One of the ongoing focuses of this blog is the decline of the Nation-State model--for those interested in an overview of my thoughts on the Nation-State, see my essay The New Map. Today I'll take a couple of items from current events to discuss developments in the decline of the Nation-State: Greece and the US state of Arizona. It's easy to think that these two issues have little in common, in part because the press is viewing them as entirely separate. In fact, at their core they are the result of the same phenomena: the gradual decline of the Nation-State model and the battle over its replacement.
In Greece, bloated pension obligations and government salaries have led to the brink of a debt default, and have forced the EU to attempt to bail out Greece (to save their own cost of borrowing), requiring "austerity measures" in exchange. This is a fine example of the ongoing decline in the Nation-State system. The Nation-State is a construct whereby a theoretically contiguous "nation" provides the constitutional and moral justification for a political "state" to govern it, and in exchange that state provides for the needs of its constituent nation (producing a reflexive entity, the Nation-State). In Greece, the state made lots of promises about the welfare of its constituent nation, but now can't keep them. The nation was happy to cede control to the state in exchange for it keeping these promises, but how happy will it be to do so if the state isn't keeping up its end of the bargain, and instead imposes "austerity measures"? Of course, as long as the global economy and economic "pie" continued to grow thanks to an increasing supply of cheap, high-quality energy, this was rarely an issue. However, what will happen as this trend reverses? What happens to the state as it must now increasingly provide less to its constituent nation? In extremely simple terms, this is the basis for the current and accellerating decline of the Nation-State... Greece is just a canary in the coal mine, and will most likely be propped up by the rest of the EU and community of other Nation-States who don't want to deal with the underlying cracks in their system. Much like environmental and energy issues that are now global, not regional in scale, however, these rescue efforts will not work on a large scale, and the time is coming when the Nation-State system will fall appart with increasing speed. I think we will continue to cling to the notion of the Nation-State for decades to come, but the will be increasingly hollow constructs. Watch what happens in Greece for a prelude of how this may play out.
In Arizona, the US state has passed a law attempting to crack down on illegal immigration by forcing police to stop and question anyone who they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. In Arizona (on the Mexican border, and a key hub for illigal immigration from Mexico after the US border patrol focused on the California and Texas sections of the border), this essentially means stopping people who look Hispanic and asking them for ID. While it's clearly an inflammatory law (and the Pima county sherriff, where Tucson is located, has already refused to enforce it), almost all of the debate over the issue misses the key ingredient of understanding the constitutional nature of the Nation-State.
First, I should point out that I used to live in Arizona, I'm a huge fan of the Tucson area, and I often joke that Arizona is one of the strangest mixes in the US--traditional hispanic communities that have existed since before there was a USA, liberal college communities, strongly right-wing business interests, xenophobic and racist religious communities, snowbirds (people who go there from the colder northern states in the winter), and new-age/"hippy" communities. It's a bag of mixed nuts, which produces some wonderful and repulsive features simultaneously--the Tucson area and the southern part of the state tends to be more "left" nuts and the Phoenix area and northern parts of the state tend to be more "right" nuts, but it's always a bit crazy.
Arizona is a classic location on the blurry margin of the theoretically "cartesian" Nation-State. It used to be indian country. Then it was Mexico. Then it was the US. Its populations have blended together, and demographic trends have ebbed and flowed. Now, however, it is within the cartesian boundary of the US Nation-State. Of course, none of this changes the fact that much of its population has ties to communities in Mexico, and that the regional economy is better seen as an Arizona/Sonora nexus, overlapping with Arizona/California, overlapping with Arizona/New Mexico/Colorado/Utah, etc.
The debate in Arizona, and the larger US immigration debate, are really debates about how to deal with the decline of the Nation-State. The reactionary community wants to shore up the artificial boundaries and concept of the Nation-State, and make sure that the State provides for the needs of its constituent Nation, primarily by excluding immigrant laborers from taking jobs that the "American" nationals want, and from letting American manufacturing and other jobs leave the bordrs of the American state. Of course, there are two key flaws in this view--one, that there is no such thing as an "American" nation--we're a blended amalgam that retains strong ties to many other sources of loyalty beyond the American state (religions, homelands, etc.), and two that the American state can no longer provide for the continual, real, and relative gains in the wellbeing of this ficticious American nation for the same reasons that Greece can't. The alternative is to move toward either the Market-State (as advocated by Philip Bobbitt) where the state defines a market and people and capital of all nations flow freely through its doors, or (as I've advocated) a reconceptualization as a set of overlapping networks of scale-free self-sufficiency that don't depend on some state superstructure for basic needs (what I've called Rhizome). The business desire to let cheap Mexican labor into the US, for example, is a position of the Market-State, whereas the recognition that access to and interaction with diverse cultures without clashing state ideologies is more a position of Rhizome.
The fundamental problem in this debate is that the political structure where it is playing out is a captive of the Nation-State concept. Politicians have to pretend that there is a coherent Nation serving as the constitutional justification for the American State, and that this State is capable of providing for the needs of that Nation. Neither is true, but they maintain this charade to get elected, and then have to pander to this base. For this reason, the immigration issue will not be resolved until we begin to honestly address the flaws in this Nation-State structure. Until that happens (and I'm not holding my breath), the situation will only escalate...