James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Progress and Sovereignty

Paul Gottfried writes about sovereignty at Taki:
The “individuals,” whom the state has supposedly oppressing throughout recorded history, did not exist until recently, at least not in the atomistic form in which self-described individuals are now depicting their true selves. Until the modern period individual members of any established community took on their identities by belonging to classes, genders, prevalent confessions, and ethnic groups. . . . It was the state, which came into existence in the late middle ages and early modern period, that created the political precondition for the spread of individual identity. It did this by enacting legal systems that embraced all citizens or royal subjects and by imposing uniform taxation that applied to all classes equally.
Gottfried suggests that nation-states aren't so bad, and that individual liberty as we understand it may not have evolved without it. But he writes that the 20th-century transformation of the State threatens Western Civilization:
  • the tyranny of public administration intruding into every area of our lives;
  • democracy is no longer defined not as self-government but as Political Correctness;
  • supra-national governmental authority imposing "universal values" at the expense of both local custom and individual preference. (Read the whole article for yourself.)
I agree with Gottfried that these are indeed distinct threats to the nation-state, which in this day and age I would support only to defend ourselves from an even more distant, centralizing, international tyranny. They are also threats to individual liberty.

But if "Progress," which I would call human moral evolution, exists, then perhaps both the rise of the nation-state and the current internationalization of public administration (from food programs to trade regulations to "collective security") are stages in the sense of "two steps forward, one step back." Perhaps the end result of a World Government will be a global consciousness, which wouldn't be so terrible.

Keep in mind that I don't know if Progress exists, and I do not favor the demise of national sovereignty in favor of world government. And there is definite charm in the local and the particular. At the same time, the national consciousness that did develop in America gave birth to some values favorable to individual liberty. For instance, Americans are less sectarian than they used to be, there's less ethnic clannishness, substantially less racism, and greater tolerance regarding sex. An evolving global consciousness may lead to a greater sense of our common humanity, where wars and national competition will gradually disappear. All of this, too, would be good for liberty.

But we don't need the "help" of nation-states and international governmental agencies to achieve this - at least, not anymore. I believe America would have achieved a more open society much sooner if government didn't get in the way by "imposing" tolerance through laws, court decisions, and federal cops, and thereby provoking resistance. And we can achieve a free, peaceful, global civilization without the "help" of the UN, WTO, or IMF - all they can really do is similarly provoke resistance.

The Internet can help. The free exchange of ideas across national borders is easier than ever before. Virtual communities can develop solutions to poverty, design environmentally-responsible homes, or provide services for each other through barter exchanges. Networking, not political force, is the way to a better future.

Perhaps in some way we must "thank" nation-states for clumsily fostering individual liberty, and maybe even thank international organizations for clumsily fostering trade and peace. That doesn't mean either must command our loyalty forever. If the march of history sees local sovereignty give way to the national, and the national to the global, perhaps it may also force the global to give way also. But there is no where else for sovereignty to go, but back to the individual.

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