At the end of the first decade of the 21st century we define many facets of our life with reference to a concept called country. We measure income, savings rate, investments, lifespan, and mortality rate with regards to the country in which we live. We accumulate arms, wage wars, and negotiate peace between countries. We cheer for our country’s team, however bad or good it might be, if it is playing. We may cheer the best team when our own country’s team is out in a football or cricket tournament provided the best team is not from an enemy country.
Ironically, such spirited love for the country is seen least in the countries that have been around for the longest period of time - San Marino which has survived for almost 2000 years and Andorra which has been there for close to 800 years. Patriotism is most visible in countries that were born only a few decades ago, where it is buffeted by songs, symbols, arms and in some cases nuclear weapons and missiles. Pakistan, Eritrea, Serbia, and North Korea are a few obvious examples but there are many other relatively new countries with highly patriotic people.
We do not often realise that the country is a rather new concept. It has been a long journey from communities to clans to kingdoms to colonies to countries. About 10,000 years ago when Homo sapiens settled down with farming, instead of moving around in bands as hunter-gatherers, they formed communities. They made the most significant scientific discoveries on which modern civilization is based – growing crops, domesticating animals, making sharp instruments, building shelter, weaving clothes, making and dousing fires, so on and so forth. They shared the knowledge freely with others in the community; more often than not they shared the fruits of the knowledge including food and other essentials. They moved from one community to another. Thus, inventions that gave humanity a start were made possible in a context where there were no patents, passports and patriotism.
Gradually communities got converted into clans and some of the clans transformed into kingdoms. The kingdoms, including empires into which some of them expanded, had the longest life as the unit of social organisation. The first kingdom was established by King Namer about 4000 BC. The last of the major kingdoms got liquidated in 1919 if we excuse constitutional monarchies and dynastic democracies. Some kingdoms were church estates while some were ‘holy empires’ combining theocracy with monarchy. Thus, there have been different kinds of kingdoms. Some of the empires acquired far away lands to create colonies. They had to give up most of them by the 1960s. The colonies lasted for 300-400 years.
As compared to over 5000 years of contiguous history of kingdoms, countries are mere children as units of social organisation. It might be argued that the Greek city states were like countries but in any case they have not had a continuing existence. China can claim to be an old country but it has really been a collective of kingdoms. The countries as we understand today came into being with the birth of the United States, revolutions in England and France and Bismarck’s consolidation of Germany. The concept of country got a major fillip with Wilson’s advocacy of the principle of self-determination in Paris in 1919 and the end of colonial rule in Africa and Asia following the Second World War. Thus, for all practical purposes the country as a concept has been significant for no more than three centuries.
In some countries, the county actually does not exist. For example, in Afghanistan, there is a cluster of modern economy in Kabul and another cluster of semi-modern economy around Mazar-e-Sharief. For the rest of the land mass and population there is no country and there has never been one, except in the vision of NATO commanders and their political bosses in Brussels and Washington DC. We can notice similar reality in a few African and Asian countries.
Several of the developed and emerging economies are increasingly showing the tendency to allow clusters to grow at the cost of the country. In the United States, there are clusters of innovation, which provide their own bonding for inhabitants, a shared sense of hope and humour, same spirit, and similar dreams. Anybody who can live in the United States can move and out of these clusters. The colour of the skin, religion, gender, and nationality do not matter. What matters is the ability and inclination to assimilate with the cluster and to play by its social and economic rules. Those living in the cluster can hardly relate to the country at large, specially to such segments of population that get easily wiped out by one big cyclone. They may provide some charity to the victims of a tragedy but they also provide similar aid to the victims of Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
When analyst talks about the rise of Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Vietnam and other emerging economies, it is really the high income generation clusters in these countries which matter to them. In India, it means parts of Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and a few other cities where highly educated people work – quite disconnected from India’s half a million villages which cannot afford a single high school. In South Africa, it means gated communities secured with electric fences, quite disconnected from half of the young coloured people who are unemployed. In China, it means several of the Eastern cities quite disconnected from farmers in the Western countryside.
So long as these clusters co-exist with countries in which they are growing, there is some connectivity on account of free movement of factors of production, particularly labour, and taxation for which the country is still the determining social organisation. On the other hand, there is no easy movement between clusters in two different countries. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, one cannot imagine the cluster replacing the country. However, it would be a folly to assume that the situation will not change by the end of the century. Already there is some weakening of connectivity between the cluster and the country and the strengthening of connectivity between the cluster and societies outside the country.
A few small countries with less than 10 million populations have developed a unique model where the entire country becomes a cluster. Israel, Singapore, Scandinavia, Switzerland are the most prominent examples. In these countries, there is a strong sense of bonding, a common sense of purpose, reasonably well shared prosperity with near zero filth and poverty, a strong spirit of discipline and civic sense, technology enabling social change, and a growing awareness of ecological responsibilities. These clusters cum countries will survive at least for a century or two, until some other form of social organisation emerges, and some of them will become dominant players in the world if they don’t get trapped in self-destructive ideas of politics and national security.
In other countries, slowly the clusters will gain autonomy, strength and an inclination to act on their own disconnecting from rest of the country and more and more connecting to clusters in other countries.
In 1950, there were 50 countries in the world. Sixty years later with triple the population, the number of countries has become 200. This has partially happened due to decolonisation and partially due to fragmentation. It would be naïve to assume that such a fast rate of country creation will suddenly come to a halt or slowdown. If the breakdown of countries continues, some countries will become clusters of growth and innovation; some will become clusters of criminals; some will become colonies again and some will remain countries but as tools of clusters within them. Such a scenario in 2110 is quite possible, though nobody can predict future. Who on earth in 1910 had guessed the End of Empires?
Print this Article