Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Cities are unsustainable. They are too dense; think of the thousands of people crammed into a single square kilometre. There are advantages, of course — you have a wider range of direct human interactions in a much smaller space, there are efficiencies to be gained. The disadvantages are legion — nobody is self-sufficient and co-dependency is a necessity.

Independent city-states, by which we mean a state whose physical limits are essentially the city limits, are all republics of some sort. There is insufficient grist for the totalitarian mill, and the necessary dealings with outsiders must be delegated to a corps of expert representatives.

It is theoretically possible for such a state to be a theocracy, but in this era it is unlikely. Vatican City, where the Holy See is colocated, is the one odd example of the theoretical theocratic city-state in practice. It has few of the functions of the true state, and creates only temporary citizens.

It is also possible for such a state to be a plutocracy, designed only for wealth creation. But somebody must then defend that state from predators, and hence such states become protectorates, subordinate affiliates, or mercenary hotels. This is so with Monaco, defended by France and completely unsustainable as a truly independent state.

But there are far fewer independent city-states than there were in the past. The borders have merged and run together; the city-states of the Low Countries are now the twelve provinces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the city-states of the Italian peninsula are now the democratic Republic of Italy (minus San Marino and Vatican City). The ancient city-states of Greece are now the modern Hellenic Republic.

There is only one truly independent city-state left. It is unique. Years of brain-sapping 'national education', however, have kept most of its population politically unaware and historically naïve. This is changing, thanks to the rise of the Internet.

It is the Internet's abridgement of psychic geography that has done what history did not; the island at the tip of the Kra peninsula now finds itself not only a nexus for world trade, but a nexus of ideas. It must think about whether it will be a passive nexus, doomed to act as nothing but a transit port, or an active nexus, with something significant to contribute.

Perhaps its republican rulers should enrich the citizens' intellectual and cultural life. The wealth of the state is its defence, but the defence of the state is not its wealth. Similarly, education should free its citizens to be mercenaries elsewhere, building an abiding brand-name, just as the Swiss city-states did. The current situation is that half its education is conducted by mercenary educators.

And here, from my precarious little perch as citizen, I realise that I am seeing both too much and too little. Time for more thought and reflection.

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