Nations, the macro-political structures that seem so integral to the very idea of human society as we conceive it, are at a crossroads. The introduction to The Retreat of the State, written by Susan Strange, outlines the issues facing nations in this age of global, neoliberal capitalism. This perceived loss of power from the state finds relevance in today’s election cycle, with the looming election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump proving to be historic. At the root of much debate is, indeed, the loss of American power and American greatness. She discusses three paradoxes that push back against this idea of autonomic loss by the state, if we were to hold this loss of power to be fact.Movie Rings (2017)
The first is that states are exerting more and more influence on an individuals. She argues that while the increasing influence of transnational markets eats away at the ability for the state to manage and control its own economy, the state also finds it more difficult to provide services such as a stable system of governance and protection from violence that the free market does not address naturally.
The second is that there are still a multitude of groups who wish to gain recognition and legitimacy by achieving national statehood. Consider the nationalist, separatist movements from ethnic minorities in certain nations; the Kurds in Turkey, the Chechnyans in Russia, among other minority groups whose autonomy are superseded by a nation comprised of another ethnic majority. Not all states are created equally and although nation states such as Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Pacific Islands have gained recognition as nations, does it mean anything other than symbolic legitimacy? They are offered no more autonomy in how they wish their society or economy to look as they must still respond to the political and economic stimuli associated with a world market economy.
Finally, she asserts that this is solely a western phenomenon, for nations in the Eastern Hemisphere: China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, have all seen incredible economic growth while also maintaining their powers as a state. However, these markets are exceptionally fortunate in that they had become assets to Western interests during the Cold War and had special privileges for trade and resources as a result. In addition, as the Cold War is over, there will more and more pressure to open up these Eastern markets and have them conform to the western neoliberal standards of trade. I believe the TPP, for example, is representative of that.
Taking all these arguments into account, we can see that at the crux of it is this decline in national autonomy. With the growing strength of transnational enterprise and global markets, nations are now much less able to manage their own economy due to the complexity of the world economy that links essentially every sovereign nation in the world. National markets are inevitably tied together; economic trends in one nation can have massive repercussions in many others. The state does not nearly seem to be as in control of their destinies as they may have ever been before.
In this, I found very pertinent links to the 2016 election cycle. The campaign that Donald Trump is running on, a platform of “Making America Great Again” has many connotations within the United States, often sparking intense and hostile discourse between supporters and opponents of Donald Trump. He appeals to a sense of lost autonomy, greater interdependence and utilizes nationalistic rhetoric to mobilize his supporters. There is a growing discontent with the maladies that globalization has wrought: an influx of immigrants that threaten the traditional way of life, the increasing polarization of ideology between the population, the resentment from transnational trade and incidents taking precedence over domestic issues, and a sense of alienation from a government that seems to no longer attempt to meet their needs. He is a populist igniting nativist sentiments, ones rooted firmly in a reaction that seem firmly rooted in this loss of autonomy and power. Making America great again inspires those who see America as weak or weakened from forces both within and outside its borders and to attempt to recreate that image requires a certain level of regression. These sentiments in the United States are not unique and although the United States holds such a primary role in the global economy, it is still subject to the same diminished autonomy that the global market has affected. Donald Trump is not unique, and his vision is not new, and it is evidence that we are still unprepared for the world we are making.