The Age of Nations is Here to Stay


The Society convened for the eleventh time this semester to debate Resolved: The Age of Nations is past. Keynoting for the Affirmation was Mr. Greg Miller (SFS ’14) of Virginia. Keynoting on the negation was Ms. Colleen Wood (SFS ’14) of Minnesota.

Mr. Miller argued that since the Treaty of Westphalia defined the powers of a state nearly four hundred years ago, there has been a huge shift in the international environment that has granted non-state actors increasing ability to shape the field of action. Power is a measure of one’s sway in deciding which issues are “brought forward to the table,” and to that end we must recognize the powerful terrorist groups, pirates and oil companies that are shaping our “field of action.” Mr. Miller outlined two possible paradigms we could be moving towards, the first being one in which states increasingly cede sovereignty to international systems such as the United Nations. The second envisions states competing for dominance within these systems. “Regardless,” Mr. Miller emphasized, “states have lost the ability to practice politics unrestricted in the world arena.”

Ms. Wood countered that the existence of multinational institutions and agreements doesn’t mean states yield all sovereignty to these forces, supporting this assertion using three lenses through which to quantify power. The first, decisional power, lies clearly in the hands of states and not outside actors, who lack legitimate lawmaking power. Regulatory power, too, is inadequate when it comes to the agreements of international organizations. Finally, nations have the monopoly on discursive power. To conclude, Ms. Wood made a plea to the Society’s rational side: that at the moment, states are the most efficient mechanisms in existence to address crises. “The challenges we face cannot be met with institutions we haven’t yet created.”

To begin the floor speaker portion of the debate, Ms. Emilie Siegeler warned the Society against the “fear-mongering nationalism” presented by the negation keynote speaker, and argued that the potency of the Internet in inspiring transnational action is stronger than the strict borders we live in. Mr. Daniel Kendrick reminded the Society that the state’s role is to legislate and enforce laws, arguing that to the extent states they do so they retain their dominance. Ms. Anna Hernick responded by urging against a limited understanding of the resolution, and argued that as the reason and necessity for nations has changed over time so has their nature. Vice President Pat Spagnuolo asked whose influence, states or non-state actors, is becoming the rule and not the exception? Mr. Spagnuolo argued that in the present, non-state actors rarely trump the institutional barriers of nations but urged the negation speakers to explore where the potential for erosion exists in the near future.

Mr. Gavin Bade presented the three most pressing issues of our day: energy, food, and water, each formidable enough to warrant and even necessitate multinational cooperation. “We’ve known for these problems exist for a generation and what have we gotten out of the nation-state system? Absolutely nothing.” Ms. Amanda Wynter argued that the state of affairs today, that of visas and territory lines and logistical nightmares at customs, cannot be avoided, and implored the negation to prove that a global state is viable. Ms. Abby Grace exemplified the impossibility of foreseeing the long-term impacts of transnational or anational forces on an individual state, pointing to the American adoption of the UNHRC’s definition of refugee — 30 years belated. Mr. Jacob Arber countered that more often than not, states put on a facade of acting “open” or “accepting” in order to appear so to the international community, when really self-interested nationalism is the chief motivator.

Mr. Drew Cunningham (COL ’14) asked the Society to consider times when nonstate actors dramatically change a state’s interests. “The actions of Al Qaeda pushed us to pass the Patriot Act, abandoning hundreds of years of valuing liberty. Their goal was to change our conception of the world, and they succeeded.” Mr. Taylor Willis argued that Al Qaeda was an exception and not the rule, claiming that the past decade does not point to a future in which terrorist groups will continue to supersede state powers. Mr. Patrick Eisen (SFS ’17) reiterated that nation-states individually cannot grapple with the scope of the resource crises ahead. Mr. Matthew Hardin (SFS ’17) argued that just as the period of globalization circa World War I ended, so will this one, leaving states alone as influential forces. Mr. Jeff Naft (COL ’17) posited that the Age of Nations is passing as the age of wealth rises, for business governs more than political power. “We all follow the money: corporations and the global one percent are guiding us towards a post-national age.” Mr. Sam Kim (SFS ’17) contended that factitious groups will never reside peacefully, together, in a global age, listing Chechen rebels and Israelis and Palistenians as examples. “At the end of the day, this is all but hope.”

Mr. Michael Whelan argued that the individual preferences of world citizens are what take priority. Ms. Heather Regen responded that acts of terrorism and fighting against the state have not yet overtaken nations’ legitimacy. Mr. Warren Wilson contended that insofar as the wealthy elite and the powerful can unite behind a common, cross-border bond, the Age of Nations is bound to fall. Mr. Chris DiMisa boiled the resolution down to a question of efficiency: which system benefits the most people for the minimum effort? Nation-states, he concluded. 

Mr. Michael Mouch reminded the Society that “the government” is not an inanimate, palpable object, but rather people who identify a certain way. So long as those people operate under self- and profit-motivated ideologies, they no longer represent the state. Mr. Agree Ahmed clarified that abating nationalism does not mean diminished relevancy of the state. Actions influenced by transnational forces such as consent to the International Declaration of Human Rights or the Arab Spring are still motivated at a very basic level by national self-interest. Mr. Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17) argued that the water dilemma facing us ought to warrant affirmation alone. Mr. Elijah Jatovsky proposed accepting the status quo for what it is — for the time being, nation-states’ dominance — and reaching across the table in order to better the world. Mr. Patrick Musgrave argued against the many negation speakers claiming that terrorist groups are only an exception to the “rule” of the Age of Nations. “All of our fighting since 1941 has not been against a nation but against terror groups, insurgents and rebels. If that’s an exception, that’s a pretty huge exception.”

Ms. Wood began her closing remarks by reiterating that at multiple levels of social organizations,the Age of Nations has proven pervasive. The array of challenges facing the world today only demand even more urgent attention to the status quo as a means for action. “Deluding yourselves into thinking we live in a global community impedes us from creating viable solutions.” 

Mr. Miller reiterated that the framing of the resolution clearly barred debating national identity, and urged the Society to consider who will be shaping the international system in the future. The state exists to provide security to its citizens, a feat it cannot achieve on its own in the face of impending resource shortage crises.  “The state,” Mr. Miller concluded, “is ill-suited for the coming decades.”

The Society voted 12 – 1 – 31 to negate the resolution. Thank you to all who attended and spoke!


Madeleine M. Ringwald

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