How great nations are made

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For several years now, Steven Press, a historian at the elite Stanford University in the United States has been leading a seminar, How to Start Your Own Country: Sovereignty and State Formation in Modern History. It’s a popular and rather over-subscribed course. Last year I wrote him to find out more about the course contents and the key ideas underlying the seminar. Professor Press was ever so gracious to send me some of his course materials. I learnt a lot from him and from my own extensive reading in the history of Western and non-Western political thought.

From Solon the founder of the Athenian constitution in ancient Greece to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers of the American Republic; it is evident that nations are deliberate acts of creation. It was said that the British Empire was founded in a feat of absentmindedness. It is also true that a lot of our countries in Africa were clobbered together by European imperialists more in furtherance of their own selfish interests than anything else. Charles de Gaulle of France arrogantly dismissed the Caribbean nations and the far-flung islands of the seas as “the dust of empires” that arose from the sea when the world powers were dancing on the world stage.

Be that as it may, real nations that rise to greatness are deliberate creations by statesmen. The Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt, in his epic study of the rise of the state in Renaissance Italy, describes the state as a “work of art”. By that he meant that the state is a creation of masterminds who work at it with the passion, imagination, artistry, creativity and courage of the great artists. They are founded with the same passion and high ability as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.… Read More...