Saturday, 27 February 2021

Technology and the decline of the nation state

Most people nowadays no longer live in villages, towns or cities but on the internet. 

On the internet nations are an abstract idea.

Some states restrict internet use (China, Vietnam, Russia, countries in the Middle East and in the future the European Union) but only three that I know of (Turkmenistan, Cuba and North Korea) more or less ban it altogether. 

In the democratic countries so far the internet is not linked to territory. 

I could be writing these lines from Bucharest, Bukhara or Timbuktoo. In fact, I am writing this in Bodrum in Turkey. 

Distance has been abolished. Have nations?

Abolishing distance creates many problems. Only the naive imagined that this might not be so. 

People are happy now to work at home, not realising that if they can do their jobs remotely so can people in poorer countries for less money.

An Englishman in Bucharest can live there for decades, speak English at work, with his friends, in shops and restaurants, inform himself through English language sites on the internet and through English language television and never learn Romanian.

I know hundreds of such people.

Americans do the same in Paris.

So do many Arabs in London, perhaps attending a local Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque, though not speaking English is much more limiting than only speaking English.

This state of affairs predates the internet, by the way. Major-General Richard Clutterbuck, the only sociologist I ever came across who was not left-wing, pointed out in the 1980s that because of satellite television and many other things there was no longer a culture in England to which immigrants could be hoped to assimilate.

It was also back in the 1980s that Steve Cohen, a leading English immigration lawyer and author of several books about racism "from a Marxist perspective", said that countries do not belong to the people living in them.

Yet not long ago the world was not globalised. From the first to the nineteenth century the Catholic Church was the only institution in the world that was universal. 

Many people in the nineteenth century were detached from their nation or didn't know they belonged to one (like the villagers near Lake Ohrid who told Bulgarian nationalists that they were simply Christian and that was it) but they were people who rarely left their village and did not read or write. 

Technology, i.e. printing, led to literacy, produced national consciousness and in time nation states, which had formerly been confined to the British Isles, the western edge of Europe and Scandinavia.

Books also created a supranational elite. Dr Johnson said all educated men were of the same nation. He was partly right.

By educated he meant educated in Greek and Latin. As he said,

Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.
In the twentieth century English replaced Latin and Greek as the parole of educated men and women. Still the nation was still almost everything in the old days, the days when most people read the paper, went to the cinema for a treat or on a date and spent their evenings watching television. 

In and through nations human beings understood, created and realised themselves. 

The twentieth century was the time when nation states were most powerful and states were most powerful. 

Nations were not everything - then as now Americanisation, as globalisation was known, was a big thing west of the iron curtain. 

The nation states in the Soviet Bloc had Marxist internationalism instead of American internationalism, but the two sorts of internationalism had some big things in common. They were based on values, albeit different ones, on materialism and belief in progress. 

Communist satellites were ruled by Moscow but in Romania and throughout Eastern Europe not only was the state all powerful but it clothed itself in the flag.

Now everyone is detached from his nation, especially big companies, research institutes and universities.

Increasingly the people in the capitals and biggest cities of rich countries come from other countries. As the Mayor of London Mr Khan said,
'London is anyone. London is everyone.'
Increasingly the capitals and biggest cities have more in common with one another than with the smaller towns and the country.

Hence the rift between the inhabitants of London, Paris, Budapest, Istanbul and their hinterlands. 

Hollywood and Los Angeles now drift away from what Americans call fly-over country but Hollywood has more power than any American institution including the White House and the Pentagon.

The residents of the global cities aspire to status, power and money much more than rural people.  

A big marker of status is being open-minded and internationalist. 

As voters elsewhere increasingly support things the global elite dislikes, like Brexit or Viktor Orban, the young metropolitan graduate class identifies less and less with the countryside, which is the essence and core of every nation, and more and more with their counterparts in other countries.

This perfectly accords with the needs of the world economy and of the multinational companies which gain by moving staff and investments from one country to another.

The young elites feel less inclined to defend the economic, cultural, and demographic interests of their own people – because they no longer so much consider them their own people. 

Anyway, thinking of ones own people starts to seem selfish.

Thinking of ones own people seems outdated, suspect, borderline racist. This is especially so with left-wing parties, which now support not the workers so much as the interests of international finance. How odd are the paradoxes of history.  

It applies to supposedly conservative politicians too. Conservatives have forgotten about the nation just as socialists have forgotten about the working class.

