It’s not just Brexit, the riots in France or the growing divisions in America. Everywhere, crisis after crisis erupts and we’re left to wonder if politics in general, and governing specifically, are losing their ability to hold the respective centers together in what were normally stable nation states.
This isn’t some wild prediction. An entire cottage industry of books, articles, online reports, research papers and documentaries has emerged which wonders if the end of the era of the nation state is coming.
There seems to be this growing fatigue, and collective disillusionment, as we watch political parties and interest groups manically attempting to stir up anger instead of finding collective solutions. Most of the troubled nations operate under something of a similar political system and yet they are all ending up in the same place – under assault.
Whatever else we can say about the political influence, it was historically equated with power – and that power was perceived to be great enough to overcome any challenges. It was all about who we would elect to take on that charge that really mattered. But now it seems that no one in the political universe can work out some way to cobble together effective political alliances that can oversee the everyday life of a nation as well as making headway on the greatest challenges out there – climate change, crippling poverty, populism, and the alarming rise of online hatred tolerated in recent years. Could it be that our political models of the last century are simply incapable of prevailing against the challenges of this one? Many experienced and credible voices are harbouring such thoughts.
The present SNC-Lavalin crisis, serious as it is, nevertheless adds to the growing feeling that our politics is less capable than it was. Citizens watch as the opposition leaders manufacture alarmist tendencies and government voices struggle to find that one “voice” of effective response to make it all go away. People in France, Britain, Venezuela, Germany, Israel, Hungary, Mexico and other nations facing their own challenges all struggle through the same thing.
Which brings us back to the nation state. Is it the model for the future, especially when most of the problems being faced in these countries is more internal than external.?
The kind of unity most of us felt as Canadians over the years is gradually receding as those things that once brought us together – national wealth, stable democracy, a strong resource sector, generational harmony, and others – now seem unable to come to our rescue. It used to be called the Canadian “hegemony” – that remarkable ability of the common things we shared keeping us together despite our differences, but now is appearing paper thin.
We still need to believe that those institutions that assembled and empowered the remarkable progress of the last half-century are capable of keeping Canada from being pulled apart. It is still occurring, but not as capably as in the past. Citizens themselves prove just as incapable of developing a strong enough civil society to serve as an effective partner to our political classes. And as their voting patterns continue to deliver unpredictable outcomes, a greater majority of voters will simply not engage.
Is all this just the case of just a few bad actors? Hardly. These are system-wide problems, global in scope, that sever trust and forego common ground. Those bad actors are gaining ground, not because of their ideologies but through our failing to live up to our dreams and goals that we establish for ourselves.
If we aren’t careful, we can permit events like SNC-Lavalin to become bigger than they really are as a result of political opportunism. Worse, we can let politically driven agendas take all the oxygen out of our national effort to tackle environmental degradation, Indigenous reconciliation, effective political reforms, national unity, and peaceful global influence.
In some parts of the world, like Britain with Brexit, the nation state is reeling. In other nations like Canada it is being slowly undermined by division and intolerance. We still have our visions for tomorrow, but wonder who can capably take us there? Somehow, a nation whose citizenship is 90% inherited can’t turn that privilege into action. We must begin retooling our cohesiveness as a nation state for this century now or merely watch as forces of division and mayhem take it away by default.