The modern state is a relatively new entity among the groupings that humankind has devised to organize itself. The state’s concomitant was nationalism; with the conjoining of either, the entity called the nation state came into being. The nation state , in its inception, was a closed and “neat” container of peoples who shared similar attributes and features. While some doyens like Benedict Andersen, held the “nation” to be an “imagined community”, others like Herder held it to be an organic, primeval one. The nation state was and is a Western construct and it became popular more intensely after decolonization.
The functions of the state, among other things, were held to be security and welfare of the peoples that it enclosed. This axiomatically meant a mercantilist, autarkic and a security state till the trend and phenomenon of globalization started encroaching upon the sovereign prerogatives of the state. Globalization was a macro phenomenon that entailed freeing of capital and current accounts of states, which meant freer flows of capital, trade and peoples. This was in the classical and neo classical economists’ view of the world held to be a panacea. Regardless of the merits and/or demerits of the neoclassical economics’ view, parallel to the incipient development and then reification of the state, was the development of the discipline of International Relations whose primary unit and referent was the state. In these schemata, states which formed the international system, were in perpetual competition with each other. Security and power were the ultima ratio of states. And, foreign policies of states were the conduits through which security and power could be maximized.
(Obiter Dictum, given the very nature of globalization and international relations, there was and is a degree of tension between the two and international relations, except in the domain of low politics was never really globalized, for self evident reasons).
Globalization’s, in its third wave avatar, premise was maximization of peoples’ welfare. While, in some senses, it was zero sum; in others, it was non zero sum but it would appear, that the foundational idea of globalization was viewing humans as homo economicus, that is, an economic man, driven by rationality and maximization of welfare. This, in retrospect and hindsight, might have been a cardinal mistake. Humans, being human, are wired to be tribal and the nation state was the apogee of tribalism as is evident by the rise of nativist populist forces, especially in America and elsewhere.
Reverting to International Relations and globalization and the tension thereof, the foreign policies of states, corresponding to their generally insalubrious nature had a dark side, unbeknown to people. This created dynamics that intensified security and power competition between states whose consequences and aftereffects were even more insalubrious. Coupled with the advance of globalization which threatened the tribal orientation of peoples, that is, nation states, the consequences of foreign policies and the eruption of frozen conflicts, the stage appeared to be set for a reaction which manifested itself in insalubrious nationalism, nativism and populism. One other effect of these developments was the return of the national security state. This form of the state privileges “security” in its narrowest avatar, over anything else and its concomitant is fear. National security states elevate and even induce fear amongst and in their people so that it is people that demand a certain set of policies that are irrational but pander to their instincts. This may, as during the Cold War, take the form of an exaggerated external threat or, the “Othering” of peoples. Contemporarily, it is Muslims that are scapegoated and targeted for and in the service of the national security state.
The question is: Is the national security state an aberrant interlude, a passing fad and ephemeral or is it structural? The answer cannot be definitively posited. There are, however, two prongs to it: to buck the insalubrious “trend”, the forces of nativism and populism must dissipate and, the inherent, negative competition that defines international relations and geopolitics must be given short shrift. Neither seems likely on the immediate horizon. In terms of nativist populism, the political classes of countries where it is predominant cannot undercut it through policy measures; populism can perhaps be only undermined by usurping it through and in a populist idiom. Geopolitically, interstate competition appears to be becoming more intense. Given these trends and their confluence, the national security state is here to stay, at least, for a while. The corollary here is that conflicts, political, economic, trade, financial ethnic will only intensify. The first decades of the 21st century then are going to be fraught and conflictual, with the price paid for the return of the national security state by the peoples of the world.
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org