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The Return of the Feudal World?

July 26, 2018 • EMERGING TRENDS, CRITICAL ANALYSIS, Capitalism in the 21st Century, World Politics, Global Giants, Editor’s Choice, In-depth, World Development

By John Hulsman and Boris Liedtke

In today’s post-industrial economy, it is evident that world politics is under radical restructuring. More precisely, as the authors argue, the model of nation-state has come under attack from below – in the form of a deteriorating level of trust by the people towards their elected or unelected representatives – as well as from above, by failing to provide appropriate answers to an ever more globalised world. With the nation-states’ apparent inability to withstand 21st century challenges, how then can our modern world move forward?

 

“The life of the nation is secure only when the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

– Frederick Douglass, Speech given on the 23rd anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1885

In the spirit of the words of the great American abolitionist, we aim to be ruthlessly honest and truthful, even if this journey leads us directly to the great conundrum of our multipolar age: The nation-state simply isn’t working very well anymore — especially in terms of delivering effective policy governance, even as its staying power seems beyond dispute.

It is this paradox that explains much of what ails our present world, why “nothing seems to be working”. And indeed, the present record of the nation-state, undoubtedly the dominant present vehicle for global governance, seems to have missed the mark at every turn. Recently, there has been a collapse of nation-states in the developing world, creating governance black holes that have led to catastrophe in places like Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC).

These nation-states have failed in their basic function of being able to keep internal order, largely because politically their governance structures are not a representation of the political realities on the ground in each country, meaning they have come to be little more than geographical expressions, not nation-states imbued with the political power to effectively promote internal stability.

However, it is also in the supposedly well-governed developed world that the nation-state has showed its recent glaring inadequacies. Be it the Lehman Brothers Crisis (which unleashed the global Great Recession), the endless, endemic euro crisis of the European Mediterranean countries, or the calamity of America’s adventurism in Iraq replete with botched intelligence and botched post-war planning the nation-state seems to be showing its age, not delivering on its grandiose claims to facilitate both global governance and political and economic stability for its people.

We shall argue that the model of the nation-state has come under attack from below – in the form of a deteriorating level of trust by the people towards their elected or unelected representatives – as well as from above, by failing to provide appropriate answers to an ever more globalised world.

But if the nation-state does seem to have flatly failed lately at every turn, nor is it about to be replaced. Contrary to the fevered imaginings of European Federalists, the nation-state cannot simply be wished away as an annoying anachronism of a bygone age.

 
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About the Authors

Dr John C. Hulsman is President and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political-risk consulting firm. His new book, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk, was published by Princeton University Press in April and is available on Amazon. He lives in Milan, Italy.

Dr Boris N. Liedtke is the Distinguished Executive Fellow at INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute and has over twenty years experience in the financial sector. He was the CEO of the largest bank by assets in Luxemburg and board member for Operations at the largest German fund manager. He is author of numerous articles on finance and trade as well as having received his PhD from the London School of Economics for the publication of Embracing a Dictatorship by MacMillan.

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