What kind of nation state for the 21st century?


The form of political organization now known as the nation-state is a relatively recent invention in Western societies. This invention, the dominant form in the West, has been imposed on most of the world’s population, throughout the twentieth century, notwithstanding that it is based on a number of ideas and social attitudes totally alien to traditional cultures.

Today the nation-state is no longer an advanced form of social construction, because it does not serve the general interest of society but only the interests of the dominant castes, whether political, military, bureaucratic, financial or proprietary. Whether it is considered the nation-state in its totalitarian version (civil or military dictatorship, the dictatorship of the proletariat, socialist republic, etc.) as in its ‘democratic’ version (presidential republic, constitutional monarchy, etc.) none of them are never in the service of ‘the people’ but rather in the service of power hierarchies, in any of its forms.

The modern nation-state, with its thirst for domination on humans and nature has taken shape over the oppression of local cultures and on the plundering of nature. In the context of globalization, nation-states that were set up throughout the twentieth century, have served to ensure the dominance of transnational powers (especially industrial, economic and financial) on the population and on the commons of the planet.

The root cause of the present ecological, economic, social and cultural crisis around the world is none other than the size achieved by nation states such as the institutions that support it. Its size means that neither the alleged ‘managers’ of the nation-state really are able to do so. The first person to address this serious problem was Professor Leopold Kohr, in the early 50s when he developed the concept of critical size and his brilliant critique on mass democracy in his book The Breakdown of Nations.

A nation reaches its critical size when the costs of services provided to citizens become higher than the benefits that citizens take. There are four elements that contribute to the increase in the size of a nation: a numerical increase of the population, an increase in population’s density, greater integration of its constituent parts and an increase in the speed its population is moving. The movement speed increases as a result of greater integration of regional parties in larger units. The mass population increases not only numerically, by birth, but effectively, by increasing the speed with which it moves. And a nation is forced to increase its speed when it increases the degree of centralization and integration by increasing contacts between the commercial and administrative center and peripheral parts, or between themselves. It not only increases the number of movements, but also the speed with which they do.

What is needed now to overcome the ecological, economic, social and cultural crisis of our world is a slowdown in the pace of life through increased regional and local autonomy. Or put another way, a system of small states slightly confederated, in which its citizens can solve most of their everyday problems in their own neighborhood or town and not having to go to remote government offices or remote supply centers; where the economy is locally controlled, where the energy that makes it work is the one you get capturing transforming and using from renewable and clean energy sources flowing freely through the biosphere, where the population’s food needs are grown organically as close as possible to the people who need food, . . .

Catalonia for their particular situation in Europe (a high degree of national consciousness of the population, a certain level of autonomy within the framework of the centralist Spanish nation-state, a territorial area not too extensive, a population not too big, . . . ), could play a pioneering role in the creation and development of a new form of political organization of their state, which leaves behind the characteristics of the old nation-states (dominion over people and nature) and could be more suitable to the needs of people and ecosystems in which these people live at the beginning of the XXI century and that they are totally different to the needs of people who were living the time when nation-states were set up in the way that the twentieth century has left us and that is demonstrating its inability to address both how to solve ecological, economic, social and cultural problems we face today and to solve them as soon as possible, in this century, if you want to realize ‘to live well without damaging either.’

Catalonia requires a form of nation-state quite different from nation-states still existing today. A state in peace with nature and in peace with cultures that people have created and continue creating and recreating in everyday life. And this form of state, we do know how it has not to be (do not mimic the structure of the states legacies of the twentieth century, with its large structures and bureaucracies), but only glimpse as it should be (smaller and lighter structures, very close to the citizens and directly responsible to it, respect for people and cultures that are being created, respect for all living beings and the natural systems that host them).

As Wolfgang Sachs says: “If there must be some form of prosperity for all people who share this planet, we must overcome the current model of production and consumption, leaving space for lifestyles and well-being that leave a very light footprint on Earth. Patterns of production and consumption will never be just unless they use fewer resources and are compatible with living systems of the planet. For this reason, on the 21st century there will not be equity without ecology. And it may not be possible to re-conceptualize equity without recovering the diversity of prosperity’s visions. Linking the desire for equality with the concept of economic growth has been the philosopher’s stone of the era of development. Decoupling economic growth desire for equity and linking it to the notions of welfare-based on communities and cultures will be the philosopher’s stone of the post-development era.”

And Catalonia, for its special political and social situation, it might say something in all these matters. But to make it possible it must be necessary to open a new political space that exceeds all the shortcomings of the political space existing in our country since the Franco dictator’s death.


Pep Puig i Boix

Alternativa Verda (Green Alternative)

Barcelona, Catalonia, October 2014


This is an updated version of an article originally published for Pulse.

Pep Puig i Boix has been the first elected green councilor on the Barcelona city council (1995-1999) as well as a founder of Alternativa Verda (1983), a group which promotes political ecology and a bioregional perspective in Catalonia. www.verds-alternativaverda.org (in catalan language)

Some li
nks related to the Catalonian movement:

– Catalan National Assembly:

– Wilson Collective:

– Catalonia calls to the world: video in English

Freedom for Catalonia: see lecture Catalonia: the future is another country-English

– Decembre 23rd, 2014:

– November 9th, 2014: more that 2 million people, make a civic action of disobedience, voting in a ‘illegal’ (according Spanish ‘Tribunal Constitucional’) referendum

– October 19th, 2014:

– September 11th, 2014:

– September 11th., 2013: Almost 2 million people form a human chain, across Catalonia:

– September 11th., 2012: 1 million people demonstrate in the Barcelona Streets:


February 10, 2015

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