(News-Herald, June 28) I want to start with a short history lesson. Please bear with me.
Up until the 19th century, nationalism was not much of an issue in the world. People’s allegiances were to family first, then maybe community or tribe. The king was just some guy who, hopefully, would leave you alone. “The king is dead; long live the king” didn’t so much mean “Hooray for us” as “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
In the 19th century, several leaders discovered the value of nationalism as a motivational tool, building it up until we arrived at “modern” wars like World War I, where people were successfully motivated to fight and kill and die for The Motherland.
As a relatively modern nation composed almost entirely of non-natives, the US has always had a bit of the nationalism bug—though the Constitution was a tough sell because most folks at the time considered their primarily allegiance to be to their state. But we’re used to the notion of national pride, national honor, national interest. It seems natural and normal to us, but it’s not the way Things Have Always Been.
Now, I wonder if we aren’t seeing a change into a post-national world. And these days it’s clearly visible in two ways: terrorists and corporations.
Lebanon is an example of a place where government and nation are in danger of being overwhelmed. It’s just one of many locales on the globe where terrorists live, or at least occupy the space, with no particular allegiance to or stake in the actual nation.
The Taliban have always been an effective enemy to pretty much anyone who wandered into Afghanistan because they show no particular interest in actually taking over the country. Terrorists don’t want to rule, don’t want to waste their time on the mundane business of government like maintaining roads and services. They just want to be able to do as they please and take what they want.
Likewise, modern multinational corporations operate in a world that is above and beyond nations. These days, nobody would expect a CEO to announce that he was making a corporate decision based on loyalty to the nation that he calls home.
We occasionally get some noise about how global economic stuff will ultimately be good for America, but nobody really knows how that will pan out, and, really, it’s a justification after the fact, not a motivation for decisions. There seems to be an unstated assumption that governments are an obstacle to economics.
Terrorists threaten governments with guns and bombs while corporations buy them with money. Both are looking for the freedom to exert their will without being restrained.
I have no idea if life in a world without national allegiances is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. Nationalism had its good points, but it has also motivated people to do many awful things. I suspect the post-nationalism is neither good nor bad—it just is. It will be a benefit for some people, a curse for others. It will lead some people to do good things, and others to do terrible things.
But a post-national world will be one that involves new roles for governments. Terrorists and corporations want pretty much the same thing from governments—to be left alone and allowed to pursue their interests with a minimum of interference.
That requires some sort of cooperation with the government, because while interference sometimes comes in the form of laws and legislation, sometimes it comes in the form of angry citizens carrying pointy sticks. Corporations cooperate by paying some attention to citizen interests. Terrorists cooperate by agreeing to not blow up too many important people too often. Both have learned to cooperate by providing some of the goods and services that governments traditionally take care of.
The big difference between these new rulers and governments is that citizens don’t get to elect the CEO of Satan-Mart or the leader of Titanic Whackos Instigating Terror.
That’s what may make bad news for the rest of us. First, because we don’t easily wield the power to make these guys go away. And second, because governments are torn between serving the citizens who elect them, the bomb-wielding whackos who threaten them, and the corporations who pay them. My hope? That government will remember that their job is to protect those of us who think of ourselves as citizens from all those other folks who don’t.