Saturday, 9 March 2013

Australia: Nation-State

Australia is a single nation and this conveys quite a few advantages, especially since it's also a single state. To clarify, I’ll explain the basics of what a nation and a state are, which when joined become a nation-state. A state, for our purposes, can be thought of as a government with sovereignty(both actual and recognized control) over a geographic area. A medieval kingdom wasn't a state since there was no official system for recognizing control of territory and the kings or rulers had very loose control over events within their territory (often villages could fight wars with each over). Another aspect for our purposes is Westphalia sovereignty, where external agents, at the time this was mainly religious for either Catholicism or Protestants, have no say over domestic structures. In the context of the Westphalia treaty, you don't invade another country because its king is persecuting Protestants or Catholics, it also works against certain imperial (that was also part of the treaty of Westphalia) ambitions. This form of sovereignty has been weakened recently due to humanitarian intervention such as the recent Libyan war, or America’s habit of deposing various regimes. Naturally its stronger in the western world, since the west was never colonized/invaded like the rest was and its a western concept which fits with western ideas/concepts.  Democracy requires this form of sovereignty at whatever scale it's practiced, because if some outside force (whether it's an Imperial power, a religious institution or something like the UN/European union) stops democratic decisions or makes them instead, then it isn't democratic (as in let the numbers count iterative decision making).

So a state is a government entity that excludes external (as in outside the country) forces from the political structure, controls its own borders and is the sole arbiter of coercion, i.e. only it can make and enforce laws and edicts. Working (i.e. not failed) states are more internally peaceful (they can still be bloodthirsty), generally have better law enforcement, and often have better control and mobilization capabilities of their resources, since they don't have as much trouble dealing with internal factions. Combine it with a nation and you have a nation-state so what’s a nation?

A nation can (and often) simply refers to people who share a government and territory, but it has another meaning. It can refer to people who share something (real or imagined, usually real); culture, history, a recent war etc which binds them into a larger coherent group. So, the UK isn't a nation, and thus not a nation-state, while England, Scotland and Wales are nations. Korea is a single nation, and a part of the tension between south and north is the drive to unite the nation. This points up a key point about nations, they are a unifying force. Now that doesn't mean a nation will always unite, Ancient Greece was a single nation (Hellenic) but it never united except under foreign rule (First under Philip of Macedon, then the Roman Empire). But when Achaemenid Persia invaded, the shared culture and hence national unity allowed the Greeks to put provincial concerns behind them and show a united defense, stopping an invasion of 500,000 and some of the most impressive engineering feats of the time. What allows nations to unify under a single government as often as the do now is due to certain technological and social changes.

The Man from the Snowy River is on our ten dollar note. It was originally published in a weekly magazine and was one of the key building blocks to Australia's national identity, it being the aspect the country plays (or more accurately played) in our mythos. The technology behind it was the printing press, but the social change was the newspaper coupled with  high literacy rates and submissions from the general public. The other technological changes, with attendant social changes, were initially canals, then railways and improved communications in the form of telegraphs and radio. A lot of these technologies are from either pre-fossil fuel industrialism (Printing press and canals), can potentially be built with pre-industrial tech (Radio and telegraphs) or utilizes some of the earliest fossil fuel powered technology (Trains) and so might be possible in limited forms. Fossil fuels helped some nations or states expand far past what they could otherwise have and for the large ones made unification under a large national culture easier. America is a good example of that and so is the eastern part of Russia, before Industrialism they owned it by default but hadn't even explored it. These also allow nations to be far more unified and homogeneous than they otherwise would be.

On that note, let's look at the darker side of nation-states. The British tried their best to extinguish the welsh language, and several others, and its attendant culture in an attempt to make the welsh English. Australia has done the same thing to Aborigines (though not as consciously). Now, not all nation-states mistreat minorities, Iran (which is a distinct nation and is Persian rather than Arab) apparently protects its minorities and their political rights (except for the Bahia). This culturally homogenizing tendency has been tempered somewhat by other concepts/ideas, like equality, but this still remains and even if its not fought with violence, the battle between rival nations still goes on. The hostilities against rival nations are competition, but it has another aspect. Some of the most brutal and destructive wars or revolutions are fought over cultural factors; the thirty years war (religion), French Revolution (Ideology/bread riot) and some of the violence in places like Kenya or Iraq is  directly between nations/tribal/religious groups. Since states like internal peace (easier to raise taxs, less law enforcement needed, no civil wars etc), they have an incentive to stamp out internal nations that could destroy said peace.

