Today we have associated so much love with our nationalities that we have little of it left for humanity. Billions if not Trillions of dollars every year, are dedicated to defense budget's of countries around the globe. Third world countries spend more on buying arms to protect lines on a map then spending on health and education. Politicians are able to manipulate people into killing others all in the name of Nationalism.

I don't think religion/race/culture etc are issues. The problem in my opinion stems from lack of education. Case in point, if you take a number of highly educated and enlightened people and observe their interactions (case in point any popular tourist destination), most people are cordial and tolerant towards each other. If the resources, currently being spent on nuclear missile silos, were used to educate the masses and equipping everyone equally with means to move forward, wouldn't humans fare better? Especially when instead of focusing on hating each other, we can focus on common problems such as access to clean water and cancer etc?

What could be potential pitfalls of creating a world without nations or one world for all humanity?

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Are you trying to create a world or story on this premise or just talk philosophy? $\endgroup$
    – Shollus
    Feb 20 '15 at 18:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Tribalism is identification by the tribe you belong to and was a general identity for a person until Monarchy (tribalism is still predominant in locations like Afghanistan). Monarchy is loyalty to the crown and people identified themselves and their loyalties to the crown. Nationalism is switching this same loyalty to the abstract notion of a nation. Identifying loyalty by species (IE Human) would be the next logical step. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Feb 20 '15 at 19:25
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Access to cancer is, sadly, assured to us all. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Apr 2 '15 at 17:28
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This question makes the implicit assumption that people are hostile to other because of nationalism, when in fact the reverse is true: nationalism exists because people are naturally suspicious and distrustful of those outside their group. As mentioned by Twelfth, technological development allowed our notion of group/tribe to expand, but the us/them mentality never went away. This behavior has been hardwired into our brains by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, and is unlikely to change no matter how much social development we use to mask it. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 '15 at 19:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Third world countries spend more on buying arms to protect lines on a map..." Do they? Or do they use their arms to protect their holdings within their own nations against tribal interests, rebel groups and on civil wars and keeping themselves in power. I struggle to think of a war that occurred between two nations over borders in the third world in recent history, not counting the Middle East... $\endgroup$
    – colmde
    Jul 7 '15 at 16:09

Nationalism was certainly a primary issue in engendering conflict for a long time, generally from colonial times through probably the second world war. Unfortunately your hypothesis that this is the problem today is out of date.

In our current era, problems of nationalism have been eclipsed by more general concepts. The most famous author on the subject is Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. (Arguably at least).

He posits that where we used to see conflict between nations we now see conflicts between ideas and cultures which almost always span national boundaries.

Some examples include freedom vs control, communism vs capitalism, Islamism vs the West and there are many many others. To explain I will go through a couple.

The West

The west mainly refers to the United States, Canada, Australia (doesn't fit the geography admittedly), and Western Europe. This example most illustrates the fall of nationalism. European nations/tribes etc waged war on each other for...well basically ever, culminating in WWII. Since WWII no Western European nations have gone to war with one another (this includes the US/Canada/Australia). Interestingly we may be seeing a swing back to nationalism in Europe as demonstrated by anti-immigration protests, and the election of Syriza, and anti-EU sentiment.

Freedom vs Control

I think the best example of this is in the news right now. Russia vs Nato... Putin controls and manipulates his government and people, (I will caveat this with...yes there is manipulation in the west as well but Russia is at a whole different level). The ability to freely dissent doesn't exist in Russia. When two groups have differing understandings of a fundamental concept it leads to conflict (watch the news for proof on this...)

Trans-national Ethnic/Cultural Groups

This has become a huge source of conflict. From the Kurds in Turkey/Syria/Iraq and Iran to tribal uprisings in the middle east and south west asia this has become a major source of conflict. When there is a shared antagonistic history it is easy to motivate downtrodden people to blame and then attack a group they hate. (Hitler anyone...) Read the General notes section for more.

