Why nation-states are good for democracy


Credit: Quora

The crisis in Spain over Catalonia’s proposed secession has prompted widespread debate about the relationship of democracy to the nation-state.

The populist revolt of our day reflects the deep rift that has opened between the worldview of the global intellectual and professional elites, and that of ordinary citizens. These two groups now live in parallel social worlds and orient themselves using different cognitive maps, notes Dani Rodrik, the Ford Foundation professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.

But the problem lies deeper, in elites’ attachment to a globalist mindset that underplays and weakens the nation-state. Without a shift, we might find not only our open global economy, but also our liberal, democratic order swept away by the backlash wrought by the blind spots and excesses of this mindset, he writes for Aeon:

Historically, the nation-state has been closely associated with economic, social and political progress. It has curbed internecine violence, expanded networks of solidarity beyond the local, spurred mass markets and industrialisation, enabled the mobilisation of human and financial resources, and fostered the spread of representative political institutions. Failed nation-states usually bring economic decline and civil war. Among intellectuals, the nation-state’s fall from grace is in part a consequence of its achievements. For residents of stable and prosperous countries, the nation-state’s vital role has become easy to overlook.

The West must promote the benefits of free markets regulated by impartial rules laid down by authorities accountable to the people, notes analyst Daniel Johnson. This is what the late Michael Novak [a former National Endowment for Democracy board member] called democratic capitalism, and it remains the greatest engine of growth the world has ever seen. By contrast, the crony capitalism of Russia, China and many other countries where democracy is either wholly lacking or deeply corrupt, enjoys far less legitimacy and is consequently more precarious, he writes for Standpoint:

The resurgence of populism in Europe and America may be seen as an established fact, but the phenomenon eludes definition. Perhaps the best way of distinguishing between populist demagogues and more statesmanlike leaders is in their attitudes to parliamentary institutions. …. Populism is not necessarily a threat to parliamentary democracy, but when allied with big government, external threat and a judiciary that is either supine or partial, the cult of the personality and the mass movement can overwhelm the procedures that normally circumscribe political power. The classic examples date from the 1920s and 1930s: Mussolini’s Italy, Pilsudski’s Poland, pre-Anschluss Austria, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal and of course the Weimar Republic. But we also have contemporary cases: Erdogan’s Turkey, Duterte’s Philippines, Zuma’s South Africa, and, above all, Putin’s Russia. In case Europeans suppose themselves immune, let them consider how close Greece has come to a collapse of parliamentary democracy. 

“Insufficient appreciation of the value of nation-states leads to dead ends. We push markets beyond what their governance can support; or we set global rules that defy the underlying diversity of needs and preferences,” Rodrik notes. “We eviscerate the nation-state without compensating improvements in governance elsewhere. The failure to grasp that nation-states constitute the foundation of the capitalist order lies at the heart of both globalisation’s unaddressed iniquities, as well as the decline in the health of our democracies.” RTWT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email