Disempowering the Nation

The Nation State: An Obsolete Concept

The formation of the modern state (which we may call “nation state” or “sovereign state” or, for simplicity’s sake, just “country”) was the result of consolidation of a particular territory by a centralised government authority. Despite many recent developments, like the creation of the UN and the global recognition of human rights, most modern states still operate under the assumption that they are sovereign, i.e., that their governments should enjoy unfettered control over affairs within their territorial limits. These two characteristics of the contemporary nation state—centralisation and sovereignty—have contributed especially to ineffective systems of national and international governance.

It is a basic human need to seek out group identities and loyalty. This need is essentially primal in nature as it helped our ancestors to survive in an uncertain environment. The idea of the nation state is deeply rooted in the human psyche, buttressed by the human need to fix our identities in something outside ourselves, and by our addiction to power. The nation state has become the repository of our identity, and we imbue it with all the characteristics we wish to possess. It feeds our innate need for identity and belonging. As the history of the 20th century has shown, identity formation on the basis of nationalism leads to the conviction that we are different, separate, and in most cases arrogantly superior, to other nations. This artificial mental construct pits us against all national, ethnic or religious groups perceived as ‘other’ than ourselves, such that we find ourselves thinking continually in binary terms—us versus them, the chosen ones facing the apostates, the true nation against the intruders. This dualistic mode of thinking, which sits at the heart of all First Dimension thought, leaves no room for real dialogue and is the root cause of most wars.

Disempowering the Nation State

In the page on democracy we identified four levels of governance: Community, Area, Region and Nation. We now add two more (Continental and Global) to complete the continuum of potential governance, i.e., a complete hierarchy of all the levels of governance that may impact the life of a citizen, wherever he may reside. In many contemporary societies, too much authority has been concentrated in the nation state. Throughout the world, the modern nation state has usurped the people’s ability to be a part of the decisions that most affect their lives. Issues that directly impact individual citizens— citizenship, taxation, public expenditure, security, and especially the enforcement of rights and freedoms—are the purview of national government agencies. This helps, at times, to create a national identity shared by every citizen in the land, but it also leaves individuals with less attachment and allegiance to the community in which they live. It renders the individual helpless and entirely in the control of a remote, impersonal and insensitive national monolith. Above all, it reduces the individual’s ability to control his own destiny through participation in government at the local level, because local institutions are left with minimal power to effect changes.

The image below shows the distribution of power among the six levels of governance. The black graph shows the typical distribution of authority as experienced by a First Dimension citizen. It suggests that authority over most of society’s functions, and therefore over the welfare of its citizens, is highly concentrated in the central or national government.

The image also shows two alternatives. The red graph shows a more equitable distribution of governance that may be found in a few contemporary societies and that, in the terminology used here, may be said to be functioning in a Second Dimension context already. 

A good example is Switzerland. Despite its small size, Switzerland has a fully decentralised government following a strong tradition of fiercely independent local and regional governance. Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons which, in turn, are comprised of some 3000 communes. A federal government links the cantons into one nation state, but this central authority controls only matters that are of interest to all cantons, such as foreign policy, national defence, and the federal railways. All other issues (education, labour, welfare, domestic security, and even immigration) are determined by cantonal and communal governments. In order to be able to manage all these programmes, each commune and canton has a great degree of authority and autonomy over taxation, such that most Swiss citizens pay an equal amount of tax to each tier of government. Each canton has its own parliament and constitution, and the communes, which vary in size from a few hundred inhabitants to a few hundred thousand , also have legislative and executive councils. Cantonal and communal governments are elected by the citizens resident in their areas of jurisdiction.

Such extensive decentralisation of power works well in a multi-cultural state like Switzerland, which is made up of several different language groups—German, French, Italian, and Rhaeto-Romansch. In the past, when conflicts arose between linguistically or religiously defined groups, the Swiss resolved them by allowing each of the competing groups to govern itself. Thus some cantons have divided into half-cantons, while new cantons have been created, and some communes lying along borders have opted to secede from one canton to join another. In this manner the Swiss have developed a structure that permits people of different languages, religions and traditions to live together in relative harmony. 

