Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, September 15, 2008

The nation-state myth

This is an interesting essay by Devin Stewart [right], Director, Global Policy Innovations at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Editor of policyinnovations.org.

It would be a good tool to use when asking students to evaluate the accepted definition of nation-state in their textbooks.

Ending the Nation-State Myth

"This fall, thousands of college students will be taught a myth presented as fact. It is a myth that has helped fuel wars and may hinder finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Though the origin of this myth is cloudy, science has proven its falsity, and a globalized world has rendered it anachronistic. I am talking about the nation-state.

"The nation-state myth conflates two ideas, one that is concrete, the state, and one that is fuzzy, the nation. The utility of the state is clear. It is a necessary organizing principle that allows people to pool their resources for the common good and mobilize against common threats, whether they are floods or invading armies. The state is also the final arbiter of law. State power is even on the rise, partly as a backlash to globalization and as a result of growing wealth from energy markets.

"But the nation-state as a basis for statecraft obscures the nature of humanity’s greatest threats. Pollution, terrorism, pandemics, and climate change are global phenomena. They do not respect national sovereignty, and, therefore, they necessitate global cooperation.

"The origin of the nation-state idea is unclear...

"This division of core and periphery is common in many countries...

"It is difficult to imagine a nation that is confined to one state or a state that contains one nation...

"If policymakers are to address today’s problems, they must think more broadly. One place to start may be to reexamine the concept of the nation-state, which students around the world are taught...

"As the philosopher Peter Singer showed in his book One World, a united front against the biggest problems facing the world will require a fundamental shift in attitude – away from parochialism and toward a redefinition of self-interest.

"Enlightened self-interest can be state-based, but interests would be re-defined to encompass universal principles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If these interests are to gain universal recognition, we will need to shed the nation-state myth once and for all."

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