Chapter Seven

The Emergence Of The State And Its Impact On Individual Consciousness 


With the exception only of some remaining 'primitive' societies, many of them in Africa, we all nowadays live in a nation state, which has a local monopoly of power and doesn't hesitate to use it to maintain its control over its citizens.

The growth of states and their powers on such a scale is a very recent phenomenon and owes much to technological development. It has taken place in the last 500 years, which is a bare 15% of recorded history, and a tiny fraction of the 50,000 or so years during which modern humans are thought to have occupied permanent settlements, requiring some type of hierarchical and/or administrative organization.

The State and religion don't seem to have been adaptations driven by competition to survive against other species; instead, the competition was by now presumably between different human groups, at a cultural level. (While group selectionism has been discredited as regards the evolution of genetically transmitted traits, there is no objection to the idea that groups compete against each other in cultural terms).

As the broadest possible generalisation, it's possible to say that, once human communities became too large to be governed by direct exercise of morality within the group, religion evolved as the mechanism by which a moral infrastructure was maintained, and often enforced. Religions themselves are groups, hence their appeal to 'groupish' individuals, although they are so much larger than the ancestral human nomadic group, that it is easy for the leaders of religious groups to abuse the morality that underlies them and that they overtly preach. However, throughout the period in which religion had the lead role in moral provisioning, many communities were not that far away from the original kin-group level (guilds, villages etc), able to maintain a local moral structure based on the shared knowledge of their members, which supplemented the church's morality.

This sharing of moral provisioning between religion and the local community (not forgetting the trade-based groups as well) was the situation that prevailed for millennia until the Nation State began to interest itself in the morality of its citizens.

Emergence Of Settled, Hierarchical Human Communities

The human way of life remained largely nomadic and based on hunter-gatherer groups until the invention of farming allowed permanent human settlements to form, and these eventually came to be substantially larger than 150 individuals, which appears to be the limit for a coherent group of humans unassisted by external societal frameworks.

The adoption of a settled way of life may or may not have been an adaptation driven by competition to survive. It may have been forced by climatic or population pressures, or adopted voluntarily, or was perhaps a result of competition between different human groups. Whatever the reasons for the origin of settlements, the adaptations needed for these larger groups to be successful included initially the development of a more sophisticated hierarchy, greater division of labour, and the strengthening of social structures such as marriage.

At some point during the transition from nomadic to settled existence, mythic cultural influences (controls, if you will) gave way to religion. The adaptations needed for these now larger groups to be successful included the communication of information between generations (writing, books, schools) and the use of texts (eg the famous 10 Commandments) to control large groups. This stage occupies the early parts of recorded history (it wouldn't exist for us if recording hadn't been possible!) including the Chinese, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations.

Highly organized, settled communities clearly existed by 10,000 years ago based on archeological evidence, although we are limited as to how much we know about their cultures because alphabetic writing was not invented until about 6,000-9,000 years ago. Trade seems to have played a central role in their development, as was recounted in Chapter Six. Donald (Origins of the Modern Mind) sees the development of the list (4th millennium BC) as a key feature in the development of the State:

'List arrangement can facilitate the sorting, summarizing and classifying of items and can reveal patterns otherwise not discernable. With the invention of visual lists, the newly created state could acquire, analyze and digest the information it needed to function.'

The use of the work 'state' to describe societies at such a period needs to be highly circumscribed, of course. These societies may have employed slave labour and may have been repressive in religious terms; but the prevailing, collective, even egalitarian way of life inherited from history by the bulk of people was not about to change for millennia to come. The State at that time had neither the desire nor the means to control the minutiae of human life.

By 2,000 BC, we begin to be able to describe the workings of nations such as Rome with greater confidence, and it is clear both that commercial life had a central role in the life of cities and that the state as such played little or no role in the supervision of daily human life, which was left to the ancient 'folkways' to administer.

Emergence Of The Unitary State

It is important to distinguish between pre-Renaissance nations, settlements, communities and cities, which, however authoritarian they may sometimes have been, lacked the means or even the desire to control the lives of their citizens in the way we have come to accept as normal in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chapter Six described the roots of the governance of mediaeval and pre-mediaeval communities as firmly planted in the collective, and traced the emerging commercial and legal frameworks which lay ready to hand when the state emerged from its chrysalis in the 16th century. The years 1400 – 1600 saw, at least in Europe, the emergence of powerful monarchs and princes in what later came to be nation-states.

