This article (About the measurement of the strength of a nation and false pride) is the translation of a german blog-entry (deutsch): Über den Maßstab der Größe von Staaten und falschen Stolz.
Greatness, glory, strength of a nation – What’s that?
In politics the term greatness, strength of a nation, glory of a nation occurs again and again. – But what should this be? – There are different appoaches to this question:
Read more (in English):
More territory = more strength of a nation?
It seems there are always efforts, to strive for the biggest expansion a country once had upon a time or sphere of influence. This approach is easily refuted:
The ancient greek philosopher Heraklit wrote: „It isn’t possible to step twice into the same river“. Everything is steadily changing. We always try to decribe history as a linear process, but this is just a red string of telling, we draw through it. The „nation“ of today is never more the „nation“ it once has been. There are different people with different expiriences. Genealogy is meaningless. All human beings are reasonable beings and therefore it is meaningless where we may descent from. It is meaningless wether our ancestors were part of something or not – and we can never be sure of, it has been. The more we look back in history, the less we can be certain about our descention.
The decisive thing is the people
But one fact: All life on earth descents at last from the sea. How far should we look back in history? – Former empires had different borders than the countries of today, but are they still the same? – No. Because there are (we are) different people nowadays. And the people make the difference. States are just units of political administration. In different moments of history the rule over the mediterranean realm was in hand of the romans, the phoenician or the islamic world (califat of cordoba) – but on the other hand the rule was always in the hand of the people living in this realm. The relocation of borders of a state, of spheres of influence or domination in this theatre proves its own meaninglessness. Everything depends on the people.
By the way, with this in mind it would be better to speak of the „United political units of this world“ instead of the United Nations, just to avoid the term of „nation“ here. On the other hand it is just a term and of no bigger importance.
Others don’t relate the strength to the territory, but to great achievements: The Egypts built the pyramids. Ancient wonders of the world. The oldest system of lettering or the oldest written laws. Or the highest skyscrapers. The most mindblowing cathedrals or bridges. Or the most outstanding poets and thinkers. The most winners of the nobel prize, the most patents, the most advanced scientific research. Or to be the first: The first dog in space, the first man in kosmos, the first flight around the earth, the first landing on the moon, the first remedy to fight a disease. The fastest sport car, the fastest hurdler and the fastest ejaculation! – Oh, fair vanity!
Other examples are the national teams in sports and the hunting for world records. The national olympic teams are an invention of modern times, this is 19th century, while in the panhellenistic ancient games no city states challenged each other but athletes from everywhere in greek. There were no achievements of nations, but simply of athletes actually standing in the stadium.
Side Remark: Grassroots sport is healthier than record hunting
I want to give a further side remark to this hunt of records. Today it is all about world records. It is expected the results become better and better all the time. But we talk about human beings – and the possibilities of humans are limited. It is just natural we get no new records at some point in history. Doping may serve the national false pride of some nations for some time, but it harms the athletes. It would be better to forget about the records and just compare the athletes in the challenge of the year. Fame to the winner. Beside I think, it would be better to forget these global national games under high pressure for everyone. Instead we should turn more to less challenging regional games to serve the health of the people.
Achievements: Accomplishments of Individuals
On closer view we recognize, that there are no achievements of a nation here, but of single athletes or persons. Even in case there are many people involved in the realisation, like i.e. in building the pyramids, has some person had an idea of it, a vision of how it could be realized and a person made a decision to realize it. We celebrate the architect, the inventor, the poet and the thinker in context of society, but in the end the achievement is their own. Achievements in sport belong the athlete. And scientific achievements are often achieved by international teams of outraging scientists in context of the global scientific community.
But there is a strange mechanism at work here: The achievements of these few people were related to nations, they seem to derive from – and other people, who had in person no part in this achievement, but relate themselves to the same nation, are proud of these achievements for themselves. They had no part in it! This is false pride.
At least there are people stating: „I am proud, to be part of this or that group!“, maybe a nationality or skin colour. My argumentation above already shows it obviously, that such statements are without any sense nor reason. Additionally it can be seen as an offence to the rest of the world. In this sense such a statement just states: „In my opinion i am better than you“ and as the only try of justification „because i am (by lucky chance) part of this group.“ – Beside the fact, that this feeling of supremacy is pure imagination, every person has an incalculable multitude of different attributes and relationships and there is no reason why we should limit us on nationality, the tone of skin, gender or sexual orientation in defining ourselves.
Every human being is longing for recognition and dignity. If we are honest to ourselves, we recognise that we do not gain recognition and dignity by being part of some group, but by ourselves.
On this way we don’t need flags, hymns, parades or other symbols or rituals, which use the methods of commercial to build a feeling of unity. This feeling often has the effect to turn off reasonable thinking and gives us to the mercy of alien interests, we have no overview about. From the middle ages to modern totalitarian dictatorships these things may have been used by rulers to ensure themselves of the loyalty of their underlings. But these things are just hollow gestures.
A misleading figure of speech
Sometimes we can see the phrase „strong state“ denoted to states, which want to demonstrate strength. Although it is absolutely justified, to fight crime with police and legal authorities, and to support the interest of the people in this way. But to these so called „strong“ states it is characteristic, that they put people to service, to impose order and security against the people. These states demand the people to serve the state.
But it should be the opposite way: The state should serve the people. When a state becomes his own cause, he lost his cause. Often such a state will be sustained by a few tyrannic persons, who draw personal advantages from the situation. The truth is, these states aren’t strong but weak, because they are dependent on support to sustain the situation against those people, they should serve. A cane is needed by those, who aren’t able to walk without. Those states can not be more away from being great.
True Strength of a nation
Now, what truly marks the greatness, strength and fame of a state? – It is marked by the liberty, contentedness and safety of the people. Well it does no harm to dare a view across borders, to become inspired, but for this greatness you do not need to compare. It is beyond comparison. In the end any state is just literally the „state“ (or set of conditions) people are living in. Wether they feel good with it and say, it is great, is their own decision and the insights of others doesn‘ t matter. It is without comparison and is nothing to be achieved against others.