The most important thing to understand about nationalism and states, and by extension the multinational order that has emerged around this within the last hundred years or so, is that states are not things that belong to different peoples in order to protect them from losing some intrinsic quality that only they possess. This is both the basis for reactionary ideologies like fundamentalism, imperialism, or fascism, and, equally importantly, for the neoliberal concept of ‘respecting borders.’
Nationalism and the nation state were, essentially, the logical conclusion of colonialism and the capitalist revolution against monarchy and traditional forms of governance. They were a renegotiation of the concept of zones of control, not for populations of people, but for the elites who used, and still use, structural or physical violence to control them and either coerce or force them to serve.
The concept is simple: these are our slaves and those are yours. We each have our respective state tribes that rival one another (police, intelligence services, militaries, diplomatic corps, and elite, enfranchised cultural and economic peers) while simultaneously cooperating against their subordinates everywhere, within their respective borders or abroad. We see the same phenomenon in historical peasant revolts against medieval power. Machinations and rivalries cease when cohesion occurs among the lower classes. Now, stateless capital rather than hereditary ‘nobility’ fulfills this role as the cement in our supposedly balkanized nation state system. Stateless capital is the nobility, and it manipulates economic and political circumstances in order to set populations against one another, internally and internationally.
That’s a bunch of big dumb words. The important takeaway is this: you have more in common with an Iranian protester or a Ukrainian partisan or a Kurdish freedom fighter or a Hong Kong or Taiwanese democracy activist or a homeless person or a struggling worker or any justice activist on any street anywhere in the world than you do with your own politicians, with your boss, with the board of your company, with billionaires, or with the person behind your pulpit. Lines on maps should mean absolutely nothing to you, if you are a champion for human dignity and agency for what is just and fair. When you hear politicians talk about ‘respecting sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ and the rest of it, that is code for ‘we can do whatever we like to these people, just as your elites can and will do to you.’
Their impermeable economic barriers and their militarized boundaries on maps are not to protect you from internal chaos or external migratory invaders. These are fortresses built in the minds of every person living in every part of the world, to protect those with power from you. There is a war on, but it is not localized and the sides have no particular flag. It is between those who genuinely want a better, fairer, more sustainable world, and those who want to preserve the criminal enterprise of recent human history at the expense of the Earth and every living thing upon it, save themselves.