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7

NATIONALISM

Global problems need global answers

Given that the whole of humankind now constitutes a single civilisation, with all people sharing common challenges and opportunities, why do Britons, Americans, Russians and numerous other groups turn towards nationalistic isolation? Does a return to nationalism offer real solutions to the unprecedented problems of our global world, or is it an escapist indulgence that may doom humankind and the entire biosphere to disaster?

In order to answer this question, we should first dispel a widespread myth. Contrary to common wisdom, nationalism is not a natural and eternal part of the human psyche, and it is not rooted in human biology. True, humans are social animals through and through, with group loyalty imprinted in their genes. However, for hundreds of thousands of years Homo sapiens and its hominid ancestors lived in small intimate communities numbering no more than a few dozen people. Humans easily develop loyalty to small intimate groups such as a tribe, an infantry company or a family business, but it is hardly natural for humans to be loyal to millions of utter strangers. Such mass loyalties have appeared only in the last few thousand years – yesterday morning, in evolutionary terms – and they require immense efforts of social construction.

People went to the trouble of constructing national collectives because they confronted challenges that could not be solved by any single tribe. Take, for example, the ancient tribes that lived along the Nile River thousands of years ago. The river was their lifeblood. It watered their fields and carried their commerce. But it was an unpredictable ally. Too little rain – and people starved to death; too much rain – and the river overflowed its banks and destroyed entire villages. No tribe could solve this problem by itself, because each tribe commanded only a small section of the river and could mobilise no more than a few hundred labourers. Only a common effort to build huge dams and dig hundreds of kilometres of canals could hope to restrain and harness the mighty river. This was one of the reasons why the tribes gradually coalesced into a single nation that had the power to build dams and canals, regulate the flow of the river, build grain reserves for lean years, and establish a countrywide system of transport and communication.

Despite such advantages, transforming tribes and clans into a single nation was never easy, either in ancient times or today. To realise how difficult it is to identify with such a nation, you just need to ask yourself ‘Do I know these people?’ I can name my two sisters and eleven cousins and spend a whole day talking about their personalities, quirks and relationships. I cannot name the 8 million people who share my Israeli citizenship, I have never met most of them, and I am very unlikely ever to meet them in the future. My ability to nevertheless feel loyal to this nebulous mass is not a legacy from my hunter-gatherer ancestors, but a miracle of recent history. A Martian biologist familiar only with the anatomy and evolution of Homo sapiens could never guess that these apes are capable of developing communal bonds with millions of strangers. In order to convince me to be loyal to ‘Israel’ and its 8 million inhabitants, the Zionist movement and the Israeli state had to create a mammoth apparatus of education, propaganda and flag waving, as well as national systems of security, health and welfare.

That does not mean there is anything wrong with national bonds. Huge systems cannot function without mass loyalties, and expanding the circle of human empathy certainly has its merits. The milder forms of patriotism have been among the most benevolent of human creations. Believing that my nation is unique, that it deserves my allegiance, and that I have special obligations towards its members inspires me to care about others and make sacrifices on their behalf. It is a dangerous mistake to imagine that without nationalism we would all be living in a liberal paradise. More likely, we would be living in tribal chaos. Peaceful, prosperous and liberal countries such as Sweden, Germany and Switzerland all enjoy a strong sense of nationalism. The list of countries lacking robust national bonds includes Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo and most other failed states.1 The problem starts when benign patriotism morphs into chauvinistic ultra-nationalism. Instead of believing that my nation is unique – which is true of all nations – I might begin feeling that my nation is supreme, that I owe it my entire loyalty, and that I have no significant obligations to anyone else. This is fertile ground for violent conflicts. For generations the most basic criticism of nationalism was that it led to war. Yet the link between nationalism and violence hardly curbed nationalist excesses, particularly as each nation justified its own military expansion by the need to protect itself against the machinations of its neighbours. As long as the nation provided most of its citizens with unprecedented levels of security and prosperity, they were willing to pay the price in blood. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the nationalist deal still looked very attractive. Though nationalism was leading to horrendous conflicts on an unprecedented scale, modern nation states also built massive systems of healthcare, education and welfare. National health services made Passchendaele and Verdun seem worthwhile.

