The Obsoletion of Nation States and the Family: What Inevitably Fills The Void?

Just as those who lived in an old monarchy could have scarcely imagined representative democracy or commoners rising to become all-powerful dictators, we in our own time are shortsighted.  We are innovative persons constantly perceiving change in our daily lives, but like the frog in the slowly boiled pot of water, we don’t notice the comparatively glacial transitions or the potential for these transitions until they have already transpired.

With the coming of the internet and mass communication the way has been opened for an entirely new era of social relations.

With the gradual transition from powerful monarchs to elected representatives/autocrats, there was a fundamental change at the top of the system.  The next transition is already affecting how we live our lives at the most fundamental level.

In the present era, regardless of how they are administrated, we live in what could generally be referred to as nation states.

Some basic characteristics of a nation state: (the central assumptions haven’t changed much.)

  1. Encloses a piece of land.
  2. Claims all those born on the piece of land by default.
  3. Reserves the rights to tax/conscript those it has claimed.
  4. Is expected to protect and work in the interests of those it has claimed or at least maintain a degree of order greater than would exist in the absence of the state.
  5. Whether or not it has elected representatives, justifies its rights to claim individuals by of an idea of ‘national identity.’  National identity is often predicated upon an ethnic group or at least some shared tradition of unity.
  6. Has the strength and the right to force everyone to participate in its functioning.  It is generally understood and accepted that some degree of coercion is necessary for a state to continue to exist.

With present development many of these basic premises of a state have been considerably weakened or invalidated.

‘National identity’ is a core concept that is quickly unraveling in many of the world’s most influential states.

Europe and the United States have experienced massive influxes of immigrants on account of their high level of prosperity.  These immigrants have reached critical mass and now live in neighborhoods strictly populated by their own kind.  They arrive too quickly and in too great of numbers to be assimilated by the pre-existing culture.  The pre-existing cultures in these Western countries have largely lost their sense of shared tradition and purpose.  Monolithic impersonal corporations define every aspect their lives while the traditions of their ancestors are forgotten.  The pre-existing affluent communities have no purpose beyond attaining wealth and power.  They have no reason to stick together or have children.  The vital, thriving traditional communities of immigrants quickly displace them.  Without a shared ethnic group, a shared tradition, or a shared sense of purpose there is no source of justification for a nation state beyond keeping order.  At best it is a Leviathan, at worst it is simply an uncommonly large protection racket.  Citizens have little reason to comply with the state so long as they are reasonably sure their possessions are safe from their neighbors.  Without some kind of ideological glue, the governing body of the state must rely increasingly upon coercion to exist for another day.

As traditional ideas of national identity fall to pieces, family and clan are also decaying in the prosperous nations that set trends and define aspirations for the rest of the world.  When children are no longer profitable and the pursuit of status becomes an end to itself, the establishment of family and blood bonds become secondary priorities.  For the first time in human history, there are millions of human beings who lack any deep sense of group identity.  Human beings are social creatures who crave connection.  Thus, millions of people are already searching for the next great source of purpose and belonging.  Purpose and belonging that the state, the community, and the family have ceased to provide.  These people are tinder lying about waiting to catch fire.

What provides the spark?  I would suppose that the answer lies in the internet and mass communication.  Let us look back on the first assumption of what comprises a state: It encloses a piece of land.  Yet barring the interference of governments, we can now communicate and send information in total disregard of political borders.  For the first time in history, millions of human beings have the ability to communicate with any person capable of mutually intelligible exchange.  As innocuous as most communication may seem, the greatest power of a state is drastically reduced.  The simple yet all important ability to keep people closed within a piece of land has been severely compromised.  Before mass communication, only people of the same region and social class in the same nation could easily meet and form social bonds.  From the image of one’s highly localized social relationships arose the abstraction of a united state.  Now, someone could form many of those once local bonds with people thousands of miles away in other nations, or in the most distant provinces of their own nation.  If one’s social relationships are no longer defined only by geographical and economic constraints, does the concept of a state necessarily remain tied to a piece of land?

The subset of people that can be encountered face to face by one person in one place in one lifetime is quite limited.  The odds of these people being the best possible people to bond with is also quite low.  The advent of mass communication enables each person to search for the best possible persons to associate with.  Over time, one would predict that pairs of ‘best possible persons’ would increase in number and eventually coalesce into tribes.  Being founded on the most earnest of premises and deepest of commonalities, these groups would enjoy greater loyalty than was ever inspired by a state.

Next, there is the family to consider.  Even in the absence of a concrete political boundary, families have long tied people to one place and provided a basic sense of belonging.  The sharing of genetic material itself makes it highly likely that there will be deep commonalities between closely related family members.  Yet that is not how things have worked.  In a modern society where children are a drain on resources, offspring must be forced to leave the family and fend for themselves.  Fending for oneself demands that one be willing to move wherever the best livelihood is to be found.  This often means living far away from family.  Furthermore, the rapid pace of change in modern societies results in generation gaps.  Entire lifetimes of parents’ experiences are rendered obsolete as children face entirely different challenges.  Respect for age inevitably erodes and transmission of ideas, values, and traditions through the family deteriorates.  The need for each person to fend for the self plus the enormous burden of raising one’s own children results in the reduction of family size and a decrease in the number of families established.  Within a couple of generations you have the present situation.  The family just isn’t as important as it used to be.  Once children no longer live with parents and siblings are scattered across hundreds of miles, family are no longer the purpose of life.  At best, they are like good friends.  At worst, they are casual acquaintances or even non-entities in one’s adult life.  The fading of the family makes it easy to go through life without any real roots or purpose.  There is inevitably an inner void in millions of people as they prove unable to live without some structure that defines them.  Everyone needs community and identity.  At the present time, people are being forced to fulfill these needs by using mass communication.

Given the present trends continue, i.e. no massive collapse of society as we know it, the nature of social relationships inevitably shifts from local acquaintances to ‘best possible persons.’  Loyalty to land-bound nation states is replaced by ‘tribes’ united by kindred spirits and unrestrained by physical location.


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