The Washington tantrum that threatened the global economy over the last several weeks is no isolated instance of some peculiarly American dysfunction. Despite its bombs and bravado, its long history of sovereign independence, as well as its boast of being democracy’s conservator for the last 400 years, the nation state is everywhere at risk. Commentators as different as Parag Khanna in Singapore, Pierre Manent in France and Daniel Cohn-Bendit in Germany have recognized that governmental paralysis in the US, Italy, Spain and the countries of the Arab Spring is more than a matter of the moment but suggestive of decrepitude. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Felix Marquardt wrote, “the nation-state is fast becoming obsolete.”
Whether in the United States, where reckless right wing tea party populists have paralyzed Congress and threatened global financial chaos, or in Italy, where Berlusconi’s destabilizing antics have normalized anarchy, or In China, where the communist central government seems unable to control runaway capitalism, states are proving themselves incapable of action in the face of global crisis. They seem no more able to deal with climate change, though it threatens civilization itself, than to confront civil war and genocide, whether in Syria or Sudan.