Citizens of Nowhere: Europe as a metaphor for the world to come

Short thesis

A genuine European republic will not come about through a graceful concession of the kings and queens of Europe. It will come about through the activism of its citizens, through social and political struggle, through cultural and artistic reinvention. Through socially aware technological and digital innovation. This is the historical challenge we have ahead of us today.


If you believe you are a citizen of the world, then you’re a citizen of nowhere
– Theresa May

Theresa May said at her first Conservative conference after becoming leader that ‘people who believe they are citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere’. This was intended to be an appeal to nationalistic sentiment, to some version of ‘Britishness’. But we can misread it a different way: in our globalised, interconnected world, we are all to different extents citizens of the world, and we have almost all, as a result, lost much of our political citizenship because political forms have not kept up with globalisation.

Nation states increasingly appear as insufficient vehicles to approach the challenges brought about by technological innovation, migration, climate change, or financial flows. And yet attempts to move beyond a moribund nationalism, matching globalisation of the economy with a globalisation of politics, appear blocked or stuck in reverse gear - just think of the Hamburg G20.

In this context, Europe becomes a metaphor for the world of tomorrow. If the most politically and economically integrated continent reverts back to a world of opposed national interests, where proud nations are pitted one against the other, this will be a dramatic preview of the global disorder to come. If, on the other hand, Europe is able to build a genuine transnational democracy, a real politics beyond borders, this will show that it is possible to move beyond the stale world of Westphalia.