Understanding that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and that globalization is having profound impacts on the ways in which societies are structured, many scholars have been predicting the eventual decline of the state altogether. They argue that the political and economic coordination that governments carry out is becoming increasingly less important in the global world, and that states will no longer be deemed necessary and will eventually dissolve into larger, loose territorial units (similar to the European Union.)
have their predictions come true? Is the concept of “the United
States of America” showing signs of a decline that could lead to its
complete dissolution? By studying the landscape, we can assess whether
these scholars are providing a window into the future, or whether they are
merely misreading the impacts of globalization altogether.
|One argument that could be used to justify what I will call the “decline hypothesis” is by looking at the decline of the military in the United States. In the 1980s, the United States invested a tremendous amount of money into military power in an attempt to regain the world domination that we enjoyed after World War II. However this tremendously expensive build-up could not be maintained long term and there has been a marked decline in military spending in the last several years. One visible representation of this decline is the nationwide closure of military bases. (Slide at right on screen). This slide is of Fort MacArthur in San Pedro—one of the bases that has recently been closed due to cut-backs. This is one of the former entrances—now locked up and deserted. The formerly manicured lawn is now overgrown with weeds there is graffiti throughout and the signs that have faded in the sun now hang on the dilapidated gate. This obviously abandoned base, like many others throughout the nation, now stands as a visual reminder of the decline of US military spending in recent years.|
|Another decline that could be used to support the “decline hypothesis” is the decreasing importance of the welfare state. Throughout the majority of the twentieth century there has been a pervasive feeling that one of the main roles of a government should be the provision of a minimum standard of welfare from “cradle to grave,” and that governments were really the only institutions with the resources and organization to attempt such a task. However, in recent years, there has been a tremendous rise in transnational organizations and international bodies that are large enough to carry out widespread socioeconomic changes, and this has served to lessen the importance of the state as the sole provider of this service. Now because of this lessened role, these provisions are no longer considered to be as central to the government’s survival. This shift in importance and focus is evident on the landscape—in welfare offices throughout the nation, offices that were built when welfare was key to the success of an administration were generally grand, imposing structures—really announcing and advertising the government’s willingness and ability to provide for its citizens. (Slide at left on screen). This current welfare office in Huntington Beach is just a few years old—and is hardly grand or announcing anything. It is squeezed into a little industrial park among other ordinary buildings in a non-central location. The office still performs many of the same services, but in a much more basic, ‘functional’ setting—one that reflects its current value in the political agenda.|
|Now some may argue that the decline of the state is partially caused by the rise in transnational organizations. Throughout the United States, ordinary citizens are becoming more and more involved in organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, GreenPeace, Cultural Survival, The World Wildlife Federation, and many others. There are groups that have been able to “cross the borders” of individual nations and create change in areas which traditional government organizations have been either unwilling or unable to tackle. (Slide at right on screen). Although these bumper stickers are a bit faded, by keeping the stickers on their cars, these Americans are showing their continued support for these trans-state organizations. Indeed, there has been a tremendous growth in membership of these organizations throughout the nation and throughout the world, showing that there is a clear trend toward working to solve world crises on an international level as well as simply as individual nations.|
|Now while these particular examples may seem to point toward the decline of the importance of the state in America, in actually most scholars agree that this “inevitable decline” is not even remotely in sight. One key reason is the rejuvenated sense of national identity and patriotism that has taken place in the United States in recent years. (Slide at left on screen). The continuing conflict with Saddam Hussein and Iraq have, in many cases, sparked a strong sense of nationalism among Americans, and has joined citizen together in a mutual struggle against what have concluded to be “our common enemy.” Therefore, throughout the nation, many citizens of diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic groups have felt a renewed sense of unity and cohesion as members of this nation. And, of course, the media has a tremendous influence. The recent increase in entertainment focusing on glorifying America’s past and present, as in this bus stop shelter advertisement, have really helped to stir patriotic and nationalistic feelings throughout the nation.|
This “rebirth of nationalism” is actually just one of many factors that have served to fend off what some claimed was the inevitable decline of the state. So, in answer to the original question, it appears that the United States is not going to slide off the political map anywhere in the near future. But I don’t think that this should come as too much of a shock to anyone. America, as an institution, is revered by most of its citizens. It is more than simply an organization created to serve a particular purpose like instituting trade restrictions. It is a concept. People of diverse cultures and backgrounds have flooded into the United States for centuries—to a certain degree because of what the idea of America is. (Slide at right on screen). At this busy Immigration Office in Garden Grove, we see many hopeful citizens of the United States. Chances are they come from countries where English is not the primary language, where Christianity is not the dominant religion, and where societal norms vary significantly from those here in the United States. Yet many of them, like may of us, want to be an American and wear that badge with pride—further strengthening our concept of what the nation is, even if it is in actuality simply an imagined community.
So while it is true that environmental, social, economic, and political systems are becoming much more integrated as we move into the twentieth century, I think it would take much more than that to erase the value that most Americans place on their citizenship and the importance of the ‘concept’ of this nation has in the lives of ordinary citizens. Really, it is who were are and mere changes in the world market won’t change that.