Everything changed in 1945. The invention of nuclear weapons sharply tilted the balance of the nationalist deal. After Hiroshima people no longer feared that nationalism would lead to mere war – they began fearing it would lead to nuclear war. Total annihilation has a way of sharpening people’s minds, and thanks in no small measure to the atom bomb, the impossible happened and the nationalist genie was squeezed at least halfway back into its bottle. Just as the ancient villagers of the Nile Basin redirected some of their loyalty from local clans to a much bigger kingdom that was able to restrain the dangerous river, so in the nuclear age a global community gradually developed over and above the various nations, because only such a community could restrain the nuclear demon.

In the 1964 US presidential campaign, Lyndon B. Johnson aired the famous Daisy advertisement, one of the most successful pieces of propaganda in the annals of television. The advertisement opens with a little girl picking and counting the petals of a daisy, but when she reaches ten, a metallic male voice takes over, counting back from ten to zero as in a missile countdown. Upon reaching zero, the bright flash of a nuclear explosion fills the screen, and candidate Johnson addresses the American public and says: ‘These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.’2 We tend to associate the ‘make love, not war’ slogan with the late 1960s counterculture, but in fact, already in 1964 it was accepted wisdom even among hard-nosed politicians such as Johnson.

Consequently, during the Cold War nationalism took a back seat to a more global approach to international politics, and when the Cold War ended, globalisation seemed to be the irresistible wave of the future. It was expected that humankind would leave nationalistic politics completely behind, as a relic of more primitive times that might appeal at most to the ill-informed inhabitants of a few underdeveloped countries. Events in recent years proved, however, that nationalism still has a powerful hold even on the citizens of Europe and the USA, not to mention Russia, India and China. Alienated by the impersonal forces of global capitalism, and fearing for the fate of national systems of health, education and welfare, people all over the world seek reassurance and meaning in the bosom of the nation.

Yet the question raised by Johnson in the Daisy advertisement is even more pertinent today than it was in 1964. Will we make a world in which all humans can live together, or will we all go into the dark? Do Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and their colleagues save the world by fanning our national sentiments, or is the current nationalist spate a form of escapism from the intractable global problems we face?

The nuclear challenge

Let’s start with humankind’s familiar nemesis: nuclear war. When the Daisy advertisement aired in 1964, two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, nuclear annihilation was a palpable threat. Pundits and laypeople alike feared that humankind did not have the wisdom to avert destruction, and that it was only a matter of time before the Cold War turned scorching hot. In fact, humankind successfully rose to the nuclear challenge. Americans, Soviets, Europeans and Chinese changed the way geopolitics has been conducted for millennia, so that the Cold War ended with little bloodshed, and a new internationalist world order fostered an era of unprecedented peace. Not only was nuclear war averted, but war of all kinds declined. Since 1945 surprisingly few borders have been redrawn through naked aggression, and most countries have ceased using war as a standard political tool. In 2016, despite wars in Syria, Ukraine and several other hot spots, fewer people died from human violence than from obesity, from car accidents, or from suicide.3 This may well have been the greatest political and moral achievement of our times.

Unfortunately, by now we are so used to this achievement, that we take it for granted. This is partly why people allow themselves to play with fire. Russia and the USA have recently embarked on a new nuclear arms race, developing novel doomsday machines that threaten to undo the hard-won gains of the last decades and bring us back to the brink of nuclear annihilation.4 Meanwhile the public have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb (as suggested in Dr Strangelove), or have just forgotten about its existence.

Thus the Brexit debate in Britain – a major nuclear power – revolved mainly around questions of economics and immigration, while the vital contribution of the EU to European and global peace has largely been ignored. After centuries of terrible bloodshed, French, Germans, Italians and Britons have finally built a mechanism that ensures continental harmony – only to have the British public throw a spanner into the miracle machine.

