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The Arch-Heresy of Our Time

Robert Skidelsky has an interesting piece here on RealClearWorld which takes a look at the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as newly independent nation states by Russia and Nicaragua, the polemics of confusing state and nation. 

The world’s population is about 6 billion. Suppose that it was divided into independent political units of 2 million people each. That would mean 3,000 microstates, each refusing to accept any sovereignty superior to its own. Of course, this would be a recipe for global anarchy.

Yet the trend over the past century has been toward a continuous increase in the number of small states, mainly owing to nationalist revolts against multinational empires. The latest bout of state creation followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Even long-established states like Britain now have strong separatist movements. In its political life, the world has been regressing to a form of tribalism, even as its economic life has become increasingly globalized.

The equation of state with nation is the arch-heresy of our time. A “nation” is, at root, an ethnic and linguistic – occasionally religious – entity. Since it is through language and liturgy that culture is transmitted, each nation will have its own distinctive cultural history, available for use and misuse, invention and discovery.

The state, however, is a political construction designed to keep the peace in an economically viable territory. There are simply too many “nations” – actual or potential – to form the basis of a world system of states, not least because so many of them, having been jumbled up for centuries, cannot now be disentangled.