Previous societies regarded themselves as being assemblages of individuals subject to a common law (De Jouvenel, On Power) which applied to the sovereign (if there was one) as much as to any other citizen. De Jouvenel adds that the State became personified only in the 19th century: where we now say 'France', and give it personality, Romans used to say, according to the date of the speaker, either 'the people and commons of Rome', or 'the Senate and people of Rome'.

Anderson (Imagined Communities) has highlighted the importance of the invention of printing in giving the emerging state the tools it needed to weld an increasingly literate populace into a national community, sharing the same culture, language and sense of community. Prior to the 16th century, the consciousness (self-awareness) of all individuals other than very well educated ones was unaffected by direct delivery of printed ideas. Most people indeed were illiterate, although the parson in his pulpit could and did deliver ideas and morals in the vernacular. Anderson:

'The coalition between Protestantism and print-capitalism . . . produced Europe's first important non-dynastic, non-city states in the Dutch Republic and the Commonwealth of the Puritans.'

In Europe, the boundaries of nation states as they emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries had got very little to do with the historical inter-play of noble families, and everything to do with the vernacular print-languages (it's almost possible to use the expression, 'cultures') which gained dominance, although this wasn't always along ethnic boundaries. In Ireland, for instance, (part of Britain at the time) English elbowed out Gaelic, and it was only much later that the Irish independence movement (like all such movements, closely associated with its own language) was able to hit back. Plenty more examples spring to mind, and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire offers many of them. Its own failure as a unitary state may well have been due partly to its lack of a national print language and matching culture - amazingly, the Empire continued to use Latin as a state language until 1840.

Throughout Europe, the State used the power it had gained by the 18th century to demolish the remnants of collective life, by arrogating to itself the supervision and conduct of the law, of education, of social provision, and of many other areas of life. In England, for example, the enforced enclosures of the 18th century converted the commonly-held majority of English land into the estates of the nobility. 'And sheep do drive out men'. It probably wasn't done out of any animus towards the people, simply out of greed; but the effect was just as deadly to communal life.

Law, trade, kin-group society and morality have changed out of all recognition as the Nation State has gradually taken over control of all these aspects of human life. The suppression or outright destruction of the collective way of life which had evolved among human groups over hundreds of thousands of years has had profound implications for the psyche of the individual. Even as the State purports to offer itself as a replacement for previous institutions which offered moral and spiritual guidance to humans, such as religion, the community and the extended family, the reality is that the individual is now forced to accept conscious responsibility for herself, something for which she is ill-equipped by evolution and cultural inheritance.

Expansion Of Consciousness Under The State

Although there are plenty of negative aspects to the assumption of power over the individual that characterized the burgeoning of State power during the last three hundred years, it must also be admitted that a very high proportion of the citizens of nation states were admitted as a result to the ranks of the intelligentsia alongside the privileged few who had previously resided there. In this sense it was the invention of printing (of the mass media, if you like) that began modern social and political history. Contemporary psycho-social researchers see the invention of printing and later expansions of the media as in some way an extension of human consciousness. Indeed it's obvious that a dictionary, or a thesaurus, or even a grammar, can be used by humans to underpin their linguistic resources, and that libraries and other stores of content are in some sense supplementary to the human brain. They can be and are used extensively by writers, researchers and just plain interested people to supplement their own internal cognitive resources.

Donald (Origins of the Modern Mind) calls the totality of such external content the 'External Symbolic Storage System' or ESS, and distinguishes it from the preceding 'External Memory Field' or EXMF, which is made up of early, external stores of symbolic content and the possibility of manipulating them, often graphically. Donald lists external uses of symbolism in addition to language as such, including musical notation, geographic maps, military plans, geometric concepts, astronomical lists, calendars and clocks, architectural drawings, and a number of more recent types of symbolic storage (eg choreography). Physical means of extending linguistic consciousness have been supplemented by other types of recording technique, including video, DVD, movies, and computer storage.