General Notes

  • Dehumanizing opponents. One of the reasons I believe that this transition has come to pass is that it is much more difficult to dehumanize neighboring countries than it used to be (at least in the more "modern" parts of the world). This is mainly due to the ease of travelling and communication. The better you know someone the less likely it is that a political figure can convince you that they are evil and a threat.

  • Relative Deprivation. This is an interesting concept. The idea is that my view of my group's power and influence and affluence is gauged on how well another group is doing. I may be far less prosperous than I was 20 years ago but I am still better than they are. We see this in the continued existence of Middle Eastern regimes who supports one powerful faction and keeps them at the top of the heap...even as the system goes to hell around them. Keeping a faction happy is not necessarily based on overall wealth but rather my power/resources compared to others. Assad is a master of this. A logical person from his group should be able to say that the whole country going downhill is bad for everyone including us, but as long as Assad keeps them on top he continues to have support.

  • Education. To your point on education. Yes. Absolutely. Money we spend on defense would be far better spent on education and cultural awareness. First hand experience is the way to go. I'd wager that if nations took their defense spending they could pay for every 18 year old to travel the globe for 6 months. Visit every region on the planet, meet people, learn how the rest of the world works. Understanding engenders empathy.

I don't think religion/race/culture etc are issues. The problem in my opinion stems from lack of education.

These are somewhat combine but religion race and culture are common concepts that leaders can use to motivate the masses. Its a simple matter of them versus us and nothing motivates the uneducated masses faster than threats to their way of life...even if that means hating another person's way of life...which is so painfully ironic. It is not simply education, though the best counter to the vile idiocy out there is certainly to teach.

  • What would happen if nations went away...that is a tough one and I don't know that we can effectively answer it. While national conflicts have become fewer, a nation is far more than a war waging machine. The legal constructs on which our world works are all based on the power of the nation-state. I don't know that humanity could look at a globe and not label it in some way or another. We as creatures simply lack the ability to think about all that is required to get past the nation concept...or at least the labeling concept. We have to generalize and organize...our brains can't managing things any other way.
  • $\begingroup$ Note that historically, nations usually coincided with ethnic groups; hence if say, England and France went to war, it was also the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans going to war. Perhaps conflict has alway been about 'more general' concepts, and now that we have ethnic groups that span nations (and vice-versa) we can distinguish their conflicts from nationalism. $\endgroup$ Feb 20 '15 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Your assertion that ideas and cultures are more important than nations is downright UNAMERICAN! $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Feb 20 '15 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ You haven't been on a web forum if you think that dehumanizing your opponent is at all difficult in the modern age. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Apr 2 '15 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat That's not really relevant to what I was trying to say. We are talking about nations not celebrity bashing on twitter. Not to mention that I say it is more difficult, not impossible. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Apr 2 '15 at 17:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I would say that WWI was the last nationalistic war in Europe. WWII was about a transnational political philosophy. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 6 '15 at 4:44

Very nice answer @James

I'd use a simplified answer,
Humans are tribal by nature. We form tribes based upon common interests (family, clan, town, city, state, nation, profession, hobbies, sports, sports teams, race, sexual orientation, etc.).

Recent research indicates that forming tribal groups may be hard wired into the human brain. Humans will even form tribes for things trivial and arbitrary like a coin flip. And so, for the foreseeable future, humans will retain their desire for tribal affinity and fear of "the other" (outside the tribe).

I imagine that we'll only overcome our nature is to use our world tribal affinity against some external tribe (aliens, off-world colonies, etc.) At least I think this is more likely in the short term than any sort of "growing out of it."


"What could be potential pitfalls of creating a world without nations or one world for all humanity?"

The main pitfall of having humanity under one political jurisdiction would be the same pitfall as comes from relying on one staple crop: if that crop fails, it is disaster for everyone. In contrast if many different crops are grown they are unlikely all to fail at once.

