history International Affairs Politics

The Obsolescence of the Nation State and ISIS

I found an insightful essay by an Israeli writer, Uri Avnery.  The trends of centralization until the World Wars and decentralization ever since has been a favorite topic of mine.

“By the end of the 17th century, existing states could no longer cope with new demands. Small states were doomed. The economy demanded a safe domestic market large enough for the development of modern industries. New mass armies needed a base strong enough to provide soldiers and pay for modern arms.”

As I like to say: The main source of national cohesion is the fear of other nations.

“If I am not mistaken, it was Gustave Le Bon, the French psychologist, who asserted a hundred years ago that every new idea is already obsolete by the time it is adopted by the masses.

The process works like this: somebody conceives the idea. It takes a generation for it to become accepted by the intellectuals. It takes another generation for the intellectuals to teach the masses. By the time it attains power, the circumstances that gave it birth have already changed, and a new idea is required.”

“THE OBSOLESCENCE of the nation-state has given birth to a paradoxical by-product: the breakup of the state into smaller and smaller units.
While the world trend towards larger and larger political and economic units gathers strength, nation-states fall apart. All over the world, small peoples are demanding independence.”

“NATIONALISM WAS a European idea.
It never struck deep roots in the arid fields of the Arab world. Even in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it was never quite clear whether a Damascene, for example, considered himself first a Syrian or a Muslim, whether a Beiruti considered himself first a Maronite-Christian or a Lebanese, or whether a Cairene was first an Egyptian, an Arab or a Muslim.”

“The modern Arab nations were invented by European colonialists…THESE imperialist manipulations ran counter to Muslim history and tradition…THE HUGE attraction of the movement now called “Islamic State” is that it proposes a simple idea: do away with all these crazy borders drawn up by Western imperialists for their own purposes…With one swipe it clears the table of the nation-state and its derivatives. It carries a clear, simple idea, easily understood by Muslims everywhere.”

“THE WESTERN response is almost comically inadequate.  People like Barack Obama and John Kerry, and their equivalents all over Europe, are quite unable to understand what it is all about…They are facing a new phenomenon.”

The Obsolescence of the Nation State, Uri Avnery

Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.
Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

7 replies on “The Obsolescence of the Nation State and ISIS”

The reason this is happening is the technology of defense has become stronger. In the middle ages a castle and a few horsemen could control a nice tidy area. With the rise of gunpowder the castle gets blasted down overnight. Cannon cost money and with cannon you have to disperse your forces, costing more money. For that you need mass armies. Bring in the microchip. Mass is just not what it used to be. It’s difficult to fight something that’s everywhere. A cheap missile can down a plane or an aircraft carrier. Small groups can build drones from commercial parts.

The US should withdraw from all this. A decent interval of concentrated work on the economy could reap great dividends. Switzerland would make a great model. Probably won’t happen though. A shame.

In military power we see arms races just like in the natural world between predator and prey. The prey evolves poison, the first predator to evolve immunity has a huge advantage and maybe even becomes a new specialist species in a new niche.
We both read Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, didn’t we? One of the big changes was when levies and conscripts could no longer compete with professional armies in the 15th to 16th centuries. The cost of military power has increased ever since and I suspect is reaching its peak with the F-35 that last I heard has cost 1 trillion in development, funded by nations across North America and Europe.
It’s illustrative that boxcutters can now compete with aircraft carriers just because of the gap in cost effectiveness.

America’s enormous military is mostly pointless, just another reason why I wonder if Europe for all its problems might surpass the US. Ever since the USSR developed nukes in the 1950s, what is a conventional military good for? It’s great as a jobs program for young people from rural “flyover country” but it is overall an enormous net drain.

One thing Uri Avnery completely ignores is the Israel and the US are responsible for the turmoil in Iraq and Syria. It’s exactly what Israel wants.

Israel has been shortsighted in encouraging US action against the Assad dynasty in Syria when the spread of the Islamic State is by far the bigger problem.
Indeed, there would have been no Islamic state had the US cut a deal with its secular anti-Soviet ally, Saddam, instead of creating a power vacuum in Iraq.
I actually think Obama made the right move looking to make a deal with the Iranians. They’re natural allies against the Sunni “insurgents.”

To make sure you understand my emphasis. Israel controls and drives US policy in the Middle East. They want what they call the Somalization of Iraq and Syria. Planned it for a long time.

I believe not only will they fail they will trigger a weeding out process which only the strong will survive. This surviver will eventually put Israel in great peril. They did the same to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The results were that the last time they went into Lebanon they were soundly defeated. Yeah sure they bombed a lot of stuff but they in no way controlled anything and had to pull back. The Israelis are mentally ill, from the perspective of most normal people, and destroying themselves.

I agree very much with you on the Iranians.

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