What Comes After the Nation-State, Part VI

Reader el asked if there is a worst-case scenario for the post-nation state. Yes, of course, there is.

Benedict Anderson famously referred to the nation-state as an “imagined community.” A nation is an imagined community because there absolutely no possibility for the citizens of even a very small nation to see the entire country and meet every single citizen. This is why, for the nation to exist and have meaning, we need to imagine and re-imagine it every single day.

Now, the worst-case scenario for the post-nation state is that the collapse of the “imagined community” will be followed by the “imagined community of shared grievance.” I can’t remember for the life of me who coined this brilliant phrase but that genius was not me. Global media of communications enable everybody around the globe who feels vaguely aggrieved and left behind by the rapidly transforming world to get together and join in the hatred of those who have run too far ahead.

In case this sounds too cerebral, here is a real-life example. We are all seeing Russians nursing an extreme sense of grievance right now. They are obviously not even sure what they are  so upset about: NATO, EU, USSR, the West, their own miserable existence – who knows? They are upset and they are acting out. And do you think the vaguely aggrieved Russians might have something of value to give, say, to the similarly vaguely aggrieved ISIS?

This is the worst-case scenario of post-nationalism. The imagined community of the aggrieved and the sulky getting together and lashing out against those who are not as intimidated by the rapidly changing world. 

6 thoughts on “What Comes After the Nation-State, Part VI

  1. The imagined community of the aggrieved and the sulky getting together and lashing out against those who are not as intimidated by the rapidly changing world.
    So we’re all post nationalist now and just waiting for the Axis of Whine?

    I must admit, I felt a vague sense of foreboding upon signing citizenship renunciation papers for a citizenship I ceased to have in high school for a country that does not allow dual citizenship. It was just to get a visa. And now I’m learning extra languages, slowly. :/


  2. I don’t read your blog every day, Clarissa. I know, my foolish mistake. At any rate, I’ve missed some of your posts on the decline of the nation-state, which I know go back to June, at least. Please forgive me if the following comments have already been covered by your posts or your readers’ comments that I’ve missed.

    IMO, the unraveling of the nation-state involves contradictory developments. We have an ongoing breakdown and reorganization of society. Conditions get better on one continent and worse on another. It’s not moving in a straight line; it’s more like two steps forward and one step back. We need to tolerate a bunch of ambiguity to begin to understand it.

    I think you’re spot on about the division of society into valued winners and unnecessary losers. Our economy has already embraced the winner-take-all model. I’m not so sure it necessarily follows that the future will be filled with “opportunities” for everyone, or that winners and losers will realign day-by-day. The nature of the winner-loser dichotomy is that success breeds more success and failure can become irreversible.

    I get your concept of an “imaginary community of shared grievance.” I suppose shared grievance has been the root of a lot of history. The labor union movement formed because of shared grievance. Revolutionaries organize around shared grievances. The American Civil War was based on two opposing communities of shared grievance.

    I agree that a global community of shared grievance is a worst-case scenario. But it’s not inevitable. I think a world-scale state of shared grievance is improbable. It would require a degree of organization and cooperation that would probably not evolve under conditions of anarchy and chaos.


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