The rise and decline of the Nation-State: A brief review of John Dunn’s ‘Contemporary Crisis of the Nation-State?’

The core focus of this article by John Dunn is on evaluating the success of nation-states.  The author tries to assess the competence and adaptability offered by this framework of governance.  The reader of the article will realize that the question mark placed at the end of the title is intended to be rhetorical, implying that the author believes that a crisis is confronting the notion of Nation-State.  At the outset, Dunn makes the point that Nation-State is a political concept that gained acceptance not so much because it understood and anticipated the future of social organization but because it was a convenient term.  Firstly, the concept of a Nation, which links a community on grounds of language, culture and ethnicity, is subjective and unscientific.  Secondly, the primary purpose of a State is that of giving legality and legitimacy to a geo-political entity and hence is an artificial construct that is amenable to change.  In other words, while contemporary global polity seems to overstate the importance of the Nation-State, it is not the only efficient and rational arrangement of conducting international politics.

To illustrate the aforementioned assessment, the author cites the example of free-market capitalism, which has transformed the equations of power and sovereignty in the neo-liberal world economic order.  The Nation-State may not have curbed instances of warfare, reduced levels of poverty and starvation, or helped foster an economically more equitable world.  But, as Dunn rightly points out, it is absurd to think that the remedy lies in past, in the form of reviving monarchy and authoritarianism.  Admittedly, the Nation-State has its share of limitations and there is much scope for improvement.  Indeed, there is a crisis of the Nation-State, but the answer does not lie in reactionary models.  To the contrary, it lies in enhancing the existing system.

Reference:

Dunn J, “Crisis of the Nation-State” in Dunn J. (ed.), Contemporary Crisis of the Nation-State?, Blackwell, Oxford, 1995.