Why stand up for the nation state? Isn’t this a bit out of date?
I don’t think so. The nation state still has a vital place in human society – for several reasons, the first of which has become particularly relevant during the current pandemic.
The nation state has borders. Borders allow nations to protect themselves from things like the Covid-19 virus, international crime and terrorism.
The nation state stands for the dispersal of power. It limits how much power is accumulated in one place or by one person or group. Too much concentration of power tends to serve only the purposes of the powerful. Think of the unelected élites who run multi-national corporations which (some would say) have more power than most national governments. Power corrupts.
I think this is part of the meaning of the mysterious story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel. Having one language the people of the earth come up with a plan to build a great tower which will reach to heaven and “make a name for themselves”. In other words, this is a project of self-aggrandizement. God steps in and confuses their language so that they are no longer able to work together. Why? I think it’s an act of divine mercy. Too much power concentrated in one place doesn’t work out well, particularly for those at the bottom of the social structure.
The nation state stands for cultural diversity. Part of the richness of worldwide human culture stems from the fact that we speak different languages, live together as distinct communities within defined borders and have evolved different styles and traditions in everything from cooking and clothing to architecture and the arts. Do we want to squash that? We already suffer from too much uniformity. There is more to life than Starbucks on every street corner across the globe.
The nation state works better for the poor. Professor Sir Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. Writing about the need for “socio-economic convergence” in the European Union, he says this:
St Paul seems to suggest that the nation state is part of God’s provision for human flourishing. Addressing the intellectuals of Athens he says:
The Bible hints that the rich cultural diversity of the nations is here to stay: it will be part of the glory of God’s new creation, which the book of Revelation pictures as a great city. Not only that, but the nations themselves will in some sense continue to have their place:
7 thoughts on “In praise of the nation state”
Really interesting Biblical backing to idea of nation state. Totally agree!
So glad you agree! Something I’ve wanted to say for a long time…
I think cultural identities. as individual’s identities, are valuable to God – but reading this I can’t help thinking of brexit and devolution etc Is there a tension between affirming separateness and need for establishing alliances?
Yes I think there is a tension. Clearly we need alliances but I think alliances are possible without surrendering to the undemocratic concentration of power in too few hands. From what I’ve read that is what most treaties are about – forming alliances without diminishing (let alone abolishing) difference and the power of independent action.
It would be good to get together for a proper talk sometime!
Hi Mark! Gosh, this is interesting – and impressive! Well done! 🙂 – On the need for nation states, see Roger Scruton, [England and] The Need for Nations (two versions, it seems: 2004 & 2006).
Hi Philip – great to hear from you. Glad you liked my piece. I haven’t read that bit of Roger Scruton, though I have read a little of him. I much enjoyed an interview Giles Fraser did with him (I think on Unherd).