12/17/2009 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Shrinking State

KnowledgeFor 350 years the basic political building-block has been the nation-state. The nation-state evolved in the mid-17th century from a bargain between the people (the nation) and governments (the state) that, in return for their loyalty, the state would protect the nation. To ensure its side of the bargain, the state or the government had to possess a monopoly on violence. No other individual or group could make war or conduct violent actions. Otherwise, the state could not keep its side of the bargain.

In the late 20th century this historic bargain began to break down and governments could no longer guarantee the safety of their citizens. As symbolized by the 9.11 terrorist attacks, even the most militarily powerful government in history could not protect its citizens. Though there are many reasons for this, the most basic is that the nature of warfare and conflict is changing. Nation-states rarely go to war against each other anymore, for territory or power, but non-uniformed, often suicidal stateless nations ("non-state actors") are now the new warrior/criminals. Significant parts of the world, including in places such as Mexico, are now "governed" by tribes, clans, and gangs. That also includes major urban areas.

All this leads to profound implications. If governments cannot guarantee the security of their people, the people will stockpile their own weapons and possibly create their own militias or private security forces. All the while, they are losing confidence in, and often mistrusting, their own government. This also means that, in fragile nation-states like Pakistan and many others, the army increasingly withdraws to protection of the nation's capital, its government, and its elites. Thus the government loses further credibility in the countryside and whole segments of countries begin to seek their own sub-governments. This, of course, produces failed and failing states.

Posted from Senator Hart's new blog.  To comment, please visit Matters of Principle.