All these data points lead us back towards the same conclusion. Nation-states are not equal to the Herculean role we’ve assigned them. We need to face this reality head-on, instead of losing ourselves in bitter scapegoating and dreamy reminiscences of the good old days. Nationalists are nostalgic revanchists, channeling an emotional desire to secure a world that’s already slipping through their fingers.

Properly understood, these reflections should not inspire panic or despair. Countries are not just going to disappear, of course. Barring some truly apocalyptic event, nation-states will continue to play a non-trivial role in human affairs, though it will likely be a changed and diminished one. Some governmental functions (especially relating to security, trade, and the environment) may shift to beefed-up international organizations, while a larger share of personal needs (both social and material) might fall to a less-centralized network of private organizations, local governmental programs, or perhaps some new sort of institution that doesn’t yet exist. In a diminished nation-state, people would not stop forming communities, nor would they all morph into urbane cosmopolitans or (more pessimistically) deracinated loners. Human nature predates modern nationalism by several million years, and it will continue long after the nation-state has been eclipsed.