I’m fond of pointing out that history favors ever larger human organizational units. In fact, nature seems to favor it. Early humans lived in groups no larger than 200, with most groups being under 100. We know this by using some basic math about how hunter-gatherer people live. Once you get beyond the 200 number, managing resources gets difficult because you suddenly need people who only manager other people.
We also have observations of hunter-gatherers in modern times. Even in areas with plenty of resources, the size of tribes ranges from between 100 and 200. The speculation is that in times of plenty when populations could outgrow the natural constraints, groups would split off forming new tribes in new lands. This is the most logical explanation for the migration of humans out of Africa and across the globe.
Human settlement changed the mathematics of human organization. Suddenly, bigger was better. Anyone who has done manual labor knows that the right tools and techniques can allow two men to perform the work of three. Agriculture suddenly made surplus possible. It also allowed for the planned storage of labor in the form of shelters, provisions, trade items, etc. Large groups of people coordinating their efforts was made practical and profitable by agriculture.
Or maybe the desire for larger organizational units drove the transition to settlement. It’s not always easy to know these things. It’s entirely possible that people figured out that different resource allocation methods would allow for big groups. Instead of Cousin Trog and his clan splitting off from the group, Grog and Trog could work together to grow vegetables and raise animals.
Bronze Age people had empires but running large scale societies was tough due to communications and distance. There was also the fact that Bronze Age societies were largely palace economies. That does not scale up very well. The solution was to have a collection of palace economies under the rule of a dominant clan or city-state. Ultimately, that system proved too fragile. The late Bronze Age collapse was most likely the result of massive inefficiency.
The Romans managed to run a massive empire for a long time, despite the problems of communications and distance. They solved some of this with road building. All of a sudden, they could get word to distant outposts relatively quickly. They also had money, which makes the storage and transfer of wealth possible at a scale impossible in barter economies. Even so, the Romans outgrew the capacity of their organizing model and bankrupted themselves trying to make it work.
After the collapse of Rome, Europe went through a reorganization. Eventually, the new model allowed them to go from scattered tribes to small kingdoms, to unified nations. The Brits are great example to consider. Under Roman rule they were just tribes without much of an organizational structure. They slowly evolved into small kingdoms after the Romans. Then it was the Heptarchy for a long stretch and finally a unified England.
Europe, of course, is trying to break free of the country model. Many on the Right argue that this can never work due to the vast differences in culture across Europe. The Greeks are not Germans so they cannot make a German economic and political system work. Critics consider the EU an empire disguised as a bureaucracy. Sort of like the Department of Motor Vehicles conquering Europe.
There’s a problem with that critique. The new model has new digital money and new digital communications. Fifty years ago, the single currency could never work. It’s why the gold standards failed. Digital credit money lets central banks adjust the money supply much faster and more precisely. It’s not perfect and may be a fantasy but is a big difference in human organization.
Rapid communication and mass media also change things. Fifty years ago, many people in the West lacked a telephone or television. Today, everyone has a mobile phone and internet access. This allows local governments to coordinate their message across languages and cultures. The fact that the German government runs the German media should come as no surprise. A popular media these days works hand and glove with government.
It’s why there is some reason to think the open border types are close to right. They imagine a world without borders, but maybe they are just a click too fast. A European border with the rest of the world is necessary, but internal borders are not. Similarly, a border between the US and Canada is pointless, but a border with Mexico is a necessity, for now.
Samuel Huntington imagined a world that would be organized in zones. The West would be one zone. East Asia another. The Middle East another. Future conflicts would be along the borders where zones meet, like Ukraine and Syria. Whether or not it is by design or accident, it does appear to be the shape of things to come. Just look at the political debates. Underneath it all are the basic questions. Who is us and who is them?
Of course, this tendency toward larger organizational units could be a dead end. The dinosaurs would have something to say about it, I bet, if they were still around. It could very well turn out that the EU is no match for young men walking into Europe looking for a good time. It’s also possible that the EU was an answer to a problem that no longer exists. History, however, suggest that bigger is the way to bet.