Because so many decisions are made at the local level, Swiss citizens are typically quite engaged in the laws and regulations that affect their lives. Because each canton is different, they are also able to see for themselves which policies work best. For example, one canton might have high taxes and expensive welfare programmes, while another might opt for low taxes and private charity. Each citizen can decide which policy suits her best and “vote with her feet” by moving to a canton that she finds the most sensible. The result is that good policies tend to succeed and be adopted elsewhere, whereas bad ones are usually short-lived.

For a society like Switzerland, the power graph (shown as a red line) is almost flat on the left, as power is equally spread out among the three tiers of governance (commune, canton, nation). Yet on the right the graph plunges downward because Switzerland is powerless to affect policies in other nation states, and, at the same time, it is not subject to many external interventions in its own policies.

The third graph, drawn as a dotted blue line, shows an almost ideal distribution of authority. It is a nearly flat line, such that power is shared equally among all levels of governance, from the local community level to the global, worldwide scenario. Our argument here is not simply a call for smaller government, or greater emphasis on local government. The concept we’re proposing is the correct scaling of government. In a nutshell, we can say that every issue or problem confronting today’s citizens and leaders, every aspect of governance and oversight, has an appropriate jurisdiction. There are issues and concerns that ought to be addressed at a community level, and others that rightly belong to higher perspectives. For example, a decision on where to locate a new city park, or whether or not to raise property taxes, should be taken at the community level. These are issues that have immediate impact on the citizen, and should therefore be addressed by a jurisdiction as close to him as possible. Accordingly, at the community level the citizen should have the right to elect his executive representative (the Community Leader) directly. The election of community leadership is direct, with all adult members of the community able to vote.

On the other hand, there are many problems that cannot be solved at local or even national level, and must therefore be addressed in higher forums. For example, issues that concern multiple nations, or indeed the world as a whole, such as climate change, migration and trade policy, must be addressed by continental or global bodies, even if this means acting against national sovereignty. 



Representative body

Example of responsibility


Community Leader’s advisory group

Parks, primary and secondary education, taxation, healthcare,
urban design, local roads


Area Caucus

Water and sewage, power distribution, cultural programmes, welfare


Regional Assembly

Agricultural policy, tertiary education, major road networks 


National Council

Defense, national transport systems (railways, air traffic, etc.),
national currency


Continental Congress

Tutelage of environmental landscapes (mountain ranges, riparian systems, inland seas),
disease control, peacekeeping


Global Forum

Global commons (high seas, atmosphere), migration, climate change, rights & freedoms multiplier for Global Forum,
global settlement currency, rogue nations, trade policy


The rationale for correct scaling is simple. The success of decentralisation in Switzerland shows that citizens participate actively in governance, both as voters and as elected officials, because they believe they can have a significant effect on decision-making. The correct scaling of governance starts with the fundamental recognition that people live in communities. They may nominally belong to a nation state, but they do not live in nation states. A nation state is too vast, both as a territory and as an idea, for an individual to belong to. Most citizens feel much too distant from the national centre of power where decisions that affect every aspect of their lives are being made. Even in democratic countries, casting a vote merely means sending a representative to a faraway capital, with little or no control over what happens next.

A New Approach to Citizenship

Citizens live in communities, and in this level of governance lies the true meaning of democracy. Therefore, the first step toward righting the imbalances created by the reliance on nation states as forms of organisation is to shift the authority to grant citizenship from the nation state to the community. While all those born in a community would automatically be citizens, the community would also be able to grant citizenship to newcomers, i.e., migrants. Immigration would be quite different than what exists today. It would be motivated by careful selection of one community over another, rather than by economic hardship or persecution.

A newcomer would start his induction by requesting permission to reside in the community temporarily and would confirm this through his physical presence, i.e., by purchasing or renting a property in the community’s territory. After a suitable amount of time, he would then be able to apply formally for citizenship. The community would decide whether to grant him citizenship based on a transparent process that does not allow for discrimination based on race, religion or nationality. A point system could be instituted, for example, by which his suitability is determined based on the fundamentals of community involvement: Does he have gainful employment in this or a neighbouring community? Has he shown interest in community administration through involvement in local councils, committees, and boards? Has he avoided fines, citations, or unreasonable litigation? Does he get along well with his immediate neighbours?

