Sovereign states have been mythologized as the natural unit of political order. History shows how new they are—and how we can think beyond them.
Much more is a stake in our talk about international order, then, than quibbles over historical periodization. Misrepresenting the history of the states-system plays into the hands of nationalist strongmen, who depict themselves as saving the world from a descent into stateless anarchy, controlled by globalist corporations who couldn’t care less about national allegiance. More broadly, getting this history right means having the right conversations. Giving power to actors other than states is not always a good idea, but we must resist the false choice between resurgent nationalism on the one hand and the triumph of undemocratic entities on the other.