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O.T. FORD

 

A country is a conventional region, the most important conventional region at the global scale. In the country model, the world is divided into countries; all land outside of Antarctica is assigned to exactly one country. This is our very familiar understanding of the world. We all live in a country, are from a country. All events happen in a country. Maps that are not about countries have countries as their unremarked backgrounds. We see, all too often, the same map, of pastel polygons on a field of blue ocean.

Because it is conventional, the country exists only as an idea. There is no empirical reality, no measurable or observable truth, that identifies a country, where its boundaries are, what points lie inside it, other than those dependent on the convention in the first place. The country model is certainly loosely based on government, on the territories (states) controlled by governments. In many parts of the world, countries and states align perfectly, because political control is stable and undisputed. But as a whole, the country model is a pretense, as evidenced by the fact that, where countries and political control do not align, we pretend that they do. In other words, countries are supposedly identified from political control, but now we identify political control from countries. We are begging the question.

But the country model has another flaw, which is that countries are taken to coincide with other features, such as nations, economies, or even languages. Even where political control is stable and political borders are not in dispute, there is no reason to conclude, let alone assume, that cultural features align with country borders.

Countries derive much of their legitimacy from the idea of the nation-state. In theory, a nation-state is a perfect alignment of nation with state: everyone who belongs to the nation is in the state, and everyone in the state belongs to the nation. No one is left out; no one is included involuntarily. This, of course, is never the case. The two states that come closest are probably Japan and Iceland; it is not coincidental that these are states that have their landmasses to themselves, safely insulated by water.

The recognized governments are heavily invested in the country model and its legitimacy, because they derive much of their own legitimacy from it; the international state system, and the United Nations that serves to organize it, are in part an effort to fix and codify the country model. Since its creation, the United Nations has come ever-closer to embodying the country model, as non-member states that were accepted as countries (Switzerland and North and South Korea) were admitted, leaving the remaining non-member states (Taiwan, Somaliland) further isolated in non-country status.

 

O.T. FORD

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