One such conservative is Ursula von der Leyen, the Christian Democratic President of Europe, who considers that welcoming migrants is a European value.

That is one way of looking at it, but migrants into Europe, as opposed to ones moving in the other direction, are a very recent phenomenon. 

If the rights of migrants to settle in Europe are a European value they are certainly a very recent one, like sexual equality, freedom of children from religious indoctrination, the right to privacy and to clean drinking water and many other European values. 

It seems to me that Europe, meaning the European nations, are made not of values but of people or peoples. 

Europe is bound together by all the things those peoples have in common, which is a very long list indeed. Even so moulding them into one demos and thus enabling European democracy to be created seems impossible to me. It's not going to happen. But the more people from outside Europe enter Europe the less things its inhabitants will have in common and the less possible a united or democratic or cohesive Europe becomes.

Is a pan-European nationalism or continentalism possible? 


I am very grateful to my reader Ira Tigermann, the former editor (editress?) of Penthouse Magazine in Croatia, who sent me this picture, which she came across today and which she says is 'almost the same as your thought'.


  1. Why does the countryside reflect a nation’s values? In most nations it is increasingly depopulated and empty, a development that has been going on for a long time now and has recently accelerated.

    1. The countryside does not reflect a nation's values. Values are not important in this context. The countryside is the essence of any country save a city state. Most countries except the ones that were powerful in 1700 are essentially peasant societies but all European countries have roots in the Middle Ages before industrialisation.

    2. Even the essence of the USA is rural America and small town America. Big cities resemble cities in other countries more than the countryside in one country resembles other countries. The word land reflects the sense that the land is the essence of a country.

  2. ‘Globalized humanity, without borders, is a hell. The standardization of ways of life is the cancer of the postmodern world. Men become unwitting members of a great planetary herd, that does not think, does not protest, and allows itself to be guided toward a future that does not belong to it.’

    ‘Men do not resemble one another. Nature, too, is multifariously rich, because he ordained it so. Our Father thought that his children could be enriched by their differences. Today globalization is contrary to the divine plan. It tends to make humanity uniform. Globalization means cutting man off from his roots, from his religion, from his culture, history, customs, and ancestors. He becomes stateless, without a country, without a land. He is at home everywhere and nowhere.’

    ‘I can understand the idea of some cooperation of peoples. I can understand a certain opening of boundaries so as to improve economic exchange. But the libertarian liberal ideology is nonsense. Europe is dying of this selfish delirium.’

    'If the West continues in this fatal way, there is a great risk that, due to a lack of birth, it will disappear, invaded by foreigners, just as Rome has been invaded by barbarians.' 

    'My country is predominantly Muslim. I think I know what reality I'm talking about.'

    Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Now Far Spent, Oct 2019

    1. I suspect his resignation as Prefect of CDW will mean he is no longer considered papabile.

  3. A bit exaggerated. For example a kinsman if mine hoped he could get by with English in Israel - he found out, the hard way, that one has to be able to speak the local language (in this case Hebrew) in order to progress.

    As for national consciousness - the English thought of themselves as English long before printing, indeed long before there as a united English Kingdom. We know this from the Venerable Bede and other sources. The "nations" of students who gathered together when in Rome (and later in Paris) to study theology and Church law were cultural groups - not representatives of political Kingdoms. The nation comes long before the state - for example there was no united German state before 1871 (and even then many Germans were outside it) - but everyone knew what a German was for many centuries before that.

    Still, there is no doubt the internet has had an impact. For example, I know more about SOME people on the other side of the word than I do about my next door neighbours.

    1. The English knew they were English during the heptarchy and the Franks knew they were Franks but the Slavs who lived by Lake Ohrid just knew they were Christians.

    2. I did not mean to suggest that before printing nations did not exist but that to labourers in villages, which most people were, nations were not very important in their daily lives. Religion was. Hierarchy was.

  4. "Hollywood and Los Angeles now drift away from what Americans call fly-over country but Hollywood has more power than any American institution including the White House and the Pentagon."

    Having spent my formative years in the the Midwest and Mountain West, I do not speak of "flyover country."

    Today there was a massive rally of Tigrayans in Washington, calling for sanctions on Ethiopia and Eritrea. I couldn't quite get the directions the cars would take from the woman I spoke to, but it sounded as if they would drive as close to the White House as they could. It is possible that there was such a rally in Hollywood, but I am inclined to doubt it.

