I’m interested in how the European system of sovereign states spread to the rest of the world …
The problem of failed states
- the sovereign-state has served people badly outside of Europe
- weak states — corrupt states — states that are fought over — coups and dictatorships — or that simply don’t exist
What is failing here — the state or the idea of the state? Everything assumes it’s the former, I suspect it’s the latter
- It’s very difficult for non-Europeans to be European — it is a lot easier for Europeans — the rules were never fair
- normative question — is there something better?
How did this come about?
- a question of colonialism — or rather decolonization — how the newly independent countries came to emulate Europe
- very normative — and don’t forget that the idea of sovereign nation-states was a matter of norms too — living up to the European norm
The political systems that existed before the Europeans showed up — many different kinds — but there was never a European idea of a sovereign state within a certain territory
- very commonly — imperial centers with a large hinterland — bring about some sort of political organization — hierarchical ordering — a way to reduce conflicts –
Long history of European colonialism — but by the middle of the 19th century it was basically a thing of the past
- North and South America are lost — Africa and Australia are not really colonized yet — empires in Asia remain strong
Resumed colonialism at the end of the 19th century
- France loses against Germany and wants revanche outside of Europe
- Germany and Italy — who united late decide that they need colonies in order to be considered as powerful states
- Britain is pressurized by all this — and intensify their search for colonies
- New competition — a “scramble”
Underlying all of this — the Industrial Revolution — search for raw material and for markets
- new means of communication — very cheap and fast ocean travel
- by 1914: most of the world is controlled by European powers
Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points — the right to self-determination for all peoples — 1919 at Versailles
- Actually a way to deal with the losers in the war — Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire
- “national self-determination” will break up these empires
Very badly applied in Europe itself — Yugoslavia is created with some 10 ethnic minorities
- Most territory with Hungarian speakers end up outside of Hungary itself
Mainly applied to the colonies of Germany and Ottoman Empire — they should be able to decide which European country the should be colonized by
- could have applied to French and British colonies — but their future was already decided — by the Europeans
- but after 1919 there is a new way of thinking about colonialism — to rule in the interest of the natives
this is explicit in the Mandate System — the former colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire are not given to European countries to annex, but given in trust — to rule for the benefit of the people there — they must report back the the League
prepare them for self-determination
- mainly a question of economic development — this is good for the natives, but it is good for the Europeans too
- create political institutions that allow a native voice to be expressed
This comes to be seen as a model that can be applies elsewhere — in French and British colonies too
problematic if you have no self — no national self — no political institutions by which you can come to determine yourself
- Two solutions: the French and the British
- direct rule
- French officials take charge
- the natives are treated as Frenchmen — except not with all the same rights
- mission civilisatrice — to educated them — French language and culture
- indirect rule — find local elites who can rule for them
- create local elites that can rule
- often because there aren’t enough Englishmen
- a domestic local elite — which is badly prepared to take over
The successful cases
- 1926 — only 17% of the population is Jewish — Balfour declaration — make the country more and more Jewish
- the Jews are better at determining themselves — they are also Europeans and much better at taking care of the country — developing it
- rid Europe of the problem of the Jews
- Israel becomes self-determining in 1948
- they lose their colonies — and Turkey itself is divided into zones of foreign influence
- Kemal Ataturk defeats the Europeans — but recreates his country in a radical transformation
- denies all traditional culture, everything Ottoman — secularism and Europeization
- the Turks are determining themselves — but their self has become European
There were attempts at world-making — the Bandung conference — pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism — all African political leaders made this point at the time of independence
- but this fails once they get their hands on power — or rather once the first generation of leaders is overthrown in military coups — and nationalist leaders come into place
there was a real alternative here — too bad if failed …
You mention that stateless, non-territorial societies might be better adapted to increasing globalization. In this context, how do you see the impact of the current epidemic. Does it strengthen the claims of the territorial nation-state? More broadly, what could the impact of rapid climate change be in terms of what political form is best suited to function in such circumstances?
A very good question — I find it very difficult to predict things — you always see what you want to see — and the future is always different. — It obviously seems like the territorial nation-states are becoming stronger. Especially in a country like Hungary. At least for now.
What the long-term implications are is less clear — a different perspective: we are really in this together — borders don’t make sense — climate change doesn’t respect borders either.
One thing seems certain — you can’t just wish the nation-state would go away — you need to work with the forces that are transforming the world — there are great opportunities too.
If Westernization was the consequence of growing European power, can we expect that the emergence of Asian powers will lead to the re-emergence of non-European forms of international relations and, perhaps, even Asianization?
This too is difficult to say — predictions about the future … The traditional East Asian way of organizing international politics was very different than the European. But the lesson of “hundred years of humiliation” was that China must emulate Europe — China is very old-fashioned in that sense — very strong sense of a nation-state with a strong sense of territory. They love Realism in international politics.
I think it’s hard to live in countries that don’t live in Western style. And I think it’s inconvenient. In the three alternatives to the sovereign states( Stateless societies, Thalasocracies and Stadtluft macht frei), it is difficult to get enough education, medical care, and enough water. Can people live happily in such an environment?
Ha, ha, yes. You might be right. There is a lot of romanticism here — academics who benefit greatly from the modern world are imagining alternatives — which actually would be quite unpleasant.
Better to think of these historical alternatives as ways of imagining — ways of imagining a different kind of world order — as I said, the present one is not working very well.
Wouldn’t giving up the idea of territorial sovereignty expose developing countries with globally important natural resources to exploitation by external powers?
Maybe. But there could be other ways of protecting oneself. The EU model is quite interesting here. Each state has lost a lot of sovereignty — but the EU is a whole is pretty good at protecting itself.