Nation State At the Crossroads
Whither thou goest, I will go
There is a notion worth revisiting: are nation states nearing their end as our preferred scale of the political and socio-economic organisation? This idea lies in contrast with the “end of history” theory of modernity, first posited by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
I’ve found the question of evolving the nation-state fascinating since the early 1990s when I first came across ideas of decentralised forms of organisation enabled by new electronic networks (and was contemporaneously studying political institutions and models of governance).
Of course, recently we’ve seen resurgent nationalism in Turkey, the US, Britain, Hungary and many other places. This might challenge the ‘end of the nation-state’ thesis, this nationalism is a sort of reversion to the mean. But could it, instead, be the febrile twitching that presages rigor mortis?
Rana Dasgupta argues this compellingly:
20th-century political structures are drowning in a 21st-century ocean of deregulated finance, autonomous technology, religious militancy and great-power rivalry. Meanwhile, the suppressed consequences of 20th-century recklessness in the once-colonised world are erupting, cracking nations into fragments and forcing populations into post-national solidarities
As I’ve argued in Exponential View and elsewhere, we increasingly need to adapt our existing institutions or invent new ones in order to cope with the changes in our economies, demographics, natural resources and climate.
As Dasgputa concludes:
This is not a small endeavour: it will take the better part of this century. We do not know yet where it will lead.
One example is the relationship between the corporation and the states, and the balance between their power. Almost a decade ago my friend and researcher, Stephanie Hare, introduced me to the idea of ‘corporate foreign policy’, the notion that states needed to formally recognise that the emerging dominance of technology platforms merited a formal quasi-diplomatic status. Some years later, the forward-thinking Danes appointed Casper Klynge as the world’s first Technology Ambassador, in the vein first described to me by Stephanie several years earlier.
In other cases, governments seem unwilling or incapable to execute on their duties — for example, maintaining their integrity in the face of or responses to cyber attacks (which are not really any different from other types of hostility). In those situations, private corporations are stepping in to fill or exploit the vacuum.
Some interesting points have emerged in the past few weeks:
- Thirty-four tech companies accord to protect end users from cyber attacks from any source and not to support national actors in cyber offense.
- Microsoft disclosed it has refused to sell AI tools to customers it believed had bad intentions. (The boundaries of what one can and cannot sell are normally prescribed by the law. Companies have often strictly adhered to Milton Friedman’s 1970 expectoration that a firm had “only one social responsibility …to use it[s] resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”)
- Bloomberg explores the scale of Palantir’s knowledge of the average American in an eye-opening feature: “When whole communities are algorithmically scraped for pre-crime suspects, data is destiny.”
- Profile of ML professor Pedro Domingos on national competition in artificial intelligence, the advance of autocrats and the threats modern technology presents to Western democracies.
What do you think?
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