“What is the nation then, but a blind worm. Chasing what, perhaps, maybe, but destiny?-
For it’s with their story that my own story will end.
The very same attention these hyper-libertarians give to the proposal of North American empire, with one key factor the distribution of water across national boundaries, this very same issue of the negotiation of state power over territory also serves as a key factor in the explanation for the rights of national sovereignty and the emergent Age of the Nation-state.
As the interpretation goes, it was the issue of the control over rivers and streams for the efforts of “canal-building” in northern Europe that would lead to the arrangement of how the nation-states would constitute their territorial power, in response to the power of the state to marshal national resources in ways that affected the fate of other emergent nations.
364 years mark the Peace of Westphalia, the birth of the modern nation-state and the idea of territorial sovereignty. “Supranationals” – institutions like the Catholic Church, no longer could order the destiny, the ambitions and the affairs of the latter-day kingdoms. The nation was born. Heads of state ruled. And on and on and on.
That age, arguably, has never really existed, it’s a myth that nations have enjoyed supremacy, for there have always been supranational states; they continue to dictate the affairs to nations. Ideas predate structures – they make up “structure” - and do not respect the territorial integrity of a nation.
That argument, however, still has to make room for the conflagrations of the last 300 years. Ages such as that of imperialism still used ideas like race to order and justify their empires. Yet the ambitions of those nations expressed themselves through “nationalism.”
And so, the idea of Westphalian sovereignty can survive that test; and if it does than maybe – maybe - the early 21st-century truly does mark the end of the age of nations.
It should be noted this isn’t the first signs of grumbling, that the way nations are set up is counterintuitive and creates more problems than it solves. The key issue is the idea of territorial sovereignty. The setting up of borders and allowing nations, or for that matter, any kind of state to control that territory, has always been problematic.
How then do nations decide where borders begin and end? Natural features might dictate the lines on a map, mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and oceans. So, too, do the latitude and longitude give states the look of a box - for how else to draw a line in the sand?
Then again, the whims of a group of leaders, or one man, can attempt to forge the shape of nations and the world to come.
The gloating, victorious Allies at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference set up borders with eyes on natural features, like separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany, so Poland could have access to the sea, or France occupying the Saar Basin, in order to keep coal reserves out of the hands of Germany. But they also created nations that recognized ethnic populations and Wilson’s so-called “right of self-determination.”
If rewarding ethnic nationalism worked out in the past, how would it work out in the future?
The list is long with problems between nation-states, all over the issue of territorial sovereignty. One contentious issue has always been the U.S. and Mexico over the waters of the Colorado River. Westphalian sovereignty dies hard against the reality of Americans using the entire river’s water before it flows into Mexico.
The alternatives then stand with their own prophets and messengers, each announcing the best way to order society.
For one, there are the proponents who realize the end is near for the nation-state, but they are not entirely ready to abandon it. They merely mean to re-channel the energies of the nation.
The story “ ‘The New Dominate’ by Ana Marina Garza” demonstrates this point of view. Her conceptual framework to reorder the nation is “the Frontier.” She’s really a nationalist at heart - naive, maybe - as she means to channel into mythical energies to restore the United States and American society. She seeks the origins of the nation in an almost imaginary triumph of the will. She encourages the individuals to repair territorial sovereignty through acts of violence that make America exceptional.
More perspectives on Garza:
The other way is not any less militant, nor less persuasive. It looks to a nature of the land as a source of societal renewal. It’s almost mythical, no less spiritual, but also scientific; and it takes a hard line with how society should be ordered.
Some argue it goes beyond the worst of “blood and soil.”
For, if lines are to be drawn, then the boundaries of the state – nation or not – should conform to the rather contentious idea of “ecology.” The terrain, something as watersheds and the biota that lives in one place next to another - that is the way to comprise a society.
And if territory is to be ordered, if what people in their limited powers of conceptualization can only imagine as the nation, then so be it.
The borders of nations will not only follow natural features – the rivers and mountains – but also watersheds, the aquifers, the biotic transfers and migration patterns of wildlife – the ecological domains and their supporting landscapes and overarching climates - the way the land is ordered itself - this will order the rise of the new nations.
I am just a beginning student of bioregionalism, so bear with me.
This is where the conflict begins for another character. Ian Michaels. His struggle takes the form of an awakening, one that is expressed in the language of politics, but also newly arrived to the other languages of the future age. Torn between the forces of the day, with bywords like secessions and eco-power, used by the opposing forces, Ian Michaels must decide which side to take.
It is not an easy choice.