Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bad year for nation-states?

So, what does this "bad year" mean for comparative government and politics?

Hope springs: This has been a bad year for nation-states.
EVEN with the best will in the world… the outgoing year could not be regarded as one of the planet’s finest. Between war, disease and insurrection, the past 12 months have often seemed a gory relay for the apocalypse’s four horsemen…

In fact 2014 was a bad year for the very concept of countries, as well as for lots of individual nations. The pre-modern marauders of Islamic State (IS) rampaged between Iraq and Syria, and Russian forces dismembered Ukraine, as if borders were elastic lines rather than fixed frontiers. Boko Haram traduced the sovereignty of Nigeria while the Shabab convulsed the Horn of Africa. South Sudan, a brand new country born only three years ago, imploded in civil war.

But other territories have bravely resisted disintegration… The peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan—not yet a country but perhaps on its way to that status—repelled the jihadists of IS and may have saved Baghdad. In a different, democratic kind of confrontation, but in its way an equally vigorous one, the people of Scotland wisely voted not to end three centuries of union and stayed in the United Kingdom…

Disaster has been averted elsewhere, too. Senegal responded with alacrity to its Ebola outbreak (as indeed did Nigeria). Afghanistan remains one of the world’s bleakest places, but it looks a little less bleak after a peaceful handover of power: the Taliban are still slaughtering people, but politically they are a busted flush. Tiny Lebanon deserves a mention for absorbing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, plus the machinations of malignant outsiders, and continuing, just about, to function…

On our home turf of economics there have been some standout performances. Ireland and Iceland have both pulled clear of trouble, showing that democracies can, after all, implement painful decisions when they must. Unusually among euro-zone countries, Estonia has kept its nose clean. Narendra Modi’s victory in India may come to be seen as the moment the world’s biggest democracy began to realise its vast potential. We may find that out in 2015, too…

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