The Postmodern Condition: Human Nature, Tribalism, and the Future of the Nation-State

Globalization and its attendant political-ideological system of globalism are disintegrating populations heretofore organized by nation-states to the detriment of individual freedom and human rights. Globalism seeks denationalization, promoting balkanization by encouraging the creation and restoration of subnational identity groups. Globalism is the antithesis of nationalism. Humanity ignores the problem of globalization at its peril.

Under the influence of globalism, there is a shift in emphasis from economics and individualism to ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and the myriad of other ways to divide populations. Globalist are opposed to assimilation, borders, and a common culture and language because they stand in opposition to individuals and the structures necessary to preserve and protect personal sovereignty and advance individual interests. Condemning assimilation and national culture as chauvinist and racist, globalists demand the free flow of non-Western populations into Western countries. This is the postmodern condition.

Over the last few decades populist-nationalist sentiment has emerged and resistance to globalization is growing. We see with it reaction to the postmodernism that has corrupted the cultural and social institutions of the West. The rise of nationalism has fractured the Republican Party, pushing the Party of Lincoln back to its roots as a populist democratic-republican movement. Nationalist are standing up in open forums at city council and school board meetings and demanding public institutions quit such divisive teachings as critical race theory and the 1619 project.

When proponents of globalism and multiculturalism warn in response that nationalism is (just) another form of tribalism, they are either confessing to ignorance of nationalism or engaged in deceit. Civic nationalism, which is the form of nationalism practiced across the West, is the antithesis of tribalism; a nation based on civic virtue detribalizes populations by liberating individuals from their identity-based associations, reincorporating them into a greater juridical-political unit that regards them equally alongside their fellow citizens without respect to group identity. The secular nation-state provides individuals with a common language and a common law that incorporates persons into a greater whole, treating people as individuals rather than personifications of identity groups. The secular nation-state rescues people from the backwardness of primitive social relations.

The problem lies in our nature. Homo sapiens is an animal species. Humans are social animals. Social animals are tribal by nature. It is in the nature of social animals to seek out those who resemble them, to find affinity and feel safety in identity, even in the variation of a species. Tribal organization in human populations is the reflection of this natural tendency in social behavior. But tribal organization is not conducive to human progress. Human tribes, like all animal tribes, exist in a state of nature. In a state of nature, there is no social development, only the chaos of natural history. In a state of nature, or at least on the continuum closer to it, humans have difficulty in creating and sustaining civilization because potential is constrained and intergroup conflict is continual.

As societies detribalize, human potential becomes available to a greater population. Ideas and resources are accessible to the many, and common understanding and cooperation allow for the rapid transmission and adoption of forward-leaning ideas, where humans organize or are organized beyond the tribal level. Detribalization diminishes or eliminates intergroup antagonism and conflict, stabilizing social relations across large culture areas. As world history makes obvious, the most advanced societies are those that are the most effective at alienating the individual from his instinct to organize along tribal lines. Citizens exist in a more advanced state than subjects.

The extent to which a population is detribalized predicts progress. Detribalization is a process of liberating individuals from backwardness and reintegrating them into a common sociocultural structure, a unified legal and political framework, and a shared language. Defending the nation-state from the disintegrating force of globalism is desirable because it preserves those institutions that promote the individualism necessary for the development and perpetuation of advanced civilization.

Not all nations are created equal in this regard. Across the globe, there is uneven development in cultural, economic, and social systems. Not every nation and region is as advanced as other nations and regions. It is the West that most aggressively promotes the individualism necessary for rapid expansion of science, technology, and the humanist values of liberalism and secularism. This is why the West must be defended against woke ideology.

Woke ideology is an expression of globalist desire. With its identitarian politics, the woke seek to return human populations to tribes, to fracture national populations into identity groups based on, among other things, skin color. The woke tell a history without progress in order to deny the power of nationalism in advancing the common interests of human beings. As such, globalism and multiculturalism are regressive developments, elements of a countermovement against the Enlightenment. Social justice advocates encourage individuals to give themselves over to tribal instincts, to see themselves in terms of skin color and other stigma.

Globalization is the force that is undermining the ability to maintain national structures. We are seeing, across the world, the continuation or return of tribalism where the state and law are weak or insufficiently liberal and secular. Globalization is weakening the state and the law. Corporations, innately illiberal structures, are feeding intertribal conflict—both organically and by design. Corporate power is transforming capitalism into something different. It is shifting the gears of social development in reverse. Transnationalization is a return to feudalism. The globalist desire is neofeudalist.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

2 thoughts on “The Postmodern Condition: Human Nature, Tribalism, and the Future of the Nation-State”

  1. Dear Andrew Austin,

    Hello! I have enjoyed reading your discussion regarding “The Postmodern Condition: Human Nature, Tribalism, and the Future of the Nation-State”.

    My close reading has detected a typo in your sentence “It shifting the gears of social development in reverse.” I believe that you meant to type “shifts”, not “shifting”.

    By the way, there have been a great deal of contentions and criticisms over the usage and conception of the term “detribalization” amongst scholars.

    Thank you for visiting and liking my post entitled “💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠“. I would love to know what you think of it and look forward to reading your piquant thoughts and crystalized wisdom distilled into a brilliant comment(ary), whose potency might indeed impress upon my intellect so much that it could potentially be immortalized as a quotation in the post proper of this book-length post for posterity. As you can see in the post, a handful of the numerous quotations there are sourced directly from the excellent comments in the comment section of the post.

    Happy September to you!

    Yours sincerely,

    1. Thanks for your comment! There was a missing word in that sentence. It should read “It is shifting…” I have corrected it. Thank you for catching that and your close reading. Often when I revisit my blog essays I catch typos. I write quickly and often and, without a copy editor, mistakes get through. My goal with many of these essays is to combine them into books where there will less chance of those sorts of errors getting through.

      If one searches “detribalization” on Google the first thing that pops up is “Detribalization is the process by which persons who belong to a particular Indigenous ethnic identity or community are detached from that identity or community through the deliberate efforts of colonizers and/or the larger effects of colonialism.” You are right that this is a contentious issue in the literature. I am aware that when I write that people may hear that usage. I try to make it plain that by “detribalizing” I mean a process by which a person is emancipated from provincialism and reincorporated into a national system where the focus is on the self-actualization of the individual over against the limiting force of the tribe and the antagonisms that societies based on tribes often generate. It is a description of a process that, in the end, carries emancipatory effect. I do not believe people are born with a culture, but born into a culture, and not all cultures are created equally, so to speak, and thus have differential effects on human well-being.

      For example, women have historically been limited by tribal systems governed by patriarchal norms and values. These are often religiously sanctioned. The emancipation of women from these systems has been one consequence of the modern nation-state. And it has been a good one. It does not mean that the problem of patriarchal control has been eliminated. We can see by the recent Supreme Court decision upholding Texas’ ban on abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy that patriarchal sentiment is still a problem. But this problem is at the same time very much the continuing problem of religious tribalism, where politicians and their constituents believe it is okay to impose upon individuals (in this case women) in violation of secular principle narrow religious morality. The solution to this problem is marginalization of religious tribalism not tolerance of provincialism. Women who are not members of religiously conservative communities in Texas should not have their reproductive capacity dictated to by those communities.

      I appreciated your post. I have considered commenting on it. In particular to go through the list it contains. At present, I am getting everything together for my semester of teaching, so it will have to be later than sooner. Thanks for taking the time to elaborate your views on your blog and for taking the time to read mine.

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