Aye or Nae, Smaller Nations on the Rise


Today’s vote in Scotland, no matter the result, continues the trend of smaller and smaller nations. Scotland raises the question of how big a state should be. We are living through a period of the collapse of large nations into smaller, more homogenous, parts. There were 74 independent states at the end of World War II. There are about 195 today. Nation-states could be broken up into even smaller and smaller pieces, even into city-states like the ancient Greek world or Renaissance Italy.

Where does it end? Not now.

Who is to blame? Us (with all due respect to PM Cameron and the British government).

I wrote a scholarly piece about this, “Fixing Failed States.” There, I argued that there is no correct number of states (with apologies to Woodrow Wilson, who opened up a Pandora’s box called national self-determination at Versailles). The number of states depends on world conditions. When the world presents security threats, groups and regions will benefit from combining into larger nations for defense. When the world lacks open trade, smaller groups will benefit from joining larger nations that have free trade within their borders.

The current fragmentation of the nation-state is a result of the peace and prosperity of the post-WWII period. When international conditions generate relative peace and stability, smaller groups and regions don’t need protection from larger nations. When free trade prevails in the world, small nations can maintain economic viability without joining a larger nation’s customs union. We are living in global conditions that are ripe for the breakup of nations, not just in Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, but Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.

The interesting result of this analysis is that the main party responsible for the devolution of nations is the United States. It is the United States that has guaranteed peace in Europe and Asia. It is the United States that has thrown its defense umbrella around the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Scotland does not need Great Britain to protects its security if the United States will. It is the United States that has created the free trade regime throughout the world, and the European Union has created a free-trade area. Scotland doesn’t need Great Britain if it has access to the world’s markets.

This means that more independence movements in Europe will arise and succeed. Even if Scotland says no to formal independence, it already has a large measure of functional independence and is sure to gain even more. The Scottish vote is not the end of the movement toward decentralization, not even the beginning of the end, but actually the beginning — unless the United States begins to withdraw from its role as the guarantor of peace and prosperity in the West.

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  1. AIG Inactive

    There were 2 waves of breakups that have happened recently. The first wave is the nations that broke off from the collapse of larger and stronger nations: i.e. Yugoslavia, USSR etc. That wasn’t necessarily due to increased prosperity and security, rather due to the decrease in the coercive power of the previous state to keep them in.

    The second wave is the Scotlands, Quebecs, Catalonias etc.

    Either way, this is all welcomed developments as far as I am concerned.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens

    I really do think that the federal system in America is unique in the world. We are not a nation composed of various long term cultural groups, going back centuries. We are Americans.While local cultures have flavors, they are not all that distinct. Yes there is an elite culture, but middle class around the nation is pretty similar.

    Even the two parties are more alike than the parties in Europe. Americans, right and left, are still more similar than the Scots and English, to say nothing of Flemish and Waloon. Visiting Europe, it strikes me how you can tell what Western nation someone is by looking at them. You cannot do that here. Even how someone sounds in America tells you less about them than you might think. In the UK, how you sound tells plenty.

    Now, the Left in this nation wants to make use less Federal, which does cause separatist pressure. However, I do not think that pressure is so great it will amount to much. To really kick in, Americans, will have to think that their region is better off leaving America. We have a long way to go before we get there.

    What we will see is the lessor nations fragmenting. Nations like Russia and China will use force to stay together and maybe expand. Only America will maintain itself as a major power, not through force, but through the will of the people.

    We will remain, One Nation under God, Indivisible

    God Bless America.


    • #2
  3. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt

    Today Scotland, tomorrow Texas!!!

    • #3
  4. Tuck Inactive

    Bryan G. Stephens: I really do think that the federal system in America is unique in the world.

    It was.  When we had a Federal system.  Now we have a First Lady who determines what school kids will eat.  Goodbye federalism…

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  5. James Of England Inactive
    James Of England

    anonymous:For once, I agree entirely with Professor Yoo. However the vote comes out in Scotland, “L’Europe des Régions” is not going away, and even if Scotland opts to remain in the UK in this vote, the issue will come up again and again. As I’ve said before, even a close vote in favour of union in Scotland will energise movements for separation in Catalonia, the Basque territory, and Kurdistan.

    Montesquieu was dubious about scaling self-governance beyond the city-state level. Today we have ample evidence of how hypertrophy in the size of nation states imperils individual liberty.

    And next? Perhaps the Texas Republic, or a free American Redoubt.

    I don’t think there’s going to be another Scottish referendum for a good while. Neither the awful behavior and the misery seem like positive things. Until a month ago, the debate was more about whether you voted yes or no. More recently, the unhappiness at there even being a vote became more common. It’s left a lot of harm, to little benefit.

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  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens


    Bryan G. Stephens: I really do think that the federal system in America is unique in the world.

    It was. When we had a Federal system. Now we have a First Lady who determines what school kids will eat. Goodbye federalism…

    While mandates tied to federal funding is a problem, it is not all bad. Because their is an encroachment in one area does not mean that it is time to throw in the towel and leave. What is put in place by Executive order can be undone by the same.

    • #6
  7. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo

    Secession should really be a “break glass in case of emergency” step.  Once you are willing to use your last resort and the sky doesn’t fall down, it reduces the threshold for doing it again.  It has the potential to create a situation where the loser of any particular vote (at the polls or in the legislature) can decide they want to be independent and things atomize from there: first my state secedes, then my county secedes from my state, all the way down.

    There are times when independence is appropriate, but it should be a high bar.

    • #7
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