As we witness the rise of populist-nationalist reformers all around the world, there is much confusion about what this nationalism actually means. I get the impression that many think they are going back to the nationalism of an earlier time, but there is no resurrecting the past.
What we have called nationalism is the philosophy of the nation-state that arose in the 1860s. Whether in Italy, Japan, or America we saw a vast expansion of state power and centralization enabled by the industrial revolution era technologies like the railroad and the telegraph. The basic idea was that the country was divided up into departments handled by groups of bureaucrats in the capital city.
Mass public education inculcated all the nation’s children in the same values and eradicated local dialects and languages in favor of the speech of the capital province. Germany hadn’t been united in any meaningful way for about 1000 years, Italy not since the Roman Empire. Regions had distinct cultures and often spoke tongues that were not even mutually intelligible.
All those differences had to go so humanity itself could be reduced to standardized parts in the machine. The 20th century with radio, television and its mass mindless herd wars marked the high tide of centralization. What people like to call “globalism” is just a worldwide version of the 19th century style nation-state. The present nationalism is actually a reaction to what they see themselves as continuing in some way! No wonder they are confused about their identity!
The personal computer followed by internet has decentralized networks at a furious pace. The 21st century is about unraveling the monoculture that has grown ever more uniform and dreary over the last 150 years.
Until modern communications, large clumsy bureaucracies always won. Maybe 2 million men died because rubber stamps were put on the wrong forms, but the other 18 million would overwhelm the enemy. In a world of telegraph and then radio there was no real counter to this zerg swarming strategy.
Now though, it is possible for even small, poorly equipped forces to outmaneuver clumsy centralized states indefinitely while inflicting a thousand paper cuts and letting the nation-state waste its energy throwing slow, painfully telegraphed punches at gnats until it gases out. It’s like a claymation giant monster flailing around in vain to kill the heroes or Captain Kirk vs. the Gorn. It’s a simple concept often called 4GW(4th generation warfare) to sound hip.
By the early 2000s poor Arabs with home-made road bombs could outmaneuver the richest empire in history. In the 2010s smartphones lead to the Arab Spring and Occupy followed by the Islamic State.
What we are seeing is an increase in the size of 4G organizations until we are looking at something on the scale of nation state with the flexibility of a small organization. As it matures, this kind of system obsoletes the 19th century bureaucracy-bound nation-state.
The nationalist vs. globalist struggle we see across the developed world is the clash of established nation-states with 21st century decentralized networks. As soon as we understand this it’s clear why the establishment is on the wrong side of history and why in spite of their overhwelming power they can only flap about in furious teary rage as their world falls apart. There is a Tao of the universe and those who try to fight it, no matter how mighty, only exhaust themselves.
The election of Trump is only the beginning of their woes as his momentum carries over and they find themselves under siege in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France, and even Germany.
There is a new age upon us but it will not be a peaceful age. While steadily dwindling wealth remained above a certain line and there was a USSR to scare people, unity went without serious challenge. Since the year 2000 or so we’ve sunk towards the next dark age with rapidly shrinking wealth, low trust, low innovation, and stringent orthodox persecution of heretical ideas. Furthermore, in a nation-state that treats everyone like replaceable parts from cradle to grave no one feels like they really belong or really matter. They plug into an economy to crank out production points for most of their waking time alive with no purpose in sight. This purpose vacuum was waiting for something to fill it and modern communication brought down a Berlin Wall built from bricks of mechanistic nihilism.
It comes as no surprise then that the new organizations arising are very much like tribes. What others call nationalism I call neo-tribalism. As always some will benefit from change while others perish. An age of tribes promises to be a savage one defined by groups fighting over scarce resources in a world where most niches are already over-saturated.
The main discussion between allied emerging tribes right now is what uniting principles will define the new nation-tribe. Some believe it is about a civic polity, those who can participate at a net benefit for the whole. Others believe that ethnicity will be the core.
I think both are right about some things but neither grasps the whole truth. Disembodied communication allows humans to associate by natural predisposition and neurotype. Some tribes will form coalitions of mutually beneficial types and in those coalitions there will be hierarchies of tribes. In time, the tribal coalition becomes a caste system.
Above all, this means the end is coming for enlightenment philosophy that reduces all questions of society to the individual. In the future, society will not be treated as a machine made of atoms, but as an organism made of cells. Societies themselves will finally be seen correctly as competing organisms in the wild rather than lifeless structures that interchangeable atoms happen to occupy.