this the Moscow movement demanding open elections in opposition to the old style fascist rule of the Russian government under Putin. The June 2019 local elections in Turkey took Istanbul away from the Erdogan’s national government party. And the US Sanctuary Cities are in direct opposition to the national Trump regime.

What does this mean? Metropoles are the new center of human civilization. National governments are redundant and the center of repression. Within thirty years we will be at between 80–90% urban populations. These metropoles are the administrative units that people live with and care about.

The aberrant nature of 21st century politics in the US and GB and many other nations based on apathy and anger at the national government systems is a clear indication of change happening. The old is being ignored and is becoming more of a problem as a recognized disease vector in human society.

All of this is occurring under the climate crisis that, without massive and immediate action, may well destroy our civilization in the next thirty to forty years. Part of that massive action will be buttressing or moving our largest cities against sea level rise, heat, drought, and loss of food resources.

I see this as a force with many aspects nearly all of which will force populations into urban regions able to orchestrate climate defenses for people and to maintain centralized and efficient production and distribution systems. This includes complete reliance on renewable energy through photovoltaic, offshore wind farms, and orbital solar power transmission. This is not going to happen quickly in thousands of small town and cities that are already collapsing.The nearly universal stagnation of national government based action on the climate disaster appears to be insurmountable.

This would strongly suggest that regional, i.e. urban, governments are what is needed. These are as big as the more successful nations but are local government rather than two or three steps removed. We need efficient and coordinated action to prevent collapse of our planetary civilization. Where else can we go for action?

Moving quickly to a more efficient and less redundant administrative structure will make it easier to create planetary level coordination of climate action while ensuring democratic and direct rule by the people of this planet. It may be possible to create administration without leaders.

That is a rather amazing thing to consider.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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