Although the existence of the ESS as a major component of human cognition may perhaps be dated to the time of the Ancient Greeks, the invention of printing in the late Middle Ages can be seen as the moment that the ESS started to become culturally dominant in human society. Donald:

'The number of items stored in collective human experience has grown exponentially with the development of the ESS, both because the encoded knowledge of the past can be better preserved and because the the process of producing ESS entries has resulted in a huge industry for generating, inventing and mass-producing exograms.'

Donald's eventual point is that human cognitive faculties have had to adapt away from controlling and sourcing the stored contents of the brain to become a management facility for the enormous ESS.

Gutenberg's printing press

Courtesy of Florida Center for Instructional Technology

This is of course reflected in changes in the education process: children nowadays are decreasingly taught knowledge as such; instead, they are taught how to source and use knowledge. Or at least, they should be – in practice education has lagged behind the growth of the ESS.

The expanded reach of consciousness (self-awareness) consequent on the acquisition of these external stores of information can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation that adds to the fitness of individuals, the groups they belong to, and eventually society as a whole, although of course these are cultural, not genetic advances.

Alongside the development of storage media has come an expansion in the means of communication that are available to humans. The telephone, television, radio, the humble fax and mobile phones can all be seen as supplementary to the basic senses with which biological evolution had equipped humans. With these additional sensory channels we can explore the expanded content universe at will. The coping-stone of this pyramid of extra awareness is of course the Internet. A normally well-educated human can use the Internet to access the totality of the accumulated knowledge of humanity, and to apply it to life situations.

Groups And The Nation State

Within the nation state, groups have had a chequered career. Some groups have been used by the State as a means of delivering or supporting moral structure, of which the most obvious is organised religion. At one time mutual and cooperative organisations, which had their roots in smaller, local communities, were also important, along with private clubs or groupings, for the delivery of education, medicine, welfare and other social goods. The State has assumed and centralised these roles of private groups, with predictably bad results; even the church has now been disestablished in many countries. The State evidently thinks that it doesn't need any help in proselytizing or giving moral guidance; or rather, its paranoid need to control everything has led it to throw out private moralities along with the possibility for independent action on the part of citizens.

Some types of group are non-threatening to the State, and maintain their activities over long periods of time without interference from above. Social clubs, recreational groupings such as cricket clubs, the Ramblers' Association, operatic and dramatic clubs, motorists associations and investment clubs are all examples of innocent association in the State's eyes; although occasionally legislation reaches out to influence or control some aspects of their activities.

Other types of group are regarded as menacing or immoral by the State, and are proscribed, pursued or heavily controlled as a result. In the UK, Mosley's Black Shirts and their modern day descendant the National Front are examples. Until recently, nation states' problems in this direction were largely limited to their own territories, simply because the maintenance of a potentially subversive organisation across the borders of nations was physically difficult, fairly easy to detect, and even easier to stop. Nowadays, of course, modern communications techniques allow groups such as the Taliban to operate with ease across borders; this 'globalisation' of culture is addressed in Chapters Nine and Ten.

The most important consequence of the effective ethical monopoly of the Nation State is that its model of top-down moral suasion (the 'Nanny State') is unsuited to the way in which the human mind works, leaving individuals without an effective internalised moral structure. Litter, suicide, rape, violence, thuggery and the rest are the all too obvious result. Humans, though, won't be stopped from associating with each other (even hoodies are being groupish) and it is not surprising that the growth in power of the State – denying individuality on the one hand – is matched on the other hand by an explosion of interest in association. People's individuality is reinforced, even perhaps created, on the basis of associative building blocks, and what the major institutions of society no longer provide for them they will always seek to provide for themselves.

As noted above, commercial activity is of its essence groupish, and all attempts by the Nation State to control it notoriously come unstuck. And because of their groupish origins, commercial organisations used to behave in a collective way, until the State alienated them as it has alienated individuals by taking away their social responsibilities. All over Europe the early city-state ensured that food, for example, was provided to the market on behalf of the citizens at large, allowing individual traders access to supplies only once the collective good was assured. Thus Gross (The Guild Merchant), writing about Liverpool among many other cities: 'The merchants and the sailors were to state on oath the first cost of the goods and the expenses of transportation.' According to Gross, these customs continued in many cities until as late as the 17th century.

