The New Frontiers of Loyalty

LONDON – This is a tricky time to be a state, and an even trickier time to be a citizen. The nation-state, the classic provider of security and basic wellbeing in exchange for citizens’ loyalty, is under threat – both at home and as the fundamental unit of international affairs.

New types of loyalty and association are challenging the state’s traditional role. Some are geographic. In Europe alone, there at least 40 would-be Scotlands seeking separation of some kind from the countries in which they now find themselves. Other loyalties are based on other kindred identities – not just religious or ethnic, but based on shared commercial, political, or other interests. Today, many more of us are supporters of NGOs than are members of political parties.

In short, our allegiances, particularly in the West, have rarely seemed more divided than they do now. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, has argued that we can learn to live with these multiple identities and even thrive with the diversity of citizenship and loyalties that they allow us.

But this diversity is not entirely benign. Many of us work for or hold stock in commercial organizations that seem to pay scant regard to national tax or regulatory authorities. And, in much of the West, states adhere to models of welfare provision that increasingly disappoint their citizens and are often unaffordable. A global reordering of economic growth is punishing the developed countries’ high-cost, high-tax, high-benefits governance model.