Why Do Nations Exist?

Spengler in the Asia Times:

Why do nations and peoples exist, and why do particular nations exist in particular forms? Under the principle of national self-determination, more sovereign nations raised their flags during the past century than at any time in history. Many of them will not survive the next century. The old national states defined by language and ethnicity are in steep decline. Each of the world’s three most populous countries, China, India, and the United States, defies conventional definition in its own way.

Cookie-cutter political science has failed ignominiously, for example, the American conceit that what works in Baltimore or Buffalo also should work in Basra or Beijing. Political science needs a new start, and that is what the distinguished philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain offers in her latest book.

Our concept of the state, as well as the self, begins with our understanding of God, she contends. Absolutism and tyranny emulate a tyrannical God who rules by whim, subject to no law of nature save his own caprice. The constitutional state of self-imposed limits, by contrast, arose from the theology of love and reason taught by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. Others, notably Michael Novak, have made similar arguments, but Elsthain hacks much deeper at the root of the problem, namely the troubled notion of natural sovereignty. Her research surprises and disturbs, pointing to conclusions more radical than she is willing to draw.

Sovereignty, the one political idea the modern world takes for granted, was not the brainchild of the Enlightenment, but the conceptual bastard of medieval apologists for absolute papal power, Elsthain argues.