The End of the Nation-State

In This Review

The End of the Nation-State

by Jean-Marie Guéhenno
University Of Minnesota Press, 1995
184 pp. $19.95
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This book, widely read in France, is written by a brilliant former French policy planner and current ambassador to the European Union. It argues that the territorial nation-state is giving way: from without, to a welter of overlapping, transnational networks fueled by information technology; from within, to subnational ethnic communities. At stake is the future of democracy, for the transition from the former "institutional" to the coming "imperial" age (dominated by large, supranational organizations and loyalties) involves a massive shift from public to private purposes and the disintegration of the common good into irreconcilable selfish interests.

While there is clearly something to this critique, Guéhenno associates democracy exclusively with activity at the state level; he barely touches on civil society as a key layer between the state and private individuals. In the past few years states have reached a dead end in their grand public designs, leading many societies to shift certain responsibilities back to civil society, where they properly belong. This does not mean the death of liberal democracy but its recalibration. It is revealing that "nation-state" was substituted for "democracy" when the book was translated into English. What the author really intends is something closer to classical republicanism; but while the latter has clearly been in a long-term decline, it is not clear that it was ever a realistic option for large, diverse industrial democracies.