Such a system would ensure that any individual can earn the right to be member of any community. The prerequisites for this right would be responsibility, recognition by one’s fellow citizens, and participation in the governance of the community. (If the citizen is no longer satisfied with the policies of the community, he can transfer his residence to a different community, and seek citizenship there.) This would result in communities that would be less homogenous than many countries are today, not in the ‘multicultural’ sense currently championed by liberal thinkers, where ‘tolerance’ is the buzzword, but where, instead of merely being tolerated, citizens would earn genuine respect for each other once they realise that concepts like nation, country, race and caste are entirely artificial.

This Second Dimension plan for community-based immigration policy would benefit both the immigrant and the community. Knowing that his permission to immigrate depends on demonstrating the civic values appreciated by the community, the immigrant would be encouraged, to make a contribution to the public life of the community, to abide by its rules, and to become involved in its operation and governance. In doing so he also would gain the acceptance and respect of his fellow citizens quickly. The community, meanwhile, would be almost certain to gain a productive, engaged member who would bring new skills, energy and diversity. It would look forward to assimilating the new member, much as a sports team is boosted by the arrival of a new star player who increases their chance to win a championship.

Contrast this with how immigration unfolds in the First Dimension, where it is almost always set in motion by hardship faced in the country of origin, such as economic deprivation, persecution, violence, discrimination, and injustice. Migrants migrate, in other words, because they feel they have no alternatives. The rich nations where they hope to resettle typically grant citizenship (via an asylum process, or through amnesty or guest worker programmes) only grudgingly because they don’t see much value in migrants. In fact they fear loss of jobs, loss of social stability, and dilution of their cherished culture and values. Local populations therefore don’t help much with the integration of new migrants, often allowing them to become segregated and resentful of the more prosperous majority.

The key change in social identity in the Second Dimension is to shift the right to grant citizenship from nations to communities. This move would ensure that migrants can earn the right to be members of a community of their choice through merit alone, i.e., on the basis of their human qualities and willingness to contribute to civic life.

A Shared Humanity in the Third Dimension

Ultimately, the evolution of consciousness in more and more people will help them to recognise the hollowness of imagined constructs like nationality and sovereignty, and accept the fundamental idea that our humanity is shared. The evidence of everyday living, as reflected in both international news and personal experience, overwhelmingly shows us that humans of all countries, races and convictions share the same fundamental aspirations, desires, and needs. What is needed is a rejection of the shackles of jingoism, patriotism, pride, superiority and indifference that the idea of nationhood promotes. These are imaginary constructs that work to keep us apart. 

The way forward is to devolve power from an imagined entity (the nation) and award more of it to those administrative structures that are closer to the individual human being: his Community first and foremost, as well as his Area and Region. At the same time, supra-national entities must also siphon away some of the authority currently vested in the nation and enshrined in the seeming impregnable concept of sovereignty. 

Embedded in the idea of sovereignty is the right to monopolise the use of power and coercion. The concept of sovereignty is outdated because it does not take into consideration the wider imperatives of humanity, which demand a much more balanced approach to governance, both at community and at global level. In fact, it sees both local and global governance as a threat to its existence and has thus become the single most obstructive hurdle to human development. It can only be overcome by creating a global movement for change that will challenge the status quo.

We occasionally get glimpses of correctly scaled structures in Swiss cantons or certain global conventions, but the movement to reform democracy everywhere, right-scale the level of government and put the citizen and the community at the centre of human affairs can only happen when we shift powers to the levels of government both below and above the nation state. Without this, achieving the aims that we have set out in previous pages would not be possible, and neither would the creation of meaningful representative government at the local level. In a Second Dimension world, the role of the nation state should hopefully recede into the background as Community governance and Area governance take centre stage for local affairs, and Continental and Global governance institutions are empowered to create the conditions necessary for the development of Second and Third Dimension society. 

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