• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Death to the Nation-State! Long live anarchy! Enter the Age of Staticide


The above title slightly paraphrases Auguste Vaillant (1861 – 1894), a French anarchist most famous for his bomb attack on the French Chamber of Deputies on 9 December 1893 and was later sent to the guillotine. The turn of the 20th century introduced terrorism, prosecuted by men like Vaillant in its anarchist variant, into Europe and much of the then world.  Its nihilistic “propaganda by the deed” espoused the spread of ideologies, “not with words but with deeds” since for them, “this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.”  The slogan, “propaganda by the deed” heralded individual bombings, regicides and tyrannicides in the 1880s anarchist movement that upended institutions, kingdoms and established social orders. The current resurgence of irredentism in several parts of the globe – from Biafra to Brexit; the terrorist bombings – from 9/11 to the fresh Bastille day massacre in Nice, France – that seem to be gaining momentum by the day; and the maniacal outburst of racist killings and sentiments across the globe – all reminisce the late 19th to early 20th century anti-state movements around the world.

The Bastille Day massacre in Nice, France, though gory in its details, is, with the benefit of hindsight, symbolic. Because it is the commemoration of that fateful day on 14 July 1789 when ordinary Parisians stormed the Bastille, known as the symbol of the absolutism of the French monarchy, and paved the way for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.  Historians and political scientists regard this as the high point of the French Revolution and the birthday of modern democracy as it marked the enthronement of the popular will in government.   It would appear that the truck terrorist, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, chose this day to register a point in the consciousness of present day democracies around the world: that all is not well with the nation-state.  At issue here is the question of how the Westphalian sovereign state system deals with unanticipated dynamics of radical differences imposed on it by the inevitable force of globalisation.

Recall that the current state system is the product of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in the Holy Roman Empire and the Eighty Years’ War (1568 – 1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic with Spain finally recognising the independence of the Dutch.  Among other things, the Westphalian treaty established the sovereignty of states and the principle of national self-determination.  The nation-state thus emerged as the point of convergence, harmonizing varying interests of all contending parties.  It laid the foundation for the definition of the rights of citizenship and further engendered the revolutions that overthrew tyrannical governance to establish the tenets of modern democracies such as Declaration of the Rights of Man and Universal Suffrage.  The above sketch of the French Revolution clearly demonstrates this.

However, the particular interpretation and application of both the Rights of Man and the Universal Suffrage have suffered a chequered history. Generally, countries have selectively pursued and applied these two principles. While Universal Suffrage implied the recognition of the rights of women and slaves, nations were more eager to claim democracy than they were to apply the other tenets of equal rights and suffrages.  Women and slaves, and other social minorities, who weren’t represented in the drafting of the various treaties of Westphalia have had to wage a long, frustrating and often, fatal battle of recognition in almost all the developed democracies in the world.  In France, it took almost two centuries before women could vote in 1944.  In the United States, blacks could not vote before 1965.  Immigration, internationalisation and globalisation have more recently introduced another dimension to the debate on the political management of socio-political differences.   It is obvious that the ensuing tension is clearly stretching the limits, thereby exposing the fundamental flaws in the Westphalian state system.

Current experience emanating from almost all modern democracies point to the failure of the state to evolve an effective system to deal with new members who could not be recognized in the Westphalian engendered constitution of state chiefly because their very existential reality could not have possibly been anticipated.  It is increasingly becoming obvious that repressive policies of exclusion, marginalisation, segregation or forceful repatriation aren’t working and in fact, rather producing unwholesome contradictions within the body politic.  Border controls, erection of “high walls”, immigration crack-downs, imprisonment, forceful expulsions etc.  are self-defeatist measures that serve only to stoke the embers of the impending inferno.  Thomas Friedman may be thinking that disorder would be exported from Syria and Nigeria and Afghanistan into Europe and America, but recent events have exposed the hollowness of such reasoning.  Except the so-called advanced democracies design new and effective mechanisms to assimilate and absorb its inevitable multisepalous and heterogeneous composition in the face of untrammelled and unstoppable globalisation, events like Nice and the reprisal police shootings in the US will continue to raise the tempo of disorder within those systems.   While we commiserate with France and America, it is imperative that we don’t lose sight of the symbolic message of the Bastille storm: The Westphalian state seems to be approaching the term of its useful life.

Bongo Adi