Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"The Sovereign State and Its Competitors," more than twenty years later

Hendrik Spruyt published "The Sovereign State and its Competitors" in 1994. It started by saying: "We often take the present system of sovereign states for granted and believe that its development was inevitable. But it was not. The sovereign, territorial state had its own peculiar rivals that very well might have held the day. Now that dramatic changes within and between states are taking place, it is appropriate to rethink our explanations of the origins of the states system, analyze the forces that shaped it, and reflect on the possibility of its demise." This great book reveals a lot about the logic of institutional evolution (emergence, bargaining and selection) and applies it to the replacement of feudalism by city-leagues, city states and territorial states, and how the latter finally succeeded around 500 years ago. Of course, the book has little more than speculation about what process may replace the sovereign, territorial state: "Factors such as economic interdependence, ecological disasters, and globalization of financial markets have led to a search for new ways to organize domestic and international politics. Consequently, social scientists have started to re-examine the origins of the state system and have begun to discuss the possibility of its transformation." Twenty years later, we know more about the consequences of the end of the cold war and the spread of globalization, and the symptoms of the crisis of the sovereign territorial state are all around us, especially in Europe. But we still do not know what may replace it. If the logic of Spruyt applies, we may see for some time the emergence of candidates to replace it (micro-states? non-territorial religious radicalism? federalism?), before one of the alternatives gets selected. As opposed to 500 years ago, now the citizens and not only the elites have the possibility of trying to push for the alternative that is better for peace and social progress.

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