Although the State has pretty well extinguished the private sector in moral provisioning, even in the 21st century there are still groupish organizations which maintain the ancient, collective virtues as a way of life in defiance of 'modern' life, such as the Amish in the US and the Hutterites in Europe. For Wilson (Reintroducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioural Sciences), the Hutterites are a testament to the success of groupish, anti-individualistic living:

'By fostering a selfless attitude towards others and minimizing the potential for exploitation within groups, they are spectacularly successful at the group level.'

The State And The Individual

As explained above, a sense of national cultural commonality came into being as a result of the spread of nation states in the 17th to 19th centuries, driven by the emergence of national 'print-languages' which fostered a feeling of community among their users (readers), although 'print-languages' and nations were by no means co-terminous. Nations as such had existed prior to the 15th century, but owed little to any sense of nationality among their inhabitants.

Nation states in South America (and later in Africa) largely followed the contours of the colonial administrative districts which had preceded them (Anderson, ibid). It's easy to see that 'national print languages' and accompanying cultural ideas would have developed within those boundaries; Anderson describes how the administrators created what amounted to nationalistic 'meaning' in their areas. That was necessary, of course; as Anderson says: 'In themselves, market-zones, 'natural'-geographic or politico-administratives, do not create attachments.' Who would willingly die for ASEAN or the EU? The deaths of the brave soldiers of NATO in Afghanistan are always reported and mourned in their own, native countries; NATO has no national population of its own to feel for them.

Whatever the exact mechanism, the expansion of individual consciousness to embrace 'national' feelings is evident, and it had many unpleasant consequences, alongside a few good ones. Without the development of patriotism that resulted from the emergence of national consciousness, the financing and bloodshed of the national wars of the 18th to 20th centuries would hardly have been possible.

The breakdown of collective belief structures, to be replaced by the all-powerful State, during the 16th to 18th centuries was described by Jouvenel (ibid):

'the great period of rationalism was also that of enlightened and free-thinking despots . . . all persuaded that they both could and should overturn the customs of their peoples to make them conformable to reason, all extending prodigiously their bureaucracies for the furtherance of their designs, and their police in order to smash all opposition.'

Marriage, itself a culturally evolved mechanism that forms part of the moral structure of a social group, is another (collective) human institution whose control was in due time taken over by the State, via a period in which the Church regulated it, but for most of our social existence it was a matter between two kin-groups. Thus Radcliffe-Brown (Introduction to African Systems of Kinship and Marriage):

'In Anglo-Saxon England a marriage, the legal union of man and wife, was a compact entered into by two bodies of kin. As the Church steadily increased in power and in control of social life, marriage became the concern of the Church and was regulated by canon law. . . . At the end of the Middle Ages there came the struggle for power between the Church and State in which the State was, in Protestant countries, victorious. Marriage then came under State control.'

Chapter Six described how classical rationalists such as Spencer won the 19th century moral argument between individualists and collectivists. In terms of real-politik, however, the State had won, since between approximately 1600 and 1900 it had comprehensively taken over the legal systems which traders and other collectively-based social institutions had developed, as it would later take over education and the provision of other social goods. And the Bolsheviks were still to come.

It's probably not accurate however to think of national consciousness as somehow replacing the previously existing layers or aspects of consciouness: a 19th century worker still belonged to a nuclear family, an extended family, a local community and a host of other groups, each of which contributes its own cultural resonance to the individual's total cultural equipment, although the State certainly did deliberately try to create over-riding cultural imperatives (patriotism, for example), and other national cultural content came about through the agency of the media, sometimes with government's active involvement and sometimes without.

In between national culture and private group-based culture there is a set of group-like associations which exist for a variety of semi- or purely public reasons, and which contribute strongly towards the cultural totality of an individual's environment. Trades unions are an obvious example. This aspect of states has been widely investigated in public choice theory. Many of these types of group have unhelpful features, and they are far from conforming to the ideal of a human collective (Olsen, The Rise And Decline Of Nations).

Richerson and Boyd (Not By Genes Alone; How Culture Transformed Human Evolution) describe how the trend towards larger groupings that has accompanied the growth of the State has tended to be an abuse of the nature of the basic, evolved human group:

'Almost everything in modern life – trade, religion, government and science – is a mistake from the point of view of the selfish gene.'

The activities of special-interest groups at policy level even commonly have a negative impact in economic terms. Alongside trades unions, one would include employer organizations and producer lobby groups. In most respects they are no advertisement for groupishness, and what can one say except that you have to fight fire with fire. It is the fault of the State that trades unions, which once upon a time fulfilled useful social roles for their members are now reduced to holding out begging bowls and standing in the way of change.

