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The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State

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Source: Robert Reich Blog


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We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America -- especially in American politics.

Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.

But in the past 300 years, the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid-twentieth century.

Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.

News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker's garage.

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Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is inter-connected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one's own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one's family and its values -- all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe -- which seemed within reach a few years ago -- is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can't easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.

Separatist movements have broken out all over -- Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.

The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam -- Sunni and Shia.

And what about America? The world's "melting pot" is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation's population growth came from Hispanics.
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It's also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.

But America's new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).

Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn't); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney's voters were African-American, for example.)

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http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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I can agree with this one Robert! And frankly, aft... by Bill Johnson on Monday, Mar 24, 2014 at 7:01:18 PM
Tribalism has its perks over human rights abusing ... by William Huie on Monday, Mar 24, 2014 at 7:36:41 PM
The elites like Mr. Reich insist that all power re... by Samson on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 6:22:44 AM
Mr. Reich of course offends everyone who's "Right ... by Samson on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 6:26:53 AM
And that of course was while Mr. Reich was still o... by Samson on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 6:30:14 AM
M. Reich offends the growing chorus of thinking Am... by Deena Stryker on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 3:34:16 PM
Deena, Thanks for saying this. I gre... by Patrick Walker on Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 at 9:16:15 AM
As I wrote long ago: Since my 2007 criticism o... by Alan MacDonald on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 4:20:53 PM
Alan, Much food for thought in what yo... by Patrick Walker on Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 at 9:48:38 AM
Poppycock and blather.  It was not technology... by Steve Hudson on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 5:06:11 PM
It is an interesting case of ignorance: I guess Mr... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 5:36:07 PM
Of course, Reich is wrong but not tha way yousay.... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 at 6:42:43 AM
Tribalism evolved into nationalism as a means to... by KurtB on Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 10:45:43 PM
"Before the rise of the nation-state, between the... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 at 6:49:17 AM