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21st Century Nationalism Is Not The Nation-State

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.

Rethinking the State

A product of enlightenment thought, the nation-state tried from the beginning to make people into interchangeable citizen-workers. Whether in Japan, France, China, or Italy, no matter when, the program was always the same—to force everyone to speak the dialect of the capital city, wipe out regional differences, and mandate total participation in an impersonalized money economy. It allowed humans coordinate as never before, every citizen with an identification number and papers tracked from cradle to grave, everyone pumped through the same school system to be given the same standardized knowledge and experiences. By the 19th century, homogenized mass states were behemoths able to easily crush other forms of organization. The nation-state craze led to the colonization of most of the planet and culminated in the relentless meat-grinder of senseless world wars. Then an unstoppable force began to come apart.

The one-size-fits-all philosophy of the nation state is its demise. When nationalism stripped away traditional cultures, it never really replaced them with anything of substance. By making all a country one place, all the country became no-place and everyone became no-one. After the world wars, the cognitive dissonance was finally overwhelming. What had all the death and destruction been for? The mass state could grind on like a machine for its own sake and take on a hideous inanimate life devoid of the capacity to care.
The illusion of purpose in the nation-state slipped every time 100,000 young men ended up dead over one mile of ground or a beautiful ancient city was bombed flat for an airy idea. For some decades longer nationalistic zeal was perpetuated by the antagonism between the USA and the Soviet Union. But one could not continue without the other. Without the distraction of threatening outsiders, growing internal divisions could no longer be ignored.
Now, internet and smartphones have made 19th century nationalism obsolete. This is because the advantage of factory-style nationalism is the ability to coordinate millions of people at a time, however clumsily, and overwhelm the enemy.
This is a strategy appropriate for a world where the telegraph, railroads, steamships, and mass production were recent technologies. 1860s nationalism was a way for states to take full advantage of those advances in logistics and communication to crush their competitors. One mistake from a general or bureaucrat could get a million men killed, but so long as the other 10 million made it through, they could win the war.
The problem is communications and logistics have continued to rapidly develop since those days. In an agile world nation states are like drunken giants—mighty, slow, and clumsy.
War has left archaic nation states behind. Paralyzed by the threat of nuclear war, they continue to waste their wealth on massive conventional weapons that just sit there. When they try to use them against small, agile non-state groups, they fail. It’s like trying to swat mosquitoes with missiles.
The world of commerce has left the old nations behind. Corporations have little connection to any nation and they make a profit wherever they can. They are like nomads going from one pasture to the next as they will. When one archaic nation is used up, on to the next.
Culture is leaving behind the nation state as well. With the internet, only language barriers really limit communication any longer. This inherently challenges the ability of each nation to keep a closed off herd with limited access to information. It would be hard for us to imagine WW1 with smart phones. Everyone’s Mom and Dad would see the piles of dead on facebook and everyone would quickly realize the whole disaster had been caused by the machinations of a few effete nobles. With modern communications borders on a map are no longer the main way people determine affiliation. People are still limited by geography, but within their range, they naturally group with others who are like them and share their interests. This is the re-emergence of tribal identity within nations. In United States, politics become increasingly divisive as each faction in a diverse population begins to become more conscious of itself as a separate entity with its own interests diametrically opposed to those of other factions. Elections are thus becoming zero sum competitions to see which groups can screw over the others.

The nation-state became dominant even though it was less efficient and natural to humans than tribal groups because it could operate on a much larger scale. With mass communications, tribal groups can now also operate on a massive scale, neutralizing the advantage of having a monolithic nation.
I have pointed out there will be a state even if it’s just the local gang running things. The difference is there will be tribe-states instead of nation-states. This will mean the rules that could once only be applied to small groups will be applied to large groups.
In my latest articles discussing the ethics of economies, I am applying the rules of small societies to large ones, anticipating what the tribe-state might look like. The enlightenment thought that ultimately devolved into relativism and nihilism in government, commerce, and culture will be abolished. Every action by everyone will be understood to have a purpose in accomplishing a common goal.
It won’t be an order of equality, the most valuable will be rewarded best, though in proportion to what they offer. There will likely be informal castes where different types of people are encouraged to stick to what they’re best at. And I doubt it will be a peaceful time. The world is overpopulated and people are now scrambling to join whatever group they think will help them grab more scarce resources. History doesn’t take breaks and humanity is about to begin another big transition. There could be a dark age for awhile, but it will lead into the next age.