The Emergence Of National Cultural Identities

Although printing was the primary technological innovation which allowed modern nation states to form, they have not been slow to use other innovative communication techniques, including of course wireless, television and the movies quite effectively in order to (mis)educate, (dis)inform and (over)control their citizens; this is a process that perhaps reached its apogee during the Second World War, when most countries exercised stringent control over the content of newspapers, books, radio, movies and other media. In other words, they attempted to control the cultural life-blood of their societies.

This was a difference only in degree, rather than kind, to what had already been increasingly the case. By the beginning of the 20th century, individuals already conceived their cultural identity in strongly national terms. This had not been the explicit goal of nation states, although they would not have been unhappy about such an outcome.

The emergence of national stereotypes is one indication of what had happened. They were and are extremely well developed for almost all significant nations. Think of John Bull; the Germans occupying sun-beds in a famous TV advertisement; 'loud' Americans 'over here'; the French with their berets and wine; Italians in shades and stripey t-shirts; and so on. These cultural personifications of countries date from the 19th century, evidencing the fact that 'country' had become a major indicator of cultural identity. This would have been a nonsensical idea 500 years before.

National stereotypes are alive and well in the early 21st century, although their time in the sun may be coming to an end. The British national cultural assemblage includes:


The British Cultural Identity
Warm beer
Being reserved
Lager louts
Football hooligans
Mean Scotsmen
Drunken Irish
Morris dancing
Red London buses
The friendly bobbie
Blackpool Tower
Benny Hill
Inability to speak foreign languages
The Beatles
Remembrance Sunday

This list could be five times as long; but there is no need to go on, the picture is clear. Any given individual in the UK would align themselves with only a few, or possibly even none of these categories; never mind, it is a description of Britishness which is instantly recognizable to Brits, and to many other non-British people in the world. Benny Hill is very popular in Russia, along with Shakespeare and Absolutely Fabulous.

Does one suppose that 14th century villagers would have had a corresponding set of cultural categories to mark themselves off from other people from far away? It is a fascinating exercise to imagine how such people might describe the distinguishing characteristics of their culture if we were now able to ask them about it. Here's a guess:


The Mediaeval Cultural Identity
Feudal ties
Demotic speakers (the feudal lords spoke French or Latin)
God-fearing church-goers

Would the list have been about the same anywhere in Europe, except perhaps for the sheep? The comparison illustrates how individual consciousness has expanded to take in concepts linked to nationality, and it could not have done this without the advent of communications technologies, first books, then newspapers, radio and television.

Alongside the expansion of people's consciousness of their nationality and their cultural characteristics (an extension or a part of individuality and personality as they were described in Chapter Five) it is clear that the typical individual's understanding of her position in society has evolved substantially in the last few hundred years. You could say that consciousness has enlarged to take in many more dimensions of a social being. At a stretch, you could say that whereas 500 years ago, for most people morality was largely unseen and unfelt at a conscious level, with behaviour being driven by unconscious structures, now a far larger proportion of people would be able to give a coherent account of their ethical positions. You could say that this amounts to the emergence of moral structures out of the unconscious into the conscious, accompanied by a reduction in the role of overtly external moral controls. However, you would also have to say that the moral structure which has emerged into consciousness is much weaker than its original unconscious forbear, and that people on the whole are much less inclined to accept external moral controls, even though the State is far more able to enforce them.

The Failure Of Moral Provisioning Under The State

State control of social mechanisms eventually proved unsuccessful from any moral perspective. With the Nation State came anomie, anti-social behaviour, the 'working class', the -isms, and above all, modern warfare, especially the global wars of the 20th century.

In the first half of the 20th century writers such as Jung (Selected Writings) and Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic) continued to draw attention to the psychic problems of an individual face-to-face with the State, but attention has lately focussed more on exploring the nature of the human animal through such new disciplines as evolutionary biology and cognitive science, and less on ways of redefining the social environment to be more friendly to individuals. This is presumably a result of the twin and matching pressures of the Nanny State on the one hand and rampant individualism on the other.

