Dalibor Rohac has an excellent article in “Standpoint“. It is a brave endeavour, as it is addressed to our British conservative friends who, not unlikely their American counterparts, have recently fallen in love with the nation-state. (Remember when they used to dream about the glories of the British empire?).

Dalibor makes quite a few interesting points, but I’d like to single this out:

Yet the nation state is not the endpoint of history, nor is it even a basic fact of human history. Since the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe’s evolution reflected efforts to balance unity, provided by a common religion and set of cultural references, against diversity. What resulted were forms of governance that combined a significant degree of decentralisation with overarching frameworks of rules—the Holy Roman Empire, the Hanseatic League, or even the classical gold standard count as examples. By contrast, the modern nation-state is a relatively recent and by no means a “natural” creation. Rather, it has been a result of conscious, sometimes violent efforts at ethnic and cultural homogenisation, the results of which have been decidedly mixed.

The nation-state is not like the sun or the moon: it is a historical artifact, clearly a very successful one (it transformed our way of thinking about politics dramatically) which obviously answered genuine demands on the part of people. But it is a rather recent artifact and conservatives, who tend to favour decentralization, tradition, and bottom up orders, should pause before endorsing it uncritically. I shall add that, as opposed to older, supranational political institutions, the nation state is the single institution that most effectively crowded out all other actors in society, that expropriated churches and monopolized functions once provided by families or other social groups not only because it was expedient, but with a clear-cut ideological aim. There is plenty conservatives should not, and used to not, like in nation-states and I’m glad Dalibor reminded them so.