The Archbishop is right: the nation-state is dying

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Fri Dec 27 07:32:18 PST 2002,,174-524468,00.html

December 27, 2002

The Archbishop is right: the nation-state is dying
Philip Bobbitt

Writing a long book such as The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the
Course of History is like sending a message to HQ from behind enemy lines.
You may never know if the message was received, or if it was understood, or
precisely what action was taken. So I was especially pleased when the
Archbishop of Canterbury's Dimbleby Lecture, about the rise of the market
state, called upon the Church to take up some of the moral responsibilities
the 20th-century nation-state is beginning to shed.
Alas, however, the Archbishop cannot assume that everyone who heard the
lecture had read the book, and although his analyses drawing on the work
were impeccable, I can appreciate how his critics have misconstrued novel
terms and ideas that he could describe only briefly.

Some reactions were absurd, others far more extensive, and they deserve to
be treated seriously. I think that my terminology, and the fact that the
Archbishop could only summarise the basis for my analysis, misled otherwise
thoughtful commentators into offering reactions that are wide of the mark.

Take the estimable Matthew Parris, whose work I so admire that it is quoted
in my book. He dissected the Archbishop's lecture as mistaken in every
element. "The nation-state is not being torn away," he wrote. "The citizen
has never in history enjoyed a higher level of protection and shelter from
government. . . The idea that the nation state is being blown away by the
global market is a fashionable view for which there is no sound evidence.
The delusion has three understandable causes: first, we in Europe are
conscious that some functions previously exercised by our domestic
governments are in the hands of the European Union. . . Secondly, we are
uncomfortably aware of the emergence of a new imperial power. . . Thirdly,
now that currencies float and protectionism is out of fashion, we have the
illusion of being newly exposed to global market forces."

None of the three reasons for the delusion Mr Parris perceives has got
anything to do with why the nation state will be increasingly unable to
fulfill its citizens' expectations.

The state is not declining, nor is the nation dying, but the relationship
between the two is changing and the particular version of the State which
has dominated for a little more than 100 years is undergoing a profound

Like earlier versions of the State, stretching back to the Renaissance, the
constitutional order of the nation-state (dating roughly from 1865/1871 to
the present) rests on its own unique premise for legitimacy: give us power
and we will better the material wellbeing of the people. Roosevelt, Hitler
and Stalin all made this same promise, although they had different ideas
about how to achieve it. Indeed the long wars of the 20th century determined
which of three forms of the nation- state - fascist, communist or
parliamentary - would accede to the legitimacy of the imperial states of the
19th century. Now, at the moment of its greatest triumph, the nation state
is increasingly unable to fulfill its legitimising premise.

Five developments are chiefly responsible for this. First, the recognition
of human rights as norms that require adherence within all states,
regardless of their internal laws; this is why Slobodan Milosevic is in the
dock today, not because he disobeyed any of the laws of the state of which
he was the elected leader. Second, the development of nuclear weapons and
other weapons of mass destruction that render the defence of state borders
ineffectual; this is why it is untrue that "no generation has ever been
better protected". Third, the proliferation of global and trans- national
threats - such as those that damage the environment, or threaten states
through migration, population expansion, disease, or famine - that no
nation-state alone can control or hide from. Fourth, the growth of a world
economic regime that ignores borders in the movement of capital, which
curtails states in the management of their economic affairs. Fifth, the
creation of a global communications network that penetrates borders and
threatens national languages, customs and cultures.

A constitutional order will arise that reflects these five developments and
hails them as requirements which only it can meet. The emergence of this new
order will also change how states interact with each other. The European
Union, the increased power of the United States (which some mistakenly
believe to be a new empire), floating currencies: these are all consequences
of the five developments, not drivers.

Mr Parris completely mistakes this point and he seems to acknowledge it when
he writes: "The second leg of Dr Williams's argument therefore baffles me.
'Where the State was once seen as guaranteeing the general good of the
community,' he says, 'the State no longer has the power to keep its side of
the bargain.' I have no idea on what the Archbishop bases this remark."

Exactly. And having mistaken the analysis, he misses the link to Dr Williams
's point about the emergence of the market state, the likely successor to
the nation-state. It is not, as Mr Parris alleges, that Dr Williams claims
that we live "in a new and market-driven age of individual greed". And thus
Mr Parris's riposte that individuals are no greedier today than they ever
were, while doubtless true, misses the point.

The link to Dr Williams's argument about the role of faith-based
institutions is the following: if the legitimising premise of the
nation-state will be increasingly difficult to fulfil, the state will not
simply wither away, rather it will change that premise. The premise of the
market state is that it will maximise the opportunity of individuals.

A market state is not a market. The state is not going away, and in some
respects it will be more powerful than ever. Nor does the nation state have
a monopoly on nationalism; far earlier constitutional orders reflected
intense nationalism. Rather, Dr Williams is arguing that the emergence of
the market state will see the state evacuate areas of responsibility that it
had, in the last 150 years, undertaken. When the Left argues for affirmative
action, and the Right for criminalising abortion; when the Left wants to
make hate speech a crime and the Right wants to criminalise drug use; when
the Left seeks to create "hate crimes" and the Right wants to ban
non-national languages: all are regarding the state as a nation-state,
employing law and regulation to enforce moral positions. But when the Left
urges the deregulation of reproductive choice, and the Right the
deregulation of industry, they have moved to a market-state perspective.
Phenomena such as the replacement of conscription with an all- volunteer
force, welfare reform that attempts to replace unemployment allowances with
education and training to help the unemployed to enter the labour market,
and the use of non-governmental organisations and private companies as
adjuncts to traditional government activities, reflect elements of the
barely emerging market state.

And this is the Archbishop's point: that a state that is, owing to these new
forces, relatively (compared to the nation-state) indifferent to loyalty,
civility, trust in authority, respect for family life, regard for privacy,
reverence for sacrifice, equality and solidarity will require that the
society it governs promotes these qualities through non-state agencies. As
the Archbishop put it: "It is inevitable that governments can no longer
deliver in terms of setting out a moral basis in law - other institutions
will have to take up a new role." This is why he focuses on "the willingness
of the market-state government to engage with traditional religious
communities in a new way".

I cannot help but wonder whether, if the Archbishop had substituted the
phrase "non-governmental organisation" - such as Amnesty International,
Medecins sans Frontieres, trade unions or multinational corporations -
instead of "religious communities" as taking up new responsibilities, anyone
would have been so terribly surprised.

After all, underlying his proposals is an analysis that suggests new roles
for businessmen, and for the private sector generally, not just for
religious institutions. Thus, here, too, the Archbishop's critics mistake
their target when they respond to his lecture by saying that the Church has
no monopoly on moral argument.

I urge the Archbishop's critics to give their reactions to his lecture a
second - and a third - thought.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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