Nations can also be fractal. France is a single nation, so is Italy and Spain. Yet Brittany within France is a separate nation with its own identity, so is Venice in Italy, Catalonia in Spain and in Ancient Greece Athens and Sparta were opposing nations while also belonging to the Hellenic nation, it should however be noted that modern nations are far more homogeneous than ancient ones. Nations can have smaller nations embedded in them, like how large ecosystems have smaller ecosystems embedded in them, e.g. a single rock pool along a beach, which is part of the ocean ecosystem. At the moment this isn't as important for Australia, none of our regions have the level of difference between them to be considered different nations, but that could change. Like Denmark or Japan, Australia is a single nation with only a minor level of sub-nations. Let’s look at our nationality.

Both my parents are nationally Australian, yet they come from different migrations and ethnicity. My Dad's side is that of post WW2 (actually caused by the war) Italian immigrants, while my Mother's side goes back to the first fleet (a Quaker highwayman was involved) and the family was Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh (my middle names Welsh, from some ancestor) and judging some of the old pictures one or two Aborigines. Yet despite these vastly differently backgrounds, both families consider themselves Australian. Most immigrants who want to integrate manage it quite quickly, I've known people who migrate here and become Australian within a few years. One friend moved here from China (think the SW) and went through a period of using strine and saying g'day mate. Therefore, what makes an Australian?

One of the key parts is the immigration itself, and the immigration was and is quite diverse. Convicts and the guards stand out, but they were also settlers, gold miners and in my Granduncles case, he came as a POW and liked the place. Since, unlike America, Australia didn't import quantities of slaves and unlike South Africa, the Aborigines only make up .5% of the population; there isn't an any significant section of the population with a different narrative i.e. non-immigrant. Then there's the lack of religious pilgrims or settlers that America had. And while the first settlers were forced, a longing for home didn't take them home as much as it did in many other colony efforts. There was a report back to England, was in a children's book on history, which talked about the children of the convicts, they were taller, healthier, more intelligent and law abiding than their parents, they also viewed England as a distant hellhole, likely due to their parents often being lower class. For the Aborigines, integrating them into white Australian culture didn't work, so they'll likely get their own sub-nation (or a completely separate nation) in the central desert, north coast and peripheral parts of the settled parts of Australia. So, that's Australia's nation(s). Since immigration is likely to halt, this aspect is likely to become historical, which means it will still be perfectly viable.

So, seeing what a states and nations are, its easy to see why when its combined with concepts like popular sovereignty and government representation the nation-state is an incredibly durable and resilient political/social structure. While the specific modern form might not survive, it’s quite likely for nation-states in general to survive Overshoot.

Think of Africa, most of the borders don't match tribal borders and it was supposed to fall apart long ago. Here's an extract from the war nerd 'But they last. Africa was supposed to fall apart long ago, because the country borders didn’t match the tribal ones. Didn’t happen. Won’t, either. Take Eritrea; There’s no such thing, ethnically, as an Eritrean. It’s a ridiculous colonial border the Italians set up. But once Eritrea incorporated as country, the brand took, and took hard. The Eritrean fought the Ethiopians, much bigger and stronger country, to a stalemate and they’re prouder of their totally imaginary Eritrean identity than a lot of countries are of the real thing.' 

Since our government is of the people, instead of just aristocratic families, religious organizations, or intensely local concerns, and everyone is of the same broad culture, there are few centers for opposition or secession and with a functioning democracy, successful revolutions need substantial foreign support, see Syria where even that is failing (partly due to foreign support though). Given what’s coming, having a resilient political/social structure is probably a good thing, and the traits of some intellectual groups (Marxists, Islamist, Racial supremacists, some libertarians, Anarchist etc) to be actively against nation-states is unhelpful both to them and those that follow their ideas. Now, this doesn’t mean all current nation-states should be supported; some will almost certainly fail e.g. America, China (possibly), various African and European countries etc. However, the successor states will be better off if they try to become nation-states and use an existing identity or create a new one rather than be left with rather weak links between the state and the people. And remember, nations can be small; Luxembourg's population is 524,000, while the identity can be created by recent events (see Eritrea) as a solid foundation. Shared values also count, that’s an integral part of Switzerland’s national identity and that plus history allows it to overcome having 3 main language and cultural centers. The only thing which seems to be a bad cultural link for nationalism is religion, the only countries which have tried are Pakistan and Israel, hasn't worked out that well for them.

For the evolution of nations inside Australia, a lot will depend on the surviving technologies and infrastructure. Actual divisions on the level of say China vs Japan are unlikely to develop for a while. As it stands, for the settled sections two main sub-nations are likely to appear, East and West, with the East being big enough to have multiple sub-nations, and a small but very different northern one as well. The main variable is land transport, if a railway stays connecting the East and West then the division will be slowed and a division between nations (instead of sub-nations) would almost certainly not form. Otherwise, it’s actually quite likely.

No comments:

Post a Comment