This is analogous to the situation of a world of many nations - they won't all fall under a tyrannical ideology at once; there is always somewhere to escape to. Most of the time things are not so grim, but it is still the case that separate nations provide scope for trying out diverse political and economic policies on something less than the whole world.

  • $\begingroup$ Not sure this is such a pitfall - if you're born in a country with a tyrant, you're stuck with them. It doesn't matter to you whether the tyrant rules just this country or the whole world. But in a world without nationalism, you could leave, and be welcome in a better country/state/province. Your crop analogy assumes that people have a menu of political systems to choose from, but that's not the case - all people of a nation still have to rely on a single "crop", and if it fails, they can't just fall back on another/better one. $\endgroup$
    – colmde
    Mar 6 '17 at 9:33

I don't know if you'd care to hear a nationalist's input on the subject, but here goes.

First of all, the principal objection to pacifism applies here: either everyone becomes a pacifist at once, or the non-pacifists win without contest. Similarly, you will have to put a lot of resources and effort (and by "effort" I mean a degree of ideological coercion that will sometimes appear controversial to say the least) not only into initially establishing your nationless world, but also into maintaining it. A world like that won't run itself without constantly trying to spiral back to its original state. And the catalysts for neo-nationalism will come from two opposite ends of the spectrum: on the one hand, those who straight-up refuse to be affected by the ideology; and on the other hand, those who create a narrative successfully rationalising effective nationalism while seemingly not contradicting the ideology. And a single pocket of nationalism is enough for a domino effect combining opposition and imitation.

Secondly, I have doubts about your "lack of education" hypothesis, and those doubts stem from my personal experience. My multicultural, multi-lingual education, and the corresponding general environment of my formative years, is what eventually made me a nationalist; it's not something I would have contemplated earlier. It's not that it was a negative experience — it wasn't; it's not that I have a problem being equally cordial and tolerant to everyone; but I discovered at some point that my national identity is a core part of who I am, and there's little I could or would want to do about it. No offence, but "human" is just a bland thing to be — unless and until we're invaded by space aliens. In fact, not necessarily invaded; contact would be enough. For now, being human is just a trivial given, and you can't make it into anything greater than that without artificial indoctrination that's as intrusive as it is brittle.

A nation is basically a super-extended family. Very few people would believe that their parents, spouse, or child are literally better than anyone else in the world; but the vast majority of people certainly feels this way. Or to be more precise: most people would enjoy the occasions when reality accidentally seems to confirm this illusion of superiority (which most people would recognise for an illusion even if they don't admit it, which however does nothing to dispel it). Then again, like I said, this is the ultimate extended family, and as such, it's virtually guaranteed to include people you dislike and don't particularly respect, but whom you nonetheless continue to think of as your kin, and to whom you would accordingly extend some degree of preferential treatment.

Now I do agree that this model is dysfunctional on many levels, but would abolishing families really accomplish anything? Not to mention that it would certainly be dishonest to reduce all family ties to "hating" other families — even though we have Romeo and Juliet and a myriad of lesser dramas playing out in our everyday life. Admittedly, in an urbanised society, the importance of familial identity has faded a lot; it's worth to note that this happened without any guidance — what's more, in spite of numerous attempts to reaffirm "family values". At some point in the future, nations may be succeeded by some even more abstract identity constructs — perhaps with barely any potention for divisiveness. I don't think we're there yet, or that rushing into post-nationalism would get us anywhere.

  • $\begingroup$ @Burki Reducing to familiar clichés doesn't sound smart in mine, but feel free. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 '15 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ I guess you are right, my comment is not very helpful. I deleted it. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 7 '15 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ "I discovered at some point that my national identity is a core part of who I am" - yes but a nationalist system denies that same sense to other people just because they weren't born within the same borders as you (or forces it upon them because they were) $\endgroup$
    – colmde
    Mar 6 '17 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ @colmde If it forces anything upon anyone, it's a bad nationalist system. As for "denying", does a state owe anything to "people born outside its borders", or foreigners in general? I'm not talking about basic human rights but the I really see no reason why the specific perks of being a citizen of this or that country should in any way be extended to someone who basically just wandered in. $\endgroup$ Mar 6 '17 at 12:05

You ask about pitfalls.