Money Should Only Belong to Cooperators

Every dollar is a vote—so it is of supreme importance to make sure these votes are given into the right hands.  Someone of low character with millions of dollars can cause great damage to society just by influencing the market with their preferences.  Imagine a political election where ambitious psychopaths get super-ballots worth 10,000 normal votes.  It sounds bizarre if we think in terms of elections for political office, yet this is how the economy works and most of us are okay with it.
We approve of parasitic financiers hoarding away millions or even billions of dollars.  So long as someone “earns” their wealth, we don’t care if they’re being awarded in proportion to the value they contribute or even if they intend to use the group’s very lifeblood to defect.  In a system of economic nihilism, where economies are left to drift without guiding purpose, nothing matters so long as you get money while managing to stay out of a jail cell.

If the economy gives great rewards to people who contribute relatively little value, we can envision the heart sending the best of its blood supply to the appendix, or in the case of someone who harms society, to a tumor or tapeworm.  We see this circulatory system acts against the interests of its own body.  It’s a violation of natural law that strikes us as repulsive and wrong in living things, but most of us are unable to make the abstract leap from what we understand viscerally.
That is how the lower castes have always been subjugated, not primarily through force, but through their inability to extend principles.  Under the influence of economic nihilism even those capable of deeper reflection have forgotten that the distribution of society’s influence points is one of the most important and sacred tasks, vital to the success and continuance of a people.

We are told, for instance, that the job market is about giving jobs to the most competent and hardest working.  In practice, this really only applies to the most skilled and important work.  The vast majority of work can be done somewhat competently by most people with a bit of training.  So in practice, jobs are foremost billets we use to support members of society.  The act of hiring someone isn’t “just business,” it gives someone a sacred mandate to exist in society and benefit from its fruits.  Even with low pay, a worker is given money that will supply at least some of the necessities of food and shelter by permission of the many.  If we buy a sack of potatoes rather than stealing it or growing it for ourselves, we do so by accumulating enough dollar votes, each of which is a material token of the collective will.  What could be more amazing than a piece of such abstraction made into a solid thing?
To pay someone well carries even greater meaning.  It allows a person not just to survive but to have surplus needed for offspring and the leisure and buying power required to exert influence on society.  This is to plant the seeds of a garden, to elect someone who will form the character of society for generations to come.  Yet we ask only if they can do the job the best, not whether they are deserving of the distinction of holding society’s precious wealth or whether they will handle that responsibility well.
More important than doing the job as well as possible is to be a cooperator with the group’s mission.
This is why the owner of a small business hires a friend even if the world is full of people who may be better qualified.  The owner trusts his friend and his wealth goes to an ally rather than a stranger.
This is why in the long run a nation that prides itself on “work ethic” over allegiance loses to tribes that put allegiance first. Thus, the nation-state model that’s gone global since the 1860s is now challenged by the tribe-state.
A small tribe doesn’t have a “job market” with little worker atoms floating around. It has slots with roles that need to be filled and those slots are given to the best and most loyal. The choice of who is appointed to those posts and how many influence points they’re given decides success or disaster. Who we hire selects our tribe.
Conversely, there is a clear duty to deny influence points to those who will hurt the group and to hunt down those who abuse the points system.

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.

What The Hanseatic League Tells Us About The Present

When governments grow weak, commercial organizations tend to fill the void.

Across a vast region along the Baltic Sea with few strong central authorities in the middle ages, merchant guilds banded together for strength and security until they were effectively their own state with their own military.

Indeed, they clashed with actual kings and princes and because they monopolized trade through the entire region, they usually won.

It was only when centralized government became strong again and the modern concept of a nation-state began to form that the Hanseatic league went into decline.

In our own time:

If I were to ask “Who is the most powerful man in this room?” The answer is not necessarily obvious.

Jobs obama zuckerberg silicon valley dinnger

Presently, we see a weakening of both the physical powers and legitimacy of the state. And predictably, we see a corresponding rise of commercial entities as they increasingly exert control over the state itself or take over functions (i.e. space exploration, education) that were previously the preserves of central state power.

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