Tag Archives: post-nationalism

More calls for web citizenship, plus precedents

In light of the internet’s inescapable role in the Egyptian revolution*, Stowe Boyd is the latest pundit to suggest some sort of post-national citizenship-of-the-intertubes set-up, which is something we’ve discussed here in recent months. Boyd cites the precedent of the Knights of Malta, which is a UN-recognised nation-without-a-nation that issues its own passports and everything; riffing on their remit, his initial conception of the United States of Intarwub is a bit wishy-washy, though it has noble ideals at heart:

Perhaps we should structure an equivalent organization — directed toward saving the planet, perhaps — and centered on a religious military order dedicated to Gaia: the belief that the world is a living whole, that she and all her parts need to be protected from those that would destroy her, and that the place of greatest freedom and promise on Earth today is the web and the culture we are building there.

The Knights Of Gaia is a bit over the top. [ O RLY? – PGR. ] But, taking on the metaphor of the web as the Eighth Continent, I suggest The Eighth Continent Contingent. Perhaps we need to actually hold a continental congress? And truly, collectively, declare our independence, and create a constitution?

Yeah, it’s a little bit crazy… but last time I looked at the firehose of global news, the world was looking pretty damned crazy as well. Desperate times, and all that.

Reading about the Knights of Malta reminded me of another precedent, albeit an agit-prop-art version that never achieved (nor, I suspect, ever sought) official recognition. I’m thinking of Laibach, the controversial Slovenian art collective; best known for their subversive and provocative faux-totalitarian imagery (and a distinctly Teutonic flavour of sludgy industrial music, which was an acknowledged influence on the much better-known Rammstein), the art collective of which they are the musical wing, the NSK, went through a stage of issuing passports to anyone who’d stump up the cash… a service for which they apparently still receive numerous enquiries, especially from African citizens. While NSK’s intent was/is to provoke a questioning of the meaning and legitimacy of the nation-state (especially the hypernationalist nation-states of Eastern Europe in the late 20th Century), from our vantage point here at the beginning of the Twentyteens, they’re looking more than a little prescient.

Toward the New Middle Ages

If I were to say “the 21st Century could end up looking politically very similar to the 12th Century“, you’d probably think it a fairly grim prediction. But it’s actually more optimistic than it looks at first glance. Take it away, Parag Khanna [via MetaFilter]:

This was a truly multi-polar world. Both ends of Eurasia and the powers in between called their own shots, just as in our own time China, India and the Arab/Islamic community increasingly do as well. There is another reason why the metaphor is apt. In medieval times, the Crusades, and the Silk Road, linked Eurasia in the first global trading system […]

Now, globalisation is again doing much the same, diffusing power away from the west in particular, but also from states and towards cities, companies, religious groups, humanitarian non-governmental organisations and super-empowered individuals, from terrorists to philanthropists. This force of entropy will not be reversed for decades – if not for centuries. As was the case a millennium ago, diplomacy now takes place among anyone who is someone; its prerequisite is not sovereignty but authority.

Some see contrary trends in the light of the financial crisis. But given the power of the forces pushing a new medievalism, it is too simple to speak of a “return of the state” evident in the bail-out of Wall Street and the stimulus packages of governments. Far more revealing about the future is the crumbling of most of the post-colonial world from Africa to the Middle East to South Asia, where over-population, corrupt governance, ethnic grievances and collapsing infrastructure are pushing many states towards failure.


The only missing piece, of course, is America. The Middle Ages was pre-Atlantic. Yet today we have the legacy superpower of the US, located in the new world. If the European Union today plays the part of the Holy Roman Empire, then the US is the new Byzantium, facing both east and west while in a state of relative decline. The Byzantines lasted for many centuries beyond their material capability, through shrewd diplomacy and deception rather than by force.

This new world will mean huge challenges, for the west in particular. But if the US applies a genuinely Byzantine strategy, it has a good chance of stopping a slide into conflict. And remember that, despite its bleak reputation, the Middle Ages was actually an era of great invention and discovery – and one which eventually gave way to a great Renaissance too. As we witness today’s great power grievances mount and fear another world of war, we must remember the same is possible today.

Something to chew over, especially for those who still talk of the US in terms of global political leadership. You can choose to play for all or nothing, or you can play for a place at the table… and the same applies for everyone else.