Are Nations Obsolete?

1125343317F_egyptIn an article for Foreign Policy, Parag Khanna argues that as mega-cities wield increasing political and economic power, the structures and sovereignty of the “countries” that contain them becomes less important. In other words, global power struggles will be less America vs. China vs. Russia and more London vs. Mumbai vs. Tokyo, with the people outside of the super-cities being of little consequence.

In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not — and will not be — one global village, so much as a network of different ones.

Time, technology, and population growth have massively accelerated the advent of this new urbanized era. Already, more than half the world lives in cities, and the percentage is growing rapidly. But just 100 cities account for 30 percent of the world’s economy, and almost all its innovation. Many are world capitals that have evolved and adapted through centuries of dominance: London, New York, Paris. New York City’s economy alone is larger than 46 of sub-Saharan Africa’s economies combined.

At the same time, a new category of megacities is emerging around the world, dwarfing anything that has come before. Many will pose challenges to the countries that give birth to them. For though no nation can succeed without at least one thriving urban anchor — and even then, a functioning Kabul or Sarajevo is still no guarantee of national survival — it’s also true that globalization allows major cities to pull away from their home states, a reality captured by the massive and potentially dangerous wealth gap between city and countryside in second-world countries such as Brazil, China, India, and Turkey.

23 Comments on "Are Nations Obsolete?"

  1. Speculation








    • not to mention the quasi-Marxist “wealth gap” nonsense.

      • There is no “wealth gap.” It was revealed to me deep in prayer last night when the Invisible Hand spoke unto me.

    • Tchoutoye | Aug 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm |

      Troll screaming for attention. Probably needs another diaper change.

    • connie dobbs | Aug 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm |

      Where are you on all the Obama postings… Oh yeah… it's not really speculation if there's not a single thread of truth to it, is it? More of a “let's play imaginary land with our make believe friends and the big bad evil muslim altheist black panther communist president”

    • If you has cut and pasted “Speculation” one more time I would've believed you.

    • So?

  2. Nations are obsolete; they hardly have control of the corporations that are operating in their land. Some more than others.. but cities? Here we say Toronto gets all the attention, but while it has some truth, it doesn't seem that true. Although Montreal gets way better health care than Hull, so perhaps there is some truth to it…

  3. So we've advanced so far we've come full circle? We don't exist as city-states for a very good reason: They are very dependent on places and things outside the city. No matter how big a city is, it requires a higher authority to keep it going to provide it with all the base needs that keep it going. Nations can move everything in much greater quantity than a city can (people, resources, etc). Basically this is just speculation plus convenient forgetting of history.

    • Tuna Ghost | Aug 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm |

      Agreed, city-states didn't work for a variety of reasons and I find it hard to believe the way forward is actually going backwards in development. I'll be the first to admit that the concept of a “Nation” is changing beyond what we formally knew it to be, but it's pretty stupid to think we're going back to the good ol' days of Athens vs. Sparta.

  4. Earbudcontender | Aug 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |

    I'll take one please!

  5. Well…the only positive light I see being shed on the subject is that mega cities are developing unique needs that only a generation ago could be met by the same infrastructure as modest cities. This is no longer completely true. I don't like the undue attention given to the theoretical insignificance of nations …which is globalist wet dreaming…but the truth is that mega cities are evolving different needs that better planning and due consideration regarding growth and stability can help smooth over during transition.

    • Tuna Ghost | Aug 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm |

      I'm not sure what you mean by “theoretical insignificance of nations”, but the concept of a nation has been undergoing radical change in the last century. A “Nation” is no longer bound by lines drawn on a map. It can be much more fluid and harder to determine.

      • Well…its a lot to go into in one session…but to cover a few salient differences:

        If a nation is measured by its collective influence instead of its physical borders, that influence may be artificially focused in its cities…but the source of its influence is largely connected to wealth…which may also be concentrated in urban environments…but is generated by much much more in an era where decentralized information now outweighs centralized industrial output.That said, I still think physical borders count for more than they're being given credit for.

        Likewise, in an era where representative (if not always democratic) governance may pay greater respect to heavily populated areas…less populated areas are still represented, and national identity hasn't eroded so greatly that city dwellers anywhere lose that concept or that connection. Cities have enormous resources in terms of manpower and information…but without the backing of national identity and without a government and a nation of physical resources to move their agenda forward on the world stage…they'd pretty much just become islands of flesh and concrete with almost no influence. Let's not undervalue the connection.

