The demise of the nation-state
A lesson from Afghanistan
Image: Mother and Child, Intuit Sculpture, photo by author
This is not the first time nor the last this script has been written: the formation, and the grip, of the nation-state on human progress has serious consequences — refugees, state-authorized violence and oppression, militarism, a dysfunctional international peace-keeping assembly, to name a few.
In place of the juggernaut of aristocracy and norms, the “recent” ascent of the nation-state is cresting. One can plausibly argue that the notion of the nation-state as organizing human energies is being tested across fault lines to progress.
The world can be divided into two camps: one that perpetuates the myth of the nation-state and one that aspires to form its successor.
This past week the lesson from Afghanistan is that one “consequence” of the nation-state is militarism, the very social oppression the nation-state founders sought to dismantle. Of course the self-serving victors in Afghanistan, the Taliban, now replete with weaponry, are promising across social media a peaceful transition of power. Who doesn’t want to appear as the ‘good guys?’ Taken for granted is the image of a Taliban victor cradling an AK-47.
In the militaristic world deals are made among arms carriers, not plebiscites; among economic interests and elites, not among inhabitants. And sacrifices are made by patriots, essential workers, human peace-keepers. The militaristic world is a whirligig of influence, ill-gained trust, and domestic terror.
“Don’t make me and my family hostages in your geo-political power fight.”
-“Occupied West Bank” Settler
In the militaristic world there is constant watching the ‘other:’ the watcher and the watched. To borrow a medieval analogy, our present day surveillance habits are like the ramparts of ‘yore: once scaled, defeat is almost certain.
“Science” tells us otherwise: COVID-19 doesn’t know borders. COVID-19 doesn’t stick in one place. COVID-19 knows no ramparts. Neither does ‘climate change.’ One can argue that the next fight will not be geo-political (Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’).
The forces of exclusion, of zero-sum, newly wealthy oppressors, mostly but not exclusively white males, survivors of global adventures, emboldened to sally forth like the crew depicted in a painting exalting Columbus’ planting a flag in the “New World.”
The ‘fall of Afghanistan’ is a failure of the West. It marks the transfer of global influence to the East, specifically China. Afghanistan is saying, as the West Bank settler did, ‘take your geo-political dog fights elsewhere. You and your kind are not welcome here.’
Could Western “prerogatives” have coexisted with Eastern counter-aggression? Militarism is short-sighted. The next “war” is not about ground-taking and what lies underneath, but is about air-breathing and water-drinking.
And in this next one, we are all hostages.