One of the arguments which I often run into when talking about future of western countries goes something like this: “not much will change in the west since existing systems of governance, including institutions and bureaucracies, are too strong to let that happen”. There are many reasons why people want to believe in this idea- ranging from not wanting to see the current status quo upset during their lifetime to an actual childish belief in the power of western institutions. We cannot also forget that people often equate outward appearances of strength and control to actual strength and real ability to control. These issues are, of course, not new. Every single empire which has ever existed in human history could never imagine its demise, till one day it was all over. With that in mind, let us talk about the weak points and structural issues intrinsic to contemporary western nation states.
But before we do that, let us define what we are talking about. What do I mean by contemporary western nation states? How are they different from those preceding it? Well let me explain by using two examples. Consider the entity known today as UK or United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. While this entity, in roughly its current territorial form has been around for at least two centuries, the way it is run or governed has changed a lot over those 200 years. And yes.. I am aware that the entire island of Ireland was part of UK until 1922. To better understand what I talking about, let us examine how this entity was governed in early 1800s and compare it to the present. At that time, as today, UK was a constitutional monarchy run by a bicameral parliament. But this is where the similarities end.
The UK of 1800s was a pre-industrial open oligarchy with very restrictive voting rights and large percentages of its people lived in conditions little better than slavery. It also lacked many familiar institutions such as universal medical care, universal schooling, public universities, publicly funded infrastructure, universal pensions etc. There was also no income tax, VAT or almost any other tax. My point is that the UK of early 1800s was a very different type of nation from UK of 2022. In fact, much of what people in that country would recognize as “normal” did not exist before WW1 and much of what we see today began in the years following WW2. In other words, UK as we know it today has been around for less than eight decades or barely one human lifetime. As you will see, this becomes very important later on in this post.