I'm reminded of the compromise used in setting up the congress of the United States: one house is based on equal representation for equal population, and the other is based on geographic region regardless of population.

People objected to the pure population approach, because different areas have different needs.

Everybody being dealt with "the same" will give rise to de-optimizations due to inherent differences, which can be due to geography, climate, and natural resources even if you postulate that there is no difference (or at least no intolerance) for human tribal reasons.


Nationalism as such is, contrary to some comments, not a natural trait in humans, although it may seem so.
Humans tend to simplify (since otherwise we could never grasp any thought, if we always tried to consider every micro-and macrocosmological aspect of it).
Also, we evolved in groups, as social animals.
Yet, people can typically remember something like 120 other people. If one tries to stay in contact with more than that, and tries to remember more than just some very basic facts, that requires quite some work.

The nation of course is a more or less synthetic construction, which was first created as kingdom or empire, and only later was "redefined" as a nation.
If you take a closer look at any state in existence, you soon notice that the different regions have more or less different language, are associated with different behaviour and whatnot.
Thus, the nation and subsequently nationalism are synthetic constructs, used to unite those different parts of the population of a country. Unfortunately, typically they are used to unite the people against some other group. The reasons are typically any kind of greed. Be it that the people employing the nation and invoking nationalist thoughts and feelings want to urge people into war (with an interesting aside: it's allways the people, but never the "brave leaders" that are supposed to have themselves shot), or to explain why it should be okay to treat those others in any bad way.

Say, we want to exploit those pesty foreigners (to get cheaper labour), then it helps a lot if those are deprived of the basic rights, and even more, to avoid them uprising, or simply refusing to be exploited.
If now one would provoque a situation where those one wants to exploit (the foreigners, in the first place) would be held down by the rest of the population (who in turn are given a cheap target for their own aggressions should they notice that somebody else is pinching the beef), then you could much more easily pursue your own greed, without too much fear of the torches and pitchforks.

So, after that long introduction, to answer your question:
Of course it would be a good idea to stop buying more and more weapons to (at least threaten to) shoot one another, and invest in education.
Of course that would make a much ebtter world.

Unfortunately, though, there is a small but extremely rich minority who don't have the slightest interest in that, because they can become richer in the current setup, and they might face quite some trouble if it changed.
And subsequently, they will use their money and resulting power to make sure that this won't happen.

  • $\begingroup$ If you look at (e.g.) the recient Texas school board hearings, it's not just due to rich minority pressure. Uneducated people perpetuate the condition, especially when religious views tell them that education is wrong. Perhaps the rich exploit this but don't cause it. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 6 '15 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Oh yes they do. They create the situation that creates poverty and ghetto-building. They create the fights of the middle class against the poor, which in return creates a feeling of hopelessness in the lower classes, which then encourages hate and gang formation. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 7 '15 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ How do we fix it? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 7 '15 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz that is a bit more complicated. But a good start would be not to take part in the battle between middle class and poorer classes. A next step would be to identify the biggest puppet masters, and boycot their companies and/or products, or not vote for them. In general: be sceptic, think for yourselves, and never stop asking yourselves who is benefiting from the situation. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 7 '15 at 8:02

The main pitfall here is that it is very easy to rise to power using "us vs them." Your "utopia" will last until someone figures out that they can gain power by pitting one group against another. Then, it might not be "nationalism" but only if the "them" is defined in terms other than a nation.

Look at your typical high school. The kids form tribes and often harass kids from other "tribes."

Anything that you are thinking of will be an unstable equilibrium that can't last without constant maintenance.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.