It was extremely difficult to construct the internationalist regime that prevented nuclear war and safeguarded global peace. No doubt we need to adapt this regime to the changing conditions of the world, for example by relying less on the USA and giving a greater role to non-Western powers such as China and India.5 But abandoning this regime altogether and reverting to nationalist power politics would be an irresponsible gamble. True, in the nineteenth century countries played the nationalist game without destroying human civilisation. But that was in the pre-Hiroshima era. Since then, nuclear weapons have raised the stakes and changed the fundamental nature of war and politics. As long as humans know how to enrich uranium and plutonium, their survival depends on privileging the prevention of nuclear war over the interests of any particular nation. Zealous nationalists who cry ‘Our country first!’ should ask themselves whether their country by itself, without a robust system of international cooperation, can protect the world – or even itself – from nuclear destruction.

The ecological challenge

On top of nuclear war, in the coming decades humankind will face a new existential threat that hardly registered on the political radars in 1964: ecological collapse. Humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are taking more and more resources out of the environment, while pumping back into it enormous quantities of waste and poison, thereby changing the composition of the soil, the water and the atmosphere.

We are hardly even aware of the myriad ways in which we disrupt the delicate ecological balance that has been shaped over millions of years. Consider, for example, the use of phosphorus as a fertiliser. In small quantities it is an essential nutrient for the growth of plants. But in excessive amounts it becomes toxic. Modern industrial farming is based on artificially fertilising the fields with plenty of phosphorus, but the high-phosphorus run-off from the farms subsequently poisons rivers, lakes and oceans, with a devastating impact on marine life. A farmer growing corn in Iowa might thus inadvertently kill fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a result of such activities, habitats are degraded, animals and plants are becoming extinct, and entire ecosystems such as the Australian Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon rainforest might be destroyed. For thousands of years Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer. If we continue with our present course it will cause not just the annihilation of a large percentage of all life forms, but it might also sap the foundations of human civilisation.6 Most threatening of all is the prospect of climate change. Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and have survived numerous ice ages and warm spells. However, agriculture, cities and complex societies have existed for no more than 10,000 years. During this period, known as the Holocene, Earth’s climate has been relatively stable. Any deviation from Holocene standards will present human societies with enormous challenges they never encountered before. It will be like conducting an open-ended experiment on billions of human guinea pigs. Even if human civilisation eventually adapts to the new conditions, who knows how many victims might perish in the process of adaptation.

This terrifying experiment has already been set in motion. Unlike nuclear war – which is a future potential – climate change is a present reality. There is a scientific consensus that human activities, in particular the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, are causing the earth’s climate to change at a frightening rate.7 Nobody knows exactly how much carbon dioxide we can continue to pump into the atmosphere without triggering an irreversible cataclysm. But our best scientific estimates indicate that unless we dramatically cut the emission of greenhouse gasses in the next twenty years, average global temperatures will increase by more than 2°C,8 resulting in expanding deserts, disappearing ice caps, rising oceans and more frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons. These changes in turn will disrupt agricultural production, inundate cities, make much of the world uninhabitable, and send hundreds of millions of refugees in search of new homes.9 Moreover, we are rapidly approaching a number of tipping points, beyond which even a dramatic drop in greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to reverse the trend and avoid a worldwide tragedy. For example, as global warming melts the polar ice sheets, less sunlight is reflected back from planet Earth to outer space. This means that the planet absorbs more heat, temperatures rise even higher, and the ice melts even faster. Once this feedback loop crosses a critical threshold it will gather an irresistible momentum, and all the ice in the polar regions will melt even if humans stop burning coal, oil and gas. Hence it is not enough that we recognise the danger we face. It is critical that we actually do something about it now.

Unfortunately, as of 2018, instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the global emission rate is still increasing. Humanity has very little time left to wean itself from fossil fuels. We need to enter rehab today. Not next year or next month, but today. ‘Hello, I am Homo sapiens, and I am a fossil-fuel addict.’

