- By Stephen M. WaltStephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
What’s the most powerful political force in the world? Some of you might say it’s the bond market. Others might nominate the resurgence of religion or the advance of democracy or human rights. Or maybe its digital technology, as symbolized by the internet and all that comes with it. Or perhaps you think it’s nuclear weapons and the manifold effects they have had on how states think about security and the use of force.
Those are all worthy nominees (no doubt readers here will have their own favorites), but my personal choice for the Strongest Force in the World would be nationalism. The belief that humanity is comprised of many different cultures — i.e., groups that share a common language, symbols, and a narrative about their past (invariably self-serving and full of myths) — and that those groups ought to have their own state has been an overwhelming powerful force in the world over the past two centuries.
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