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Michael Lind National Good

Contrary to those who have predicted the imminent demise of the nation-state, nationalism is alive and well. Indeed, it is the most powerful political force in the world today. Pg 1 For all the talk about the "Balkanisation" of the world, there are no signs that the nation-state is about to be replaced by something smaller. Pg. 2 The nation-state, then, is not in danger of extinction. But the multinational state is. For the past 200 years, the most significant trend in world history has been the replacement of a few large multinational empires by a growing number of mostly-small ethnically-homogeneous nation-states. The idea of the nation-state has spread across the world like a computer virus, erasing all rival forms of political organisation. This is a radical break with the past. For most of history, the two main political forms were the multinational empire and the city-state. The nation-state is an invention of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was made possible, although not inevitable, by communications technologies such as printing and the telegraph, which created mass reading publics with a sense of common identity, and by infrastructure technologies such as the steam engine, which permitted the political and commercial integration of large national territories. Pg. 2 The answer is that the nation-state has prevailed because of psychological economies of scale. The ethnic nation can be broadly defined to include all people with a common language or culture, or limited narrowly to people sharing a common descent. But whether it is defined broadly, as in multiracial Brazil, Mexico or the US, or narrowly, as in monoracial Japan or Sweden, the ethnic nation is the largest community with which ordinary human beings can have an emotional attachment. Pg. 3 Nations and nationalism, then, will be the primary actors in world politics for generations, perhaps centuries, to come. Pg. 3 We Americans are fond of claiming that the US, unlike the wicked blood-and-soil nations of the old world, is a "universal nation" which is "founded on an idea." But this is propaganda which dates back only to the mid-20th century. From the time of the founding fathers until the worldwide discrediting of racism by the Holocaust, the US was a white-supremacist country. Only "free white persons" could become naturalised citizens in the US between the 1790s and the 1940s. pg. 3 The claim that nationalism is intolerant is a half-truth. Every kind of political community, no matter how tolerant, tends to react harshly to threats to its legitimating principle. Pg. 4 The fact that nationalism is exclusive by definition does not mean that it is inherently vicious. It is true that atrocities like ethnic cleansing and genocide have been committed in the name of nationalism. But it is also the case that ethnic cleansing and genocide have been committed by internationalists in the name of cosmopolitan ideologies. Pg. 4

Imperial nationalism is bad because it is imperial, not because it is nationalist. Pg. 4 The cause of the first world war was Germany's ambition to become the dominant world power by becoming the dominant European power--an ambition which threatened the interests of Russia, France, Britain, and the US--empires all. Pg. 5 Critics of nationalism often assume that national sentiment is somehow incompatible with democracy. In fact, the relationship tends to be the other way around. Almost all stable democracies are nation-states, while multinational states tend to be dictatorships. Pg. 5 At what point would there be too many countries? Between 1945 and today, the number of UN member states increased from 51 to 188. The addition of a dozen or two dozen more nation-states would not create chaos. At any given time, there are only a few great military and economic powers, and it is on their relations among themselves, not the number of small states, that international order depends. Pg. 6 Most nation-states are relatively small, but this need not be a handicap. A small nation-state can take advantage of commercial economies of scale by joining the global market or a trading bloc like the EU or Asean; and it can take advantage of military economies of scale by joining a military alliance like Nato. Because of its political sovereignty, a nationstate, even a small, weak, nation-state, can negotiate the nature of its relations with its trading partners and its military allies. This is something no ethnic minority in a multinational state can ever do. Pg. 6 Whether the chattering classes like it or not, a century from now there will be more nation-states in the world, and fewer multinational states. Pg. 7 A case can be made that, on the whole, the good which has come with replacing multinational dynastic empires and dictatorships with nation-states which at least have a chance to become stable liberal democracies, has outweighed the bad

which often accompanies the break-up of non-national states. In any event, the future seems clear. The 19th century was a century of nationalism. The 20th century was also a century of nationalism. In all likelihood, the 21 st century will be a century of nationalism as well.