Wednesday, June 19, 2013

States and Nations 3.0: A History of the global state

Time was when the future and everything in it was bigger and better. Larger, faster cars, supersonic planes the size of aircraft carriers, and even a benevolent world-spanning state. Often the latter was something like an idealized version of the UN write large in the golden age of science fiction during the first few decades after World War II. On television, in books, and even at the movies there were future federations that would end poverty and make war an outdated practice, or at least an actively repressed one.

These days the idea of a global state has largely ridden off into the sunset. While living in Scandinavia I met several people who still saw a global state as the solution to the world's ills. Back home in Nevada, I've known a few on the far, far right, who see a world state as the ultimate bugbear. The Clinton / Bush / Obama administration have all been noted by the latter as conspiring with the UN to strip God-fearing Americans of their firearms so that UN vote observers can complete their takeover of the planet.

Those two far polls, however, distant Utopian and conspiracy theorist nightmare, are pretty much the only place where the global state appears in any kind of serious discussion. In the mainstream national and international forums it's almost entirely absent. And for several good reasons. During the Cold War the Soviet Union and much of the western communist block were only interested in a single global government, and that was a red one established by nationalist post-colonial wars of liberation supported by the KGB abroad. In the United States a wide-spread enchantment with the UN wore off by the 1970s as the organization increasingly saw use as a venue for criticism of US foreign policy, and by the 1980s the organization was widely perceived on this side of the Atlantic as being deeply corrupt and inefficient. During the 1990s the UN stumbled and saw several tragic failures when it failed to contain or end outbreaks of Post-Cold War ethnic cleansing and mass murder in places like Rwanda and in the Balkans - just as its predecessor, the League of Nations had proven unable to prevent the Second World War.

Presently there are so many countries split by internal ethnic and religious violence that the idea of ending war by bringing everyone under a single nation-state has largely lost it's credibility. This shows little sign of changing. With the UN deeply unpopular in the US, the European Union project in disarray, the Chinese government strongly against anything that encroaches on its national sovereignty, and several decades of a very rocky performance by the UN in the Third World, there doesn't seem to be any chance of the UN or any other institution ascending to become world-uniting entity.

Or maybe not...

The arrow of evolution for human collectives has ticked downwards this past century with the collapse of the European empires that ruled most of the world at the height of colonialism, and with the death of the Soviet Union. But it's worth keeping in mind that this is a relatively recent downturn that could prove to be an anomaly. From the end of the last ice-age glacial period until the early 1900s human societies have for the most part grown larger. Previous periods of decline have been temporary. Collapsed empires in Europe, Central Asia, and in East Asia, from Rome to the Han, were eventually succeeded by even larger states.

In the next article we'll look at some of the transnational problems ranging from de-regulated financial markets and shadow economies in the globalized world to terrorism and the spread of cheap, easy to produce weapons of mass destruction that could lead to the creation of a something like a global state or a web of networks and soft power organizations like those that presently run the different aspects of the Internet. We'll also be looking at technologies that might transform us into a global-integrated species, ranging from automated real-time translations that could break of the barriers of languages that currently keep the Internet segregated into linguistic blocks that have few interactions, to human augmentations that alter our outlook enough to make a global state or even a self-organizing global anarchy desirable.

Next up: Mega States

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