The Citizen In A Democratic Empire
When most people think of citizenship, they think of their nation’s constitution or the rights guaranteed to them in the law. They will think of their obligations to their country, like paying taxes, obeying the law and defending the nation. In the West, a citizen is pretty much as the dictionary defines it, “a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.” It is a reciprocal set of obligations in the law, animated by a sense of duty by both the rulers and the ruled.
Additionally, at least in America, citizenship comes with a belief in equality between the people and the office holders. Every American grows up hearing that anyone can be President. The House of Representatives is known as the people’s house, because it was designed to not only represent the people, but be populated by representatives from the people. In other words, the citizens are ruled by their fellow citizens, not strangers or hired men paid by strangers. You can only be a citizen in your nation.
In the post-national world, that old definition of citizen no longer works. In a world where foreign people can just move in, claim the benefits and protections from the government, citizenship loses all value. At the same time, the state is increasingly alien to the people over whom it rules. In the European Union, the people are no longer ruled by their national governments, as all of the big decision are made in Brussels. In America, political offices are increasingly being filled by exotic weirdos with no connection to the natives.
The question then is what does it mean to be a citizen in a democratic empire?
The most obvious thing about the new citizen in the new post-national world is that the relationship between the citizen and the state is transactional. The state looks at the people as assets and liabilities. Theirs is a custodial role. The people that serve the interests of the state are treated differently from the people who depend on the state for their existence. It is a corporate relationship, except that people cannot be fired, so the useless ones will be stashed away while the productive are put to work.
Similarly, the citizen looks at his government in terms of what it can provide to him. He owes the state no more than he owes the coffee shop. The rules promulgated by the state are to be navigated around, rather than respected. If the rules work for the citizen or his group, the law is supported by the citizen or his group. On the other hand, if the law is an obstacle, then the law is subverted or ignored. In a post-national world, respect to the spirit of the law makes no more sense than having loyalty to a country.
This means that patriotism has no role in the democratic empire. Loyalty to your country only works if you actually have a country. The residue of patriotism will last for a while, as people will still think of their neighbors and friends as their countrymen, but in time, as those people are replaced by strangers, patriotism will disappear. In a transactional world populated by stranglers, your primary loyalty cannot be to the state, as it is just as much a stranger to you as the new neighbors, who just moved in from over the horizon.
The sterile transactionalism is already evident. Consider the change in relationship between employers and their workers. Everywhere in America, employment is at-will, which means an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason. Further, local business is atrophying as global enterprise monopolizes the marketplace. It used to be local business was a part of every community, sponsoring little leagues and charity drives. You’ll never see your kid’s little league sponsored by Google or Amazon.
Of course, this will have unforeseen consequences. For example, the military will no longer be able to rely on patriotism for recruitment. Since no one is a citizen in the old sense, the military stops being a citizen military. Instead, it takes on the characteristics of a mercenary army. The decision to join is no different than the decision to take one job over another. This will also apply to the police. The cops will no longer be citizens protecting and serving their community. They become free range prison guards.
Humans are social animals so the loss of national and regional identity means something will replace it. In a transactional world where everyone is a civic stranger, the old fashioned loyalties will become more important. Family, community, and tribe will be the only identities that have meaning. Again, we see the beginnings of this with the administrative layer of the managerial class. Those FBI agents plotting to overturn the 2016 elections were motivated by the emerging new identity politics.
That’s the thing that gets overstated in discussion of identity politics. The old identities will surely play a role, like race, ethnicity, and religion. New tribes resulting from the post-national relationships will emerge. The managerial state will begin to fracture and balkanize, as the rival power centers begin to jockey for power. Again, this can be seen in the obstruction of the Trump agenda by career bureaucrats in the government. They have become their own tribe and they have become class aware.
This paradise comes with a cost. Nations hold together for the same reason communities hold together. The social capital, those invisible bonds between people, breathe life into the organizing structure. Patriotism and civic duty are what animate the republic. Duty to king and the people is what animates a monarchy. This social capital is what binds the rulers to the ruled. In a highly transactional world, where social capital has been monetized or pushed to the margins, something else must animate the system.
That something else must be force driven by the self-interest of the people occupying positions in the power centers. We see some of that with the censorship campaigns by the tech giants and banks. This will become more overt until everyone has a natural hostility to everyone outside their social group. The cost of maintaining order will increase, but the means for imposing order will increase the cost of imposing that order. The empire will have no choice but to become more ruthless in its dealings.
If one wants to a preview of the post-national world, look at Lebanon. Every hill and every valley is its own nation, so to speak. Groups of the same religious sect or political persuasion can form temporary alliances, but Lebanon is not a coherent country with a common purpose. It’s just a place on the map with meaning only to those completely removed from the realities of Lebanese life. The future citizens will be highly local and covetous of the small benefits he and his group can extract from the whole.