As we shall see later, political development does not always stop at the Nation-State.
According to Sir John Seeley, the greatest political historian of the British Empire, foreign trade and modern war have always been one and the same thing. Some small nation-state resented the advent and methods of the foreign traders, and began to prepare for self-defence, asserting that it wished to be left alone, and that it meant to defend its own sacred traditions.
The German Empire is therefore something unique in the annals of the world; it is at once a nation-State, like Italy, France, and Great Britain, and also a military Empire, like Rome under Augustus, Europe under Napoleon, Austria under Joseph II., i.e. a State in which the territory that commands the army holds political sway over the rest of the country.
It has become clear that the powers of the institution of the nation-state, once the arbiter and protector of humanity’s fortunes, have been drastically eroded.
Just as, in the fifteenth century, civilisation had suddenly passed from the stage of the city-state or the feudal principality to the stage of the great nation-state, so now, while the European peoples were still struggling to realise their nationhood, civilisation seemed to have stolen a march upon them, and to have advanced once more, this time into the stage of the world-state.
Politically, these forces found expression through the commerce-dominated, profit-seeking, colonizing empires, with the nation-state as nucleus. Colonizing empires became the dominant force in Europe and in the non-European segments of the planet which were gradually brought under European imperial control.
We are still far off from the World-State and the World-Law which formed the misty ideal of cosmopolitan thinkers. But only those who are blind to the true course of human progress can fail to see that the day of the Nation-State is even now drawing to a close in the West.
Denmark and Sweden have played a more modest part, in extra-European as in European affairs. Germany and Italy only began to conceive imperial ambitions after their tardy unification in the nineteenth century. Austria, which has never been a nation-state, never became a colonising power.
At the opening of the twentieth century the long process whereby the whole globe has been brought under the influence of European civilisation was practically completed; and there had emerged a group of gigantic empires, which in size far surpassed the ancient Empire of Rome; each resting upon, and drawing its strength from, a unified nation-state.
In the light of what meets our eyes today, his previsioning of the operation of this dual process is breathtaking: the creation of “a mechanism of world inter-communication ... functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity”; the undermining of the nation-state as the chief arbiter of human destiny; the devastating effects that advancing moral breakdown throughout the world would have on social cohesion; the widespread public disillusionment produced by political corruption; and—unimaginable to others of his generation—the rise of global agencies dedicated to promoting human welfare, coordinating economic activity, defining international standards, and encouraging a sense of solidarity among diverse races and cultures.