Writing speculative fiction gives a writer the opportunity to have a go at predicting the future. For me, the best tool I always find useful, in order to build the world in which to set the novel, is looking at the past. ‘To see the future one must look to the past’ and follow the trends.
I began by asking ‘What is a nation? A state? A country?’ and then went on to research different types of sovereignties throughout history. I followed the trends and discovered the future of the world’s political landscape is a mixture of obviousness and surprise. The one bitcoin roulette prediction that seems most definite amongst all the others is that the nation states we live in today are not static, rigid institutions, but evolving, changing political creatures.
One of the obvious developments is the trend of nations moving towards supernationhood. Historically, growing and successful communities constantly expanded to accommodate the increasing power of the citizens of these states. A town grows into a city-state; a city-state turns to empire. Up until last century ’empire’ was a natural progression for any nation blessed with the position of economic power. However, empires that refused to evolve by the time the twentieth century came along struggled to survive. The spread of democracy made sure of this. Ever since the city-state of Athens experimented with mixing democracy and empire (a fail in my opinion), large dominions struggled or faltered once injected with representative government. Successful empires were the ones that dealt with democracy by absorbing the ideal into its political composition, alas the advent of constitutional monarchy and republicanism. As these forms of sovereignties become irrelevant into the twenty-first century, new forms are beginning to arise.
Economic Blocks initially were sold to citizens of developed (democratic) nation as mere trade treaties, political union was never in the sales pitch. Yet the promise of prosperity hooked the entire continent of Europe. Political union has always been at the forefront of European history hence why all those large-scale wars, but for a modern empire to take flight, a new approach needed to be implemented. Instead of conquering, the Eurocrats resolved to forge an empire by having nations willingly enter subjugation. Independent peoples are today willing and eager to give up their sovereignty for the promise of prosperity. Forget the wars and struggles for liberty their recent ancestors went through; access to cheap money was all it took to stamp out nationalism.
It is not hard to foresee that when the EU arrives at the crossroads, the Eurocrats will issue their constituents with an ultimatum; federalism, political union, or die in poverty. Europe is on the road to empire, to become a supernation, and compete with all the other, old and new, supernations.
Spheres of Influence are as old as empires. In ancient times, all regional powers asserted a sphere of influence over their neighbours. Control that sphere for a substantial period and that region is theirs, until another power comes along and takes it from them. The Persians did it to expand the empire as an alternative to war. The Greek city-states did it against each other. From the Romans meddling in foreign politics, to the Cold War, the tussle between spheres of influence determined the fate of imperial aspirations. The winner usually takes all, and builds an empire with the spoils.
The United States, a supernation by definition, established its sphere of influence as soon as it became powerful enough to do so. Without really conquering new territory, it maintained an empire for over a hundred years, culminating with the Cold War of the Twentieth Century, which divided the entire world into two spheres of influence. This is nothing new. Cold Wars have been fought between the Mycenaean and Hittite Empires, Hittites and Egyptians, the aristocrats of Sparta and the democrats of Athens, the fundamentalist Hellenes and the theocratic Persians, Romans and Carthaginians… each time the winner taking all.
Today all the major powers are carrying out their own mini Cold Wars. The Russians are forever trying to resuscitate their former Empire status over their satellites nations. Since outright conquest has proved in modern times vastly expensive, maintaining a sphere of influence over them is proving more effective. Economic war is much cheaper, it seems. Far less fallout. China has also become an expert in establishing its sphere of influence, one that stretches far beyond their immediate neighbourhood. They buy love and affection in continents as far away as Africa and Australia, in the hope that they will hang on to this influence long enough to not warrant gunboat diplomacy.
To survive, just like in business, smaller nation will need either to join with an Economic Block or enter a foreign power’s Sphere of Influence. Either way, independence and sovereignty is lost whilst the Supernation dominates.
Cities, by nature, have always been economic powerhouses throughout history. Like the laws of gravity, centres of urbanisation attracted wealth and power. The greater the mass a village, town or city has, the more attractive power they possess, syphoning human resources away from rural communities. It is easy to see how these centres of concentrated wealth evolved into the first political states. Babylon, Athens and Rome grew into city-states, powerful enough to influence and have a central role in civilisation. Epicentres of science, arts, religion and trade, these cities gave birth to empires, monarchies, as well as regional and national states. A thousand years later City-states such as Venice, Florence and Genoa in Italy, and the Free Imperial Cities, sovereign city-states in Germany and Switzerland, rose to prominence, challenging the might of European monarchs, such as the Byzantine.