Where does nationalism fit into this alarming picture? Is there a nationalist answer to the ecological menace? Can any nation, however powerful, stop global warming by itself? Individual countries can certainly adopt a variety of green policies, many of which make good economic as well as environmental sense. Governments can tax carbon emissions, add the cost of externalities to the price of oil and gas, adopt stronger environmental regulations, cut subsidies to polluting industries, and incentivise the switch to renewable energy. They can also invest more money in researching and developing revolutionary eco-friendly technologies, in a kind of ecological Manhattan Project. The internal combustion engine is to be thanked for many of the advancements of the last 150 years, but if we are to keep a stable physical and economic environment it must now be retired and substituted by new technologies that do not burn fossil fuels.10 Technological breakthroughs can be helpful in many other fields besides energy. Consider, for example, the potential of developing ‘clean meat’. At present the meat industry not only inflicts untold misery on billions of sentient beings, but it is also one of the chief causes of global warming, one of the main consumers of antibiotics and poison, and one of the foremost polluters of air, land and water. According to a 2013 report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it takes about 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilogram of beef, compared to 287 litres needed to produce a kilogram of potatoes.11 The pressure on the environment is likely to get worse as rising prosperity in countries such as China and Brazil allows hundreds of millions of additional people to switch from eating potatoes to eating beef on a regular basis. It would be difficult to convince the Chinese and the Brazilians – not to mention the Americans and the Germans – to stop eating steaks, hamburgers and sausages. But what if engineers could find a way to grow meat from cells? If you want a hamburger, just grow a hamburger, instead of raising and slaughtering an entire cow (and transporting the carcass thousands of kilometres).

This might sound like science fiction, but the world’s first clean hamburger was grown from cells – and then eaten – in 2013. It cost $330,000. Four years of research and development brought the price down to $11 per unit, and within another decade industrially produced clean meat is expected to be cheaper than slaughtered meat. This technological development could save billions of animals from a life of abject misery, could help feed billions of malnourished humans, and could simultaneously help to prevent ecological meltdown.12 Hence there are many things that governments, corporations and individuals can do to avoid climate change. But to be effective, they must be done on a global level. When it comes to climate, countries are just not sovereign. They are at the mercy of actions taken by people on the other side of the planet. The Republic of Kiribati – an islands nation in the Pacific Ocean – could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero and nevertheless be submerged under the rising waves if other countries don’t follow suit. Chad could put a solar panel on every roof in the country and yet become a barren desert due to the irresponsible environmental policies of distant foreigners. Even powerful nations such as China and Japan are not ecologically sovereign. To protect Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo from destructive floods and typhoons, the Chinese and Japanese will have to convince the Russian and American governments to abandon their ‘business as usual’ approach.

Nationalist isolationism is probably even more dangerous in the context of climate change than of nuclear war. An all-out nuclear war threatens to destroy all nations, so all nations have an equal stake in preventing it. Global warming, in contrast, will probably have a different impact on different nations. Some countries, most notably Russia, might actually benefit from it. Russia has relatively few coastline assets, hence it is far less worried than China or Kiribati about rising sea levels. And whereas higher temperatures are likely to turn Chad into a desert, they might simultaneously turn Siberia into the breadbasket of the world. Moreover, as the ice melts in the far north, the Russian-dominated Arctic sea lanes might become the artery of global commerce, and Kamchatka might replace Singapore as the crossroads of the world.13 Similarly, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources is likely to appeal to some countries more than to others. China, Japan and South Korea depend on importing huge quantities of oil and gas. They will be delighted to be free of that burden. Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia depend on exporting oil and gas. Their economies will collapse if oil and gas suddenly give way to solar and wind.

Consequently, while some nations such as China, Japan and Kiribati are likely to push hard for reducing global carbon emissions as soon as possible, other nations such as Russia and Iran might be far less enthusiastic. Even in countries that stand to lose much from global warming, such as the USA, nationalists might be too short-sighted and self-absorbed to appreciate the danger. A small but telling example was given in January 2018, when the United States imposed a 30 per cent tariff on foreign-made solar panels and solar equipment, preferring to support American solar producers even at a cost of slowing the switch to renewable energy.14 An atom bomb is such an obvious and immediate threat that nobody can ignore it. Global warming, in contrast, is a more vague and protracted menace. Hence whenever long-term environmental considerations demand some painful short-term sacrifice, nationalists might be tempted to put immediate national interests first, and reassure themselves that they can worry about the environment later, or just leave it to people elsewhere. Alternatively, they may simply deny the problem. It isn’t a coincidence that scepticism about climate change tends to be the preserve of the nationalist right. You rarely see left-wing socialists tweet that ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’. Since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist.15 The technological challenge

The same dynamics are likely to spoil any nationalist antidote to the third existential threat of the twenty-first century: technological disruption. As we saw in earlier chapters, the merger of infotech and biotech opens the door to a cornucopia of doomsday scenarios, ranging from digital dictatorships to the creation of a global useless class.

