james_j_odonnell's picture
Classics Scholar, University Librarian, ASU; Author, Pagans
Marx was right: the

From the earliest Babylonian and Chinese moments of "civilization", we have agreed that human affairs depend on an organizing power in the hands of a few people (usually with religious charisma to undergird their authority) who reside in a functionally central location. "Political science" assumes in its etymology the "polis" or city-state of Greece as the model for community and government.

But it is remarkable how little of human excellence and achievement has ever taken place in capital cities and around those elites, whose cultural history is one of self-mockery and implicit acceptance of the marginalization of the powerful. Borderlands and frontiers (and even suburbs) are where the action is.

But as long as technologies of transportation and military force emphasized geographic centralization and concentration of forces, the general or emperor or president in his capital with armies at his beck and call was the most obvious focus of power. Enlightened government constructed mechanisms to restrain and channel such centralized authority, but did not effectively challenge it.

So what advantage is there today to the nation state? Boundaries between states enshrine and exacerbate inequalities and prevent the free movement of peoples. Large and prosperous state and state-related organizations and locations attract the envy and hostility of others and are sitting duck targets for terrorist action. Technologies of communication and transportation now make geographically-defined communities increasingly irrelevant and provide the new elites and new entrepreneurs with ample opportunity to stand outside them. Economies construct themselves in spite of state management and money flees taxation as relentlessly as water follows gravity.

Who will undergo the greatest destabilization as the state evaporates and its artificial protections and obstacles disappear? The sooner it happens, the more likely it is to be the United States. The longer it takes ... well, perhaps the new Chinese empire isn't quite the landscape-dominating leviathan of the future that it wants to be. Perhaps in the end it will be Mao who was right, and a hundred flowers will bloom there.