Globalization of the Twin-Ideas of Nation-state and Democracy

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Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra 13 August 2019

The international normative order has been shaped by the values of powerful states which in turn casts its impact on individual states in the long-term. Colonialism was opposed by the third world countries (then colonies) as an oppressive alien western institution. However, the nation-state model, first developed in the west was accepted and adopted by the third world states subsequently as they began to contribute to enrich the understanding and application of the concept by becoming parts of the democratic structures of the UN and other allied agencies. The idea of popular sovereignty which found an expression in the anti-colonial movements of the third world countries received a formal recognition with the inclusion of these countries as the members of several international bodies like the UN and other allied institutions and consequently, various rationalized models of development were accepted and adopted by these countries.

The role of the international organizations shared the goal of national integration largely shaped by liberal philosophy justifying the requirement of a shared identity for effective governance of a state. For instance, the Organization for African Unity (OAU) is committed to the notion that boundaries established by the colonial rulers be kept intact and the UN Charter stipulates protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member-states. By spreading nation-building rather than self-determination as public good, the nation-state system stabilizes itself by not allowing umpteen number of ethnic clashes and unending process of nation-state creation.

The idea of nation has been grafted onto the Afro-Asian landmass which has been apparently at odds with the evolution of these societies. However, these nations-in-making derive their legitimacy from the international normative order and could claim to be guardians of popular sovereignty.

While historically, frontiers (which kept on waxing and waning) with its flexibility and openness determined the territorial sway of kingdoms and tribal system of governance and many ethnic and socio-cultural groups continued to define their existence within the loose territorial space, tight yet unresolved borders were forged by the imperial system for the convenience of its administration. For instance, the Indian sub-continent was artificially divided by the British colonial administration to facilitate its rule resulting in either separation or merging of socio-cultural groups contradicting the history of their evolution. While in Europe, nations emerged at the beginning which automatically translated into their desire for forming their own states, in the continents of Asia and Africa, modern state system with fixed territoriality and sovereignty were imposed by the colonial powers which later adapted the western model of nation-state through nation-building exercises even though these states had been created artificially without adequate attention to the lived experiences of socio-cultural and ethnic groups and in most cases, borders remained as unresolved political issues.

More than physical partition which continue to haunt the third world societies is that in their bid to become nations they engage poets and historians in defining and interpreting histories which project them culturally different from other societies. Politicians engage in rhetoric and selectively choose symbols which push the countries to look away from each other further. Intellectual partition is a process which strives to artificially construct nations through selective memory and collective amnesia.

Modern theories such as liberalism, multiculturalism and communitarianism even while trace their origin to the European Enlightenment; these have been instrumental in rationalizing, democratizing and modernizing the traditions of the third world countries. Though some of the postulates of these theories have been condemned as purely western, the spirit underlying these theories has been instrumental in reflecting on developing countries’ traditions as to how best these countries have been able to protect popular sovereignty, individual rights and group rights. People exposed to media, internet and television take note of how the ideals of Enlightenment are being protected in other countries.

Under chapters 6 and 7 of the UN Charter, when requested, international organizations can and do provide technical assistance in facilitating the transition from a military or authoritarian government to an open system. Such assistance is provided not only by the UN itself, but by several regional organizations and by the Commonwealth. Second, where, the transition turns out to be a source of conflict rather than solution as a result of ethnic or communal conflict, the international community may be drawn in militarily to protect the victims. Similarly, the Commonwealth has made efforts to transform itself into an association of democratic states, and persuaded military regimes, such as those in power in Nigeria and Sierra Leone to conduct elections and implement the Harare Declaration. This bears ample testimony to the fact that internal democracy is deeply linked with the external normative order from which states derive not only legitimacy but also resources. In fact, trade and aid are also linked with democracy.

More importantly, the flexibility of the nation-state system has enabled the third world states to keep to their culture and particularistic historical identity along with the adoption of the modern rational models and democratic institutions for apparently secular governance of their societies. It recognizes rights of different minority groups within nation-states so that nation-states appear as a secular political concept and does not get embedded in ethnicity or religion. The international organizations by legitimizing the rights of the minorities and vesting the nation-state with the responsibility to make such rights available have enhanced the legitimacy of the nation-state model.

Common evolving world-societal models have led states to establish similar rationalized structures such as ministries and other agencies purporting to manage the socio-economic planning, education, population control, the environmental science policy, and health and gender equality. Will Kymlicka and Gans while defending a liberal vision of cultural nationalism argued that the role of government should be viewed as a means for the preservation of national cultures, which in turn, would provide a necessary background for individual autonomy. In practice, however, instead of promoting preservation policies for all cultures, the nationalist elites make concerted efforts to homogenize their languages and culture in a bid to transform the traditional ways of life and strengthen their claims that these originally diverse cultural practices constituted a shared identity. Miller argues that different communities “must abandon values…that are in stark conflict with those of the community as a whole”.

Even while two major human rights Covenants, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights mention about the right in their first article, the right to self-determination has not found a reference in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it is considered that any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Similarly, determining the status of minority, Article 27 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), leaves the option to the states to declare that they have no minorities, thereby excluding its application to persons within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. Further, the rights provided in Article 27 are conferred on persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. It is not clear whether citizenship is a precondition for invoking Article 27 and whether indigenous groups are entitled to the rights which the article provides. Third, Article 27 is the only provision in the Covenant which is negatively phrased. Instead of stating that persons belonging to minorities “shall have” the rights specified, it declares that they “shall not be denied” those rights.