What is the nationalist answer to these menaces?

There is no nationalist answer. As in the case of climate change, so also with technological disruption, the nation state is simply the wrong framework to address the threat. Since research and development are not the monopoly of any one country, even a superpower like the USA cannot restrict them by itself. If the US government forbids genetically engineering human embryos, this doesn’t prevent Chinese scientists from doing so. And if the resulting developments confer on China some crucial economic or military advantage, the USA will be tempted to break its own ban. Particularly in a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, other countries will be forced to do the same, because nobody can afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty.

Moreover, whereas nuclear war and climate change threaten only the physical survival of humankind, disruptive technologies might change the very nature of humanity, and are therefore entangled with humans’ deepest ethical and religious beliefs. While everyone agrees that we should avoid nuclear war and ecological meltdown, people have widely different opinions about using bioengineering and AI to upgrade humans and to create new life forms. If humankind fails to devise and administer globally accepted ethical guidelines, it will be open season for Dr Frankenstein.

When it comes to formulating such ethical guidelines, nationalism suffers above all from a failure of the imagination. Nationalists think in terms of territorial conflicts lasting centuries, while the technological revolutions of the twenty-first century should really be understood in cosmic terms. After 4 billion years of organic life evolving by natural selection, science is ushering in the era of inorganic life shaped by intelligent design.

In the process, Homo sapiens itself will likely disappear. Today we are still apes of the hominid family. We still share with Neanderthals and chimpanzees most of our bodily structures, physical abilities and mental faculties. Not only are our hands, eyes and brains distinctly hominid, but so are our lust, our love, anger and social bonds. Within a century or two, the combination of biotechnology and AI might result in bodily, physical and mental traits that completely break free of the hominid mould. Some believe that consciousness might even be severed from any organic structure, and could surf cyberspace free of all biological and physical constraints. On the other hand, we might witness the complete decoupling of intelligence from consciousness, and the development of AI might result in a world dominated by super-intelligent but completely non-conscious entities.

What has Israeli, Russian or French nationalism got to say about this? In order to make wise choices about the future of life we need to go way beyond the nationalist viewpoint and look at things from a global or even a cosmic perspective.

Spaceship Earth

Each of these three problems – nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption – is enough to threaten the future of human civilisation. But taken together, they add up to an unprecedented existential crisis, especially because they are likely to reinforce and compound one another.

For example, although the ecological crisis threatens the survival of human civilisation as we have known it, it is unlikely to stop the development of AI and bioengineering. If you are counting on rising oceans, dwindling food supplies and mass migrations to divert our attention from algorithms and genes, think again. As the ecological crisis deepens, the development of high-risk, high-gain technologies will probably only accelerate.

Indeed, climate change may well come to perform the same function as the two world wars. Between 1914 and 1918, and again between 1939 and 1945, the pace of technological development skyrocketed, because nations engaged in total war threw caution and economy to the wind, and invested immense resources in all kinds of audacious and fantastic projects. Many of these projects failed, but some produced tanks, radar, poison gas, supersonic jets, intercontinental missiles and nuclear bombs. Similarly, nations facing a climate cataclysm might be tempted to invest their hopes in desperate technological gambles. Humankind has a lot of justifiable concerns about AI and bioengineering, but in times of crisis people do risky things. Whatever you think about regulating disruptive technologies, ask yourself whether these regulations are likely to hold even if climate change causes global food shortages, floods cities all over the world, and sends hundreds of millions of refugees across borders.

In turn, technological disruptions might increase the danger of apocalyptic wars, not just by increasing global tensions, but also by destabilising the nuclear balance of power. Since the 1950s, superpowers avoided conflicts with one another because they all knew that war meant mutually assured destruction. But as new kinds of offensive and defensive weapons appear, a rising technological superpower might conclude that it can destroy its enemies with impunity. Conversely, a declining power might fear that its traditional nuclear weapons might soon become obsolete, and that it had better use them before it loses them. Traditionally, nuclear confrontations resembled a hyper-rational chess game. What would happen when players could use cyberattacks to wrest control of a rival’s pieces, when anonymous third parties could move a pawn without anyone knowing who is making the move – or when AlphaZero graduates from ordinary chess to nuclear chess?