        So for an article to make broad oversimple statements that characterize the 21st century as a time when nationality will mean less and city residency will mean more is presumptive and not especially supportable. It makes a perky article…but that aspect of the article isn't very well thought out.

        Other portions are completely supportable…specifically the ones I mentioned above. The needs of super-cities and their giant populations are changing fast…because infrastructure for older cities was never planned around populations of this size…and any effort to re-examine the impact of giant population centers and the needs they'll face in the future is good forward thinking.

        • Tuna Ghost | Aug 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm |

          I agree that the article isn't well thought out, although it may raise a few interesting points.

          Hmmm lets suppose that, god willing, sustainable farming can be implemented into a city (there are several ideas being thrown about as we speak, but the likelihood of them even being considered in a major city seems…ah…small). If the sustenance connection is broken this way, what then will tie the city to the country? Economics, maybe, but economics can tie London to Tokyo to Manilla to Berlin. I've been wondering if any ethnic or cultural notions could keep New York and Texas together under the same flag in that situation.

          Re: physical borders, obviously anyone who says “no one fights about land anymore” hasn't been anywhere near Israel. But the motivation behind these borders are not always just one nation saying “this is mine, and that is yours”, but often it comes from places like the US who wish to have a place where it's influence is more easily impressed upon people. The borders can change with policy that neither country can alter or influence.

          And consider coporations, many of which have access to the kind of money that even countries cannot reach–these have many of the same rights of citizens (sometimes more), but not as much accountability. They're like superpeople, and their influence can cross borders much more easily than an army or even ambassadors at times.

          • True…on several points. ( I especially agree regarding corporations. They represent true extra-national power…a state of affairs I generally find disagreeable…since I believe they should be held both to extra-national and local authority at all times…preferably by less than judicious application of a bootheel to the throat.)

            If you break the sustainability issue ,all that really ties a city to a country is its people…whose commonality of experience, compatibility of language and similarity of culture is what keeps them a functional whole instead of divided camps…which drives back to national identity (sans nationalism) point. What makes NYC or London what they are? I've done Chicago and London…and they are very multi ethnic cities with citizens and food and culture from around the world…but they are still distinctly American and distinctly British. (Watching a roomful of people…one Bangladeshi, one Japanese, one South African Dutch, one Irish and two Americans…all speaking with British accents except me and my brother, taught me that assimilation and national identity, without associated racism or fanaticism, can happen faster than we might imagine.)

      • I forgot a part:

        And what is national identity? Is it as horrible as serious nationalism…where a frenzy of self love and xenophobia takes over and sweeps maniacs into power? Not always…national identity takes a lot of shapes.

        From Texas to California to Maine, despite the grumpy complaints of anti-tax people, the truth is that the collective experience of being 'American' has sunk in…not in an ethnic sense for most of us…but in a collection of ideals that are of varying value depending on who you ask…but there is a national identity…and this as true here as it is elsewhere. The concept just isn't dead…or even close to it. Quite the contrary…nationalism, the worst by-product of national identity, is on the rise globally…so the “age of the city” may be dogged by the relevance of the nation for a very long time to come.

        • Tuna Ghost | Aug 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm |

          Bakunin always said patriotism, that national identity, always meant dehumanizing the outsider. If your first allegiance is ever to your nation and not your fellow man, then you've automatically made yourself a monster. Is that an argument for the dissolving of nations and national identity?

          • His contention falls short unless you assess genuine nationalism as identical to and universally connected to the concept of national identity. A sense of identity does not necessarily connote a sense of superiority, but rather an affection for and a comfort with the familiar.

            I love being in Michigan and being from Michigan…but this doesn't make me innately hostile to other states…and I love a lot of things that are uniquely American…and make my experience uniquely American…but I have no illusions about American superiority…or at least a great deal fewer than some folks.

            Bakunin, if you narrowly isolate the worst excesses of patriotism, would be right on the money…but beyond that…not so much.

  6. “with the people outside of the super-cities being of little consequence.”
    So all the farmers can just keep their crops for themselves then? Sweet. My farm town will finally start thriving now that we don't have to pay for groceries anymore.

  7. There is no “wealth gap.” It was revealed to me deep in prayer last night when the Invisible Hand spoke unto me.

Comments are closed.