    1. I don't understand what point you wish to make. Washington DC can impose sanctions on Ethiopia or go to war in Iraq or bomb Serbia, so yes it has more power than Hollywood. But the power of Hollywood to change the way the world thinks is vast - I am talking of different kinds of power.

    2. Occasionally, when Hollywood happens to say what everyone is thinking, it produces the illusion of leadership. Generally, its successes are marked by servility to what it perceives as public opinion. If Hollywood had true domestic power, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be entering on a second term.

  5. The handheld phone has done more to change culture and identity in the last ten years than many another cultural wave. I watched a documentary about gypsies in Bulgaria — the proliferation of phones has upended/neutralized hundreds of years of customs in what was once a sheltered and exclusive society.

    1. Nowhere is this more true than in Africa.
      The wisest man I ever met and spoke to was illiterate - a lot is lost with learning to read and the internet, but some things are gained.

  6. then as now Americanisation, as globalisation was known

    That's the key point. Globalisation is just another name for American imperialism. Yes I know that using a term like American imperialism makes me sound like a 1960s Marxist but on that score the 1960s Marxists turned out to be correct.

    We are moving towards a global monoculture in which the only permitted values are American values.

    One world, one culture, one set of values. All controlled from Washington. Enforced by the American military.

    It's now obvious that American hostility to the Soviet Union and Red China (back in the days when the Soviet Union and Red China still existed) was not driven by ideology. It was not driven by a dislike of communism. It was driven entirely by American hostility to any perceived threat to complete American global dominance - economic, political, military and cultural dominance.

    It's also now obvious that American hostility to the British Empire had nothing to do with any American dislike of colonialism - it was driven by the perception that the British Empire was an obstacle to complete American global dominance.

    We now live in an Age Of Empire rather than an Age of Nation States, and the US intends to make sure that there will only be one empire. Theirs.

    This is a major graver danger than the danger once presented by communism.

    1. But what is America? Once it was ruled by WASPs and was very conformist and a cultural suburb of England and to a much lesser extent France. What is it now?

      All countries are examples of a sort of Brownian motion but America is changing out of recognition and speedily.

    2. But what is America? Once it was ruled by WASPs and was very conformist

      It's still extraordinarily conformist in the sense that imposing one's views on others is seen as a moral duty. And the idea of imposing American cultural values on others has been a constant for at least the best part of a century. A determination to utterly destroy all political and economic rivals has also been a constant.

      It's true that the specific values that Americans wish to impose on others have changed considerably.

      And I think that an obsession with politicising every aspect of life has been a constant.

    3. The influence of America and the American left has been a disaster for the world since 1990. Of course many would say that it goes back much further, many old school Tories in the 1950s would have said that for example, but Eastern Europeans would not say so. Nor would Iranians today who look to America for salvation as Eastern Europeans did 1945-89.

    4. The influence of America and the American left has been a disaster for the world since 1990. Of course many would say that it goes back much further, many old school Tories in the 1950s would have said that for example

      Those old school Tories were correct.

      but Eastern Europeans would not say so. Nor would Iranians today who look to America for salvation as Eastern Europeans did 1945-89.

      Iranians who look to America for salvation will pay a heavy price for their folly.

    5. America will not save Iran any more than she rescued Eastern Europe but the Persians are right to see America as their friend.

      America on the other hand has little to fear from the unpleasant Iranian regime. I see no American interests that are served by bombing 'Iranian-backed militias' in Syria. It looks to me like America under Biden is serving Israel's interests, as did Donald Trump.

  7. Irina Zvenigovo, a Londoner, comments:
    The remarks about London only apply to some of the people living there. There are a great many ordinary, or even poor people, and different parts of London do provide a strong sense of place. The young have always tended to gravitate there, and this has been healthy, since the city provides work and a focus for ambition. But if they come from other parts of Britain then they are strongly conscious of what parts of the rest of the country are like.
    I'm not disputing that London's more international than Leighton Buzzard, say, but lockdown has had some odd effects. The centre of the city feels hollowed out. The financial sector is clearly operating in cyberspace, rather than in a physical space, and the experience of the City -- still with a lot of building works going on but, as far as I can see, no one ever likely to fully reoccupy those buildings -- is a very curious one.
    Migration generally is down, and many Europeans have gone home after Brexit. To me, the essay feels truer of the bustling Blair and Cameron eras than the present, or what's likely to be the future.

