The Fiction of Nationhood
Nations are an ever-changing and illusory fiction about shared heritage no more than a few hundred years old, whose rise was fueled by an unfounded fear of “the other”. Today, these fictions limit the reach of their own members, and are driving us all to the brink. It’s time for the next stage of our evolution.
I have long felt that nationhood (and nationalism) are false prophets. That is, they are primarily mechanisms for demagogues to control resources and people through the use of compelling stories.
In her excellent (and terrifying) book Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Change Our World, environmental journalist Gaia Vince harnesses history and science to illustrate just that, and to warn us that unless we evolve past this phase of our evolution to recognize our inherent interdependency (and power!), nationalism may well hasten our collective downfall.
“Migration made us. This might be hard to see in the context of today’s geopolitical identities and constraints, where it can feel like an aberration, but, viewed historically, it is our national identities and borders that are the anomaly. Migrations, whether for exploration and adventure, from disaster to safety, for a new land of opportunity, for god and soul, for trade or art, under duress and by kidnap, have transformed our globe and globalized our species. Human migration fundamentally created the human system we are all a part of today.”
To illustrate, she reminds us that France—where 1789's revolution birthed modern nationhood—was never French until the fall of its monarchy.
“In 1800, almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French, and only about 10 per cent could even speak the language. By 1900, they all did.”
“In 1860, when Italy unified, only 2.5 per cent of its citizens actually spoke Italian; even the leaders spoke French to each other. One famously said that, having created Italy, they now had to create Italians.”
This, from the erstwhile seat of the Roman Empire.