Just as the different challenges are likely to compound one another, so also the goodwill necessary to confront one challenge may be sapped away by problems on another front. Countries locked in armed competition are unlikely to agree on restricting the development of AI, and countries striving to outstrip the technological achievements of their rivals will find it very difficult to agree on a common plan to stop climate change. As long as the world remains divided into rival nations, it will be very hard to simultaneously overcome all three challenges – and failure on even a single front might prove catastrophic.

To conclude, the nationalist wave sweeping over the world cannot turn the clock back to 1939 or 1914. Technology has changed everything by creating a set of global existential threats that no nation can solve on its own. A common enemy is the best catalyst for forging a common identity, and humankind now has at least three such enemies – nuclear war, climate change and technological disruption. If despite these common threats humans choose to privilege their particular national loyalties above everything else, the results may be far worse than in 1914 and 1939.

A much better path is the one outlined in the European Union’s Constitution, which says that ‘while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny’.16 That does not mean abolishing all national identities, abandoning all local traditions, and turning humanity into homogeneous grey goo. Nor does it mean vilifying all expressions of patriotism. Indeed, by providing a continental military and economic protective shell, the European Union arguably fostered local patriotism in places such as Flanders, Lombardy, Catalonia and Scotland. The idea of establishing an independent Scotland or Catalonia looks more attractive when you don’t have to fear a German invasion and when you can count on a common European front against global warming and global corporations.

European nationalists are therefore taking it easy. For all the talk of the return of the nation, few Europeans are actually willing to kill and be killed for it. When the Scots sought to break away from London’s grip in the days of William Wallace and Robert Bruce, they had to raise an army to do so. In contrast, not a single person was killed during the 2014 Scottish referendum, and if next time Scots vote for independence, it is highly unlikely that they will have to restage the Battle of Bannockburn. The Catalan attempt to break away from Spain has resulted in considerably more violence, but it too falls far short of the carnage Barcelona experienced in 1939 or in 1714.

The rest of the world can hopefully learn from the European example. Even on a united planet there will be plenty of room for the kind of patriotism that celebrates the uniqueness of my nation and stresses my special obligations towards it. Yet if we want to survive and flourish, humankind has little choice but to complement such local loyalties with substantial obligations towards a global community. A person can and should be loyal simultaneously to her family, her neighbourhood, her profession and her nation – why not add humankind and planet Earth to that list? True, when you have multiple loyalties, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. But then who said life was simple? Deal with it.

In previous centuries national identities were forged because humans faced problems and opportunities that were far beyond the scope of local tribes, and that only countrywide cooperation could hope to handle. In the twenty-first century, nations find themselves in the same situation as the old tribes: they are no longer the right framework to manage the most important challenges of the age. We need a new global identity because national institutions are incapable of handling a set of unprecedented global predicaments. We now have a global ecology, a global economy and a global science – but we are still stuck with only national politics. This mismatch prevents the political system from effectively countering our main problems. To have effective politics, we must either de-globalise the ecology, the economy and the march of science – or we must globalise our politics. Since it is impossible to de-globalise the ecology and the march of science, and since the cost of de-globalising the economy would probably be prohibitive, the only real solution is to globalise politics. This does not mean establishing a global government – a doubtful and unrealistic vision. Rather, to globalise politics means that political dynamics within countries and even cities should give far more weight to global problems and interests.

Nationalist sentiments are unlikely to be of much help in that. Perhaps, then, we can rely on the universal religious traditions of humankind to help us unite the world? Hundreds of years ago, religions such as Christianity and Islam already thought in global rather than local terms, and they were always keenly interested in the big questions of life rather than just in the political struggles of this or that nation. But are traditional religions still relevant? Do they retain the power to shape the world, or are they just inert relics from our past, tossed here and there by the mighty forces of modern states, economies and technologies?

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