People who have understood the groupish (collective) basis of most human behaviour, and yet have to operate in the atomized individualistic modern world, cope by importing collective moral structures into their consciousness, which in psychological terms amounts to an expansion of the weight and power of the superego. Neumann calls this a 'pseudo-solution' to the problem of the growing psychic shadow. Perhaps that's unfair. If coupled with extensive self-remedial work through Zen Buddhism, meditation, inner exploration, working with gurus or whatever, it seems to be possible for people to reach an accommodation with their own shadows at any rate, even if not with society's shadow (an impossibility, for an individual, in any case).

Such people, unavoidably seeing themselves as an elite, unavoidably also see a mass of humanity which does not measure up, and calls it an underclass.

'The result', says Neumann 'is a growing discrepancy between the moral level of the individual and the ethic of the collective'. It's not necessarily clear which way around Neumann is talking: does he mean that the morals of 'elite' individuals are out of synch with the ethic of the mass, or (more probably) does he mean that the morals of the mass are out of synch with the ethic of the elite? Both are true, anyway, and there isn't only one collective.

Neumann also points to the unevenness of development of the modern personality. Even a well-educated person can be a mixture of new and old groups:

'For example, as a technologist he may be living in the present, as a philosopher in the period of the Enlightenment, as a man of faith in the Middle Ages and as a fighter of wars in antiquity – all without being in the least aware how, and where, these partial attitudes contradict each other.'

Not a bad description of Tony Blair or George Bush? And this was written 50 years ago.

Durkheim (The Division of Labour In Society) also recognized the psychic distance between the individual and the modern state, and postulates a range of intermediate 'groupish' organisations which can assist in socializing individuals:

'The state is too remote from individuals, its connections with them too superficial and irregular, to be able to penetrate the depths of their consciousness and socialize them from within . . . a nation cannot be maintained unless, between the state and individuals, a whole range of secondary groups are interposed.'

Chapter Nine, on the Internet, will return to the subject of Durkheim's 'whole range of secondary groups'.

A Nation State is of course a group in itself, one made up of all its citizens; but this could be seen as an aspect of the pathology of groups. It is a misuse of groupishness in the individual to appeal to her 'national feelings', something almost always done for highly suspect motives. Kipling: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'.

Writing at a time when nation states were at their nadir in moral terms, just after the 2nd World War, Neumann, following Jung, saw that the identification of the individual persona through consciousness with the outwardly moral agenda of the nation state simply allowed the State to be the agent of release of the energies stored up in the 'shadow' unconsciousness through war and other mechanisms of oppression and destruction (the Soviet Union is of course the worst best example).

Jung frequently wrote on the predicament of the individual vis-a-vis the State, and the psychological consequences of the individual's powerlessness. From The Undiscovered Self (Present and Future) 1957, Collected Works 10, for example:

'It is small wonder that individual judgement grows increasingly uncertain of itself and that responsibility is collectivized as much as possible, ie is shuffled off by the individual and delegated to a corporate body. In this way the individual becomes more and more a function of society, which in its turn usurps the function of the real life-carrier, whereas in actual fact, society is nothing more than an abstract idea like the State. . . . The State in particular is turned into a quasi-animate personality from whom everything is expected. In reality it is only a camouflage for those individuals who know how to manipulate it.'

Jung is however ambivalent about the role of religion in countering the State, and has no very exact prescription to offer for the predicament of the modern individual other than self-knowledge.

Although the world has moved perhaps in the right direction since Jung and Neumann were writing, Neumann's cry for an unavoidable emancipation of the collective and individual psyche remains as compelling today as it was 50 years ago.

The subject of the psychic options that are open to individuals in today's and tomorrow's world will be revisited in more depth in Chapter Eleven.

The Beginning Of The End For National Consciousness

At first sight, the nation state continued to be a successful form in the 20th century – the number of nation states blossomed from about 60 to more than 200 (Alesina and Spolare, 1997). This is a result of various factors: de-colonialisation is obviously a major one; the striving for ethnic identity is another; and there are others. But in a bigger sense they are all throw-offs from the paralysis of big-state nationalism that resulted from the World Wars. Many of the new, smaller countries have done better than their larger peers.

