Scotland: Could the Old Empires and National States Unravel?

Scotland did not choose independence from Britain, but it might have.  The referendum poses an interesting question; is it possible that all of the old empires and national states might unravel?   Why would Scotland or any other region want to separate from the motherland?  Maybe because it is not the motherland. Most of the nation states in the modern world are the result of consolidation and empire building.  The states in Europe are products of 18th, 19th and 20th century concepts of nationhood and subsequent attempts to extend nations into empires.   For the most part, the formation of those nation-states was driven by individual egos whose success depended the force of their personality and on military might.  The rulers made high-minded claims to a destiny based on righteousness of their cause, but in truth they were motivated by avarice.  Their success was only limited by an equally powerful ego and military power which refused to submit.

Robert Laxalt wrote in his book The Land of My Fathers: “The Basque village of Arneguy is a politically divided village. One half of it lies in France, the other half in Spain. The illogical frontier runs right through the middle of town, dividing the duties of local government and family relationships.  Even the church and cemetery are divided, the church in France and the cemetery in Spain.  When one considers that Arneguy was a single village for thousands of years, a line drawn down the middle as recently as 1530 makes no sense at all. ”

The fate of that village has been repeated over and over again many times in the course of history.  Hundreds of ethnic, language and religious groups have been swallowed up in the process nation building.  The people often lost their language and identity in the process.  Some managed to hand on to both, but resented their occupiers and awaited a time of revenge and escape.

The Scots are one of groups.  Even after 300 years of being part of the United Kingdom, some Scots would like to be free and independent of England.   It is not so surprising, people have lived in Scotland for a long time.  The first humans are thought to have entered present day Scotland 12,800 years ago, 9,000 the first permanent houses were built and the first villages developed 6,000 years ago.  The history of the area is long and storied, its myths filled with valiant warriors always willing to choose death over subjugation.  The land remained essential free and independent even in the face of the mighty Roman Empire.  Still, 300 years ago, Scotland became part of the United Kingdom, Great Britain.  But not all Scots wanted to be part of that kingdom.

There are many regions and peoples in Europe and the Middle East like Scotland.  Empires have come and gone over their land, but the people retained a separate sense of their identity. Most of us think of Germany, France, Italy and Spain as natural states, with natural boundaries and homogenous population.  But they artificial political constructs cobbled together from separate groups of people to suit the interests of the nation builder.  The current citizens carry a national passport, speak a national language and carry on their daily business with the national currency.  But very, very often they speak another language at home and dream of a time when they are a nation and their own masters.

The history is slightly different in the Middle East and North Africa, but the underlying realities are the same; the countries we know by Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq are also artificial political constructs, nation-states of peoples cobbled together to suit the interests of western nations during the colonial period or after each of the world wars.   Much of the tension in the world today comes from ethnic, language and religious groups seeking an independent existence and identity.

The Scots voted to remain part of Great Britain.  But given the same voting option it is not certain what Wales, Bavaria, Catalonia, Friesland, Normandy or Sardinia would choose.  It is not likely, but it does seem possible, that the process of empire and nation building that has characterized the history of the world for two, three or four thousand years may be ending and those nations are going to start to unravel.   Those large states serve many purposes, but they also violate many principles.   All of the conquerors and nations, kings and kingdoms, emperors and empires that have existed in the last ten thousand years were natural expressions of our aggressive nature.  And they created societies that have given us the knowledge, tools and advantage we modern humans enjoy. But the impulse to unravel those entities and seek a unity among peoples like ourselves is also an expression of our nature.   Those huge, impersonal societies also violate some of the basic characteristics of our humanity.  That dynamic tension between two different and at times opposition sides of our nature is not a temporary state, nor one that can be wished, prayed or even legislated away.  So, an unraveling of the existing nation-states into smaller more homogeneous units may become even prevalent in the 21st century.


2 Responses to “Scotland: Could the Old Empires and National States Unravel?”

  1. 1 ritabest September 18, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Dame! Well stated. The last two sentences nails it. …’Those huge, impersonal societies also violate some of the basic characteristics of our humanity. That dynamic tension between two different and at times opposition sides of our nature is not a temporary state, nor one that can be wished, prayed or even legislated away. So, an unraveling of the existing nation-states into smaller more homogeneous units may become even prevalent in the 21st century.” Tomorrow is Catalonia votes…and so it begins.

  2. 2 Ken Adams September 19, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Your thoughts, and your tasty little lemon creme things, stimulated me to think about it more and to try and consolidate my thoughts. Thanks for the boost.

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