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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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The End of Nation States May Enhance Humanity

Harry J. Bentham

H+ Mag.

February 06, 2014

Perhaps parallel to the physical enhancement of human ability and longevity through technology, enhancements to civilization must also have cultural and political forms. By far the most important of these could be the neglect and final dissolution of borders and “nations”.

An encouraging prediction repeatedly nodded towards by futurists and scientific figures of all schools has been the end of the nation-state as the default regime. This departure from barriers and disparities is certainly features in the promises of revolutionary new technologies.

For example:

We are moving toward a borderless world in which electrons and electromagnetic waves will carry digitized information here, there and everywhere. Borne upon those waves of information, life will move at the speed of light. (J. Craig Venter)

The interpretation that the world is getting more open and less hospitable to narrow national interests is increasingly accepted, and has been consistently supplied as a very cogent and useful theory by top sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, e.g. in Utopistics(1998). It must be specified that this particular theory of the nation-state’s demise is based on history, with the observation that the French Revolution disseminated most modern assumptions about legitimate political action and authority.

The construction of “peoples” and “nations” to support the designs of governments and their claims to territory since the French Revolution has been commonplace, in accord with the expectations created by this defining political event. Perhaps a crueler way of putting it would be that nation-states and the beliefs legitimizing them are similarly fictive to religions, as easily offended by insults to their idols, and altogether as restrictive an influence on human advancement and freedom.

Of course, the main objections to fanatical nation-states have focused on their responsibility for causing devastating wars. However, the analysis of declining state legitimacy needs not be part of an emotional plea for an end to war. It is the observation that the physics and technologies of current civilization, as a result of them being favorable to transparency, freedom of expression and movement, eliminate any further need for the state to serve the role it once occupied.

Migration, resulting from the development of better means of transport and easier connections across the world, is a “disintegrating” influence on modern nation-states. As countries stretch the definition of citizenship to accommodate increasing migrant populations, citizenship is destined to lose its function of excluding people. With this crisis, it is destined to extinguish itself as a means of privileging people.

It is important to note that the whole idea of citizenship has been about supplying privileges, creating a dichotomy of citizen and non-citizen as a means of exclusion. As rhetorically effective as the description “citizen of the world” sounds, it could never serve any political or legal purpose and would quickly be dissolved (like a prize or honor being awarded to everyone at birth). This makes it impossible that any concept of citizenship could survive the elimination of nation-states in favor of the inclusion of the whole human family in a larger democratic order.

The revelation that the decisive rejection of nation-state regimes is a fact of the political future is the result of strong scholarly observations of history and politics. Due to this validation, the rejection of nation-state legitimacy and moral authority in favor of human conscience can be expected to become more and more commonplace in political discourse.

Political viewpoints that reject the legitimacy of nation-states, like my columns republished in Flagless: Accepting the End of Nations, aim to contribute to the discussion by encouraging steady and nuanced departures from nation-state beliefs and prejudices. The primary benefits of this political change that readers are often drawn to are the likely immense refinements of human rights, democracy and equality into more meaningful forms that would be possible without the disgraced framework of nation-states. As the discourse on the inexorable weaknesses of nation-state regimes under the new pressures of modernity becomes popularized, more valuable voices may begin to conceive of possible alternative regimes to the nation-state.

​When taking an open-minded stance on the future, one must be prepared to let go of what is familiar. We must even be prepared to let go of what is reassuring in favor of what is strange, while at the same time being cognizant of any risks to society involved in long-term change. As transhumanism entails the view that there is something else possible beyond being “human”, I hold that it is similarly prescient to prepare to let go of the flags and myths of “nations”.

Ideally, no post-human scenario will include the survival of “nations” and the myths they have required to gain support and credibility. For this reason, encouragement of a political vision divorced from archaic ideas about national legitimacy and citizenship may be an indispensable part of humanity’s offer to transform.

Harry J. Bentham is a British writer, an IEET contributor, and futurist member of the scientific Lifeboat Foundation. He has authored well-received sci fi stories, book reviews and essays on science and culture that can be found at a growing number of diverse publications.


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