The Left and The Nation-State

For many years, professors of international politics have been telling us about the decline of the nation-state and the coming transcendence of the Westphalian system. But the political critique of the nation-state comes most often from men and women on the left, who condemn its parochialism, its tendency to produce nationalist fanaticism and xenophobia, its repression of minorities. Many of them yearn for a cosmopolitan alternative, a world without borders and border guards. And yet, at this moment, much of the world or, better, the Western part of it, including many Western leftists, is rallying in support of a beleaguered Ukraine, a classic nation-state that has in the past been guilty of all the sins I just listed. The world and the West are right to rally. Why is that? I live on the left and argue often with my fellow leftists about the value of the nation-state and of the international order, or disorder, of sovereign states. The arguments are sometimes concrete and practical, about immigration, say, or the treatment of minorities — good things to argue about (I will come to them). But the arguments are more often theoretical, since in practice the leftists who argue with me have been remarkably supportive of the creation of new states and, especially, nation-states. Their political choices over the last seventy-five years give little evidence of cosmopolitanism. They celebrated the end of the European empires and the creation of independent, mostly multi-ethnic, states across Africa — and many of them then supported nationalist secessions in Biafra and South Sudan. Leftists who recognized the evil of Stalinism rejoiced when East European nation-states were liberated from Soviet domination — and watched without regret the breakup of the Soviet Union (a modern-style empire) that produced fifteen new nation-states: Lithuania; Latvia and Estonia in the

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