I’ll speculate it was largely due to an intellectual factor, the invention of the printing press; and a physical factor, the widespread use of gunpowder. The printing press destroyed the monopoly the elites had on knowledge; the average man could now see that they were no smarter or “better” than he was. If he was going to fight them (conflict is, after all, what politics is all about), it didn’t have to be just because he was told to, but because he was motivated by an idea. And now, with gunpowder, he was on an equal footing with the ruler’s knights and professional soldiers.
Right now I believe we’re at the cusp of another change, at least as important as the ones that took place around 12,000 years ago and several hundred years ago. Even though things are starting to look truly grim for the individual, with collapsing economic structures and increasingly virulent governments, I suspect help is on the way from historical evolution. Just as the agricultural revolution put an end to tribalism and the industrial revolution killed the kingdom, I think we’re heading for another multipronged revolution that’s going to make the nation-state an anachronism. It won’t happen next month, or next year. But I’ll bet the pattern will start becoming clear within the lifetime of many now reading this.
I’ve been wondering, for about 30 years now, how the rapid changes in communication might affect government. What new forms of government might come about now that worldwide communication is essentially free and messages travel at the speed of light. It never really occurred to me that perhaps the nation state would evaporate. Casey points out another factor that affects the continuing viability of the nation state, cheap transportation.
Sure, I’ve read science fiction books where a planet would be owned by a corporation and was, in essence, an evil government. But Casey is talking about something different here. He talks about Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and Snow Crash as possible examples.
I’ll have to think about it more.—Joe]