Two books from late 2014 make the case for why the State is in its final throes–but what a good ride it had. In a structural take on international relations, as compared to the theoretical view of power espoused by Moses Naim, Charles Maier looks backward in Leviathan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood and John Mickelthwait and Adrian Woodridge wonder about the future in The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State.
As Maier chronicles in his gripping account, the modern state wrapped itself in legal authority, harnessed technology, established markets, acquired wealth, and launched violent campaigns of territorial expansion. By the 1970s, the modern state had vanquished all the major alternative forms of political organization: a remarkable world-historical moment.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge cover some of the same ground. But the two editors of The Economist are more interested in the state’s future than in its past — and they are worried. In this clever and sharply argued book, they warn that the liberal democracies of the West have grown too big, a development they describe in evocative terms: “bloat,” “elephantiasis,” “omnipresent nanny,” the “supersizing” of the state. The unchecked growth of government, they claim, contributes to all the ills of today’s Western democracies: frayed social safety nets, demographic imbalances, fiscal crises, legislative gridlock, influence peddling, toxic partisanship. Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that to fix those problems and fend off the challenge posed by the updated models of authoritarianism put in practice by the Chinese and others, Western democracy must be reinvented.
Maier draws on history to show how how what we consider modern aspects of the state, “territorial integrity, highly developed governing structures, and technological prowess” are “historical anomalies–as Ethan Epstein writes in National Journal.
Not that this is new. Parag Khanna has been making this case in the literate press for some time, with the rise of NGOs coming to the scene most forcefully in the 1990s–now non-state actors in the media (bloggers), intelligence (Snowden), even terrorism (Bin Laden) are top of the list material for concern.