Looking Beyond the Westphalian Nation-State: Challenging the Modernist Vision of History with Alternative Political Orders and Worldviews

The emerging exhaustion of the Westphalian paradigm of state sovereignty intimates the profoundly contestable and contingent character of modern, Western claims for a universal model of history. Over several centuries, the state has embodied and enforced foundational postulates, such as the pre-eminence of the individual knowing subject, and the imagined divide between religious and secular realms of existence and authority (with the latter sphere effectively internalizing the sacred import of the former). At present, though, the state’s tenuousness, and yet in key instances fierce tenacity, amidst a world of potent transnational forces, portends the urgency for alternative conceptions of the meaning and arrangement of human life. Contemporary Middle Eastern quandaries are especially illustrative of this predicament: for example, the disintegration (as in Iraq, Syria, Libya) or, then again, coercive retrenchment (viz., Egypt) of state formations and nationalist identities; or, to take another sort of instance, the chimerical prospects for coexistence, or even bare existence, among conflicting national communities, as in Israel/Palestine. Are there political paradigms beyond the Westphalian state that could help to integrate plural traditions in pursuit of less exclusionary, and more just, historical possibilities?

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