  8. Luke Prausi commented:
    This was something I noticed as a student studying abroad in Germany, in the last couple of years before smart phones became mainstream. I of course didn’t have any sort of mobile phone at the time, but with a laptop and the internet i remained connected to home in a way that would have been impossible just five years earlier. Now with ubiquitous WiFi and iPhones it is impossible to immerse fully in a new culture overseas and therefore integrate. Unless one is moving to the United States and their global homogenous culture.

  9. Richard de Lacy commented:
    These are very broad strokes you're painting about democracy, immigration, technology and culture - necessarily so, given the topic, but I would counter it with the Victorian era. That brought in the pinnacle of globalisation, which ended with WWI and never returned. What we have now is global corporatist, anti-capitalist protectionism, such as the EU. Talking of which, the EU is extremely hostile to non-Europeam immigration, whereas the Victorians had completely open borders. The Victorian era saw greater leaps in technology, which continued for at least half a century after, but now - medicine aside - we have seen five decades of scientific stagnation. And yet, the Victorians were gloriously patriotic, in the healthiest sense (a love for one's country with all its faults), something I've only personally seen in modern-day Russia (hence the incessant conspiracy-loon hysteria about Russia from dribbling cretins all across the West.) I suggest it is because we have the opposite of an elite - Every western country has the most inadequate sector in government. Very sad for those of us who remember Boris Johnson before he resembled Benny from Crossroads reading Lenin.

  10. Alexander Boot commented:
    This piece says many true things, but misses the mark when it comes to the causes of the situation. Technology may have something to do with it, tangentially, but the demise of the nation state has more to do with the Post-Enlightenment ideology. This is a paradox because it was the Enlightenment that created the nation state in the first place, but then history is full of paradoxes. I'd happily go back to the pre-Enlightenment times, and, if that means no nation state, then so be it. In other words, I'd welcome Christian universalism, but not socialist one. Alas, the latter is all that's on offer.

  11. The word ‘integralism’ is a term of art to describe the opposite of liberalism. Liberalism is here understood rather as St John Henry Newman does in the ‘Note on Liberalism’ in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua as the movement to eliminate Christianity as a principle of public policy and public law. This is achieved by altering Christianity so that it will no longer be adapted to function in this way and by amending the principles of the civil order to exclude the possibility. Pope Leo XIII considered Liberalism Satanic.

    ‘A man is certainly the most perfect Protestant who protests against the whole Christian religion.’
    Edmund Burke

    This is a truth that the followers of Islam understand. It is why liberalism’s pose of neutrality is so disingenuous. By implying that religious questions are interminable and therefore not for the public sphere it actually implies that all such claims are false. If we cannot even in principle be sure what religion God has revealed to us, it cannot after all have been God who spoke. By excluding the possibility of revelation liberalism limits the range of socially acceptable religious belief to a flimsy and intellectually indefensible deism. Neutrality between all religions and none is effectively indistinguishable from state atheism.

    Catholics in Britain and America were flourishing, in the second half of the 19th century, under a civil religious ‘neutrality’ which they must none the less reject under pain of self-contradiction. The terrible consequences of accepting it have been displayed throughout the western world since the impression was generally (but incorrectly) received that the Church had conceded its legitimacy without qualification in the 1960s. Catholicism has withered on the vine.
    ‘It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith.’
    T.S. Eliot 

    Alan Fimister

  12. Hotel Baron In Aleppo

    1. Thank you so much Toma. Did you know that the Baron is my favourite hotel and staying there one of my best travel experiences? Along with Lalish in Iraq and the Islands of Mocambique and Quirimba in Mozambique. The last is now embroiled in war, as have the others been since I visited.

  13. You note that even though I do not follow sport I have a compulsion to make cricket teams of best this or that. I shall watch it.

  14. The power of Hollywood is collapsing - its power (although it denied this) was tied to American culture, and Hollywood has come to hate and despise the United States and American culture - this leaves Hollywood "rootless" and it shows in its products. People watch its films and television programmes less-and-less.

    It is the same with the BBC - it never represented a world culture (although it thought it did), it represented British culture as such entertainment programmes as "Dr Who" made clear - when the BBC came to HATE Britain it, eventually, became obvious in the programmes it made. For example, hardly anyone wants to watch "Dr Who" any more - because it is dominated by hatred of British culture (with the Time Lords reimagined as evil racist-sexist.......). The idea (perhaps) was to appeal to new populations, but all Hollywood and the BBC have managed to do is alienate the "old" population, without winning over any new audience.