29 November 2012
Is National Identity Best Served by the Nation State?
Has the nation state, a political unit with internationally recognised boundaries, had its day? Does it matter if it disappears? A discussion with author, journalist and broadcaster Michael Goldfarb.
Globally, capital and people flow increasingly unconstrained by national boundaries. And the crisis in the Eurozone raises the question of whether EU member-states ought to give up sovereignty to create centralised financial structures. Does this doom the nation state to an inevitable decline?
In an event at the Legatum Institute, journalist and author Michael Goldfarb argued that sentimental attachment to notions of nationality and identity are almost always misplaced since both have always been in a state of flux.
“Nationality is about identity, but neither is fixed. As identity evolves, new governing structures will evolve as well.”
Goldfarb showed the flair and insight that has made his book Emancipation so widely admired as a study of nineteenth century Jewish life and thought. He described the fluidity of Europe's national borders: the continental map is re-drawn continuously as nation-states emerge, disappear, and then spring back to life. But the early 21st century situation records a real, and perhaps more permanent, shift of power since the European Union's institutions are based on the need to share sovereignty - and that may well doom the old-fashioned nation state to an irreversible decline.
Technology also undermines the kind of authority that was once enjoyed by the state: ease of communications in the age of the internet makes it possible for millions of voices to make themselves heard instantaneously. The world has speeded up, and parliamentary debates, once so fundamental to national identity, seem a cumbersome way of regulating power.
Democracy however is always adapting to new circumstances, and so it is proving in Europe today despite the intensity of the economic crisis. The millions who voted for Catalan autonomy in this week's election were asserting the rights of an ancient culture, but they did so in the context of a more general sense of European unity. In the twenty-first century, it seems, all nations look set to become European regions.
The discussion was moderated by author and historian Hywel Williams as part of the Legatum Institute's 'Salon Series'.
A podcast from the discussion is available below.
In its Salon Series the Legatum Institute hosts scholars, writers, artists and public figures to discuss issues that are fundamental to the success of free, prosperous, and enterprising societies. Ranging widely across the arts, sciences and humanities, the conversations promote a discourse between cultural, philosophical, economic and political modes of enquiry.