Nation states nowadays exist at various stages of development. Parts of Africa resemble early mediaeval Europe, while at the other extreme today's European nations have perforce largely abandoned aggressive nationalism and rely on the international rule of law to guarantee their integrity. In terms of human consciousness (self-awareness), the prominence of the bundle of feelings and attitudes stemming from the nation state probably reached its zenith, at least in the developed world, in the middle of the 20th century and is now declining in psychic importance.

The second half of the 20th century saw a number of developments which have further expanded consciousness in a way that tends to diminish national identity and to allow individuals to see themselves in a broader context.

The availability of recording and communication techniques was the pre-condition for this to take places, and after WWII when states had less need to control their citizenry, people began to take advantage of new freedoms to travel physically and mentally on a mass scale.

It would not be right to say that school primary and secondary education (firmly in the grip of nation states, after all) has played a major role in the cultural expansion we have witnessed in the last 50 years. Curriculi are woefully archaic, and teachers are a highly conservative force in cultural terms.

We must look elsewhere for a number of trends that have played their part in the process: a boom in tertiary and adult education, more leisure time, more money, the mushrooming of television content, the introduction of popular air travel and the growing dominance of English as a lingua franca, breaking down existing language barriers, are some of the most important of these; and now the Internet will become the most important of all.

Highly educated people tend to sniff at the popular culture that has been created by and for the mass market. There is certainly something rather repellent about the image of an obese, chav couch potato surrounded by empty lager cans, watching reality TV. (Perhaps this is only a British stereotype, in any case.) But that is to disregard the millions of young people who have degrees (even if only in media studies), have done a gap year in some vaguely socially responsible way, are working in a job with prospects, and in a hundred ways have cultural perspectives that enormously outstretch the mental universe available to their grand-parents working in the mine or the fields.

Expanded British consciousness,
early 21st century

Copyright © Vizartwork

Cooper (The Post-Modern State and the World Order) portrays the nation state as in decline. 'Post-modern' nation states (mostly in Europe) are no longer interested in aggressive expansion; instead they practice open-ness and rely on treaties to guarantee their integrity as states. Other states are at earlier stages of evolution. In addition, 'tribalism' (which here can be called groupishness) sees regions and ethnic groupings with their own identities contesting (within post-modern states or elsewhere) for their right to exist. The Basques, and the Scottish are two obvious examples.

Although they have done some good, nation states have been responsible for some very negative events and trends in the last few hundred years. It may be that humans have learnt something from this experience, and that the European Union, the United Nations and other global bodies such as the World Trade Organization represent the beginnings of a new, post-State period in human cultural development.

Even under the morally repressive modern State, however, there have always been individuals who were strong and clear-seeing enough to have their own moral structures, but they were a tiny minority. Increasing economic wealth, better education (sort of!), more leisure, and better access to information are now creating very large numbers of people with some independence of moral action; but there are no structures to accommodate them. The old institutions which incorporated groupish ideas have decayed, and 'let 1,000 flowers bloom' when imposed on a top-down basis merely creates 999 weeds for every flower.

It is difficult to see how such problems can be solved within the confines of a governance structure based on atomized, independent nation states. Although there has always been a strand in philosophical thought that advocated the minimally intrusive State, and there have even been individual politicians who paid lip service to the idea of 'rolling back' the State, in reality these remain just pious sentiments. On the contrary, as we have seen, the State has enthusiastically intruded into almost all dimensions of society over the last 200 years.

The question of what will follow the Nation State is fascinating, but not totally relevant to the subject of this book except insofar as it sets the boundaries for a discussion of the future of consciousness (self-awareness), and to that extent it will be revisited in the closing chapter of the work; but the main component strands of the discussion can be summarized as follows:

  • Despite the growing role in social and cultural development of institutions above the level of the basic human group, humans retain their groupish natures because they developed before external, over-arching social institutions became the focus of evolution. Genetically speaking, humans don't appear to have changed significantly in the last 30,000 years.
  • Globalisation, which is the target of so many 'anti-corporatist' protesters is, on the contrary, seen as a process which will subvert the corporatist tendencies of the nation state and will construct a model of governance far closer to the needs of the 'groupish' individual.
  • Technology, which allowed the State to develop in the first place, will now 're-empower' the individual, and will encourage a return to more collective ways of living, to which human nature is suited better than it is to the remote and impersonal State.
  • The Internet will be a major force in supplying such structures, and is seen as a crucial player in the process because of its highly affiliative nature.


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