May 5 • 48M

The Modern Nation Messed Everything Up

The political theorist David Polansky on whether democracy can survive untethered from a shared sense of reality.


Appears in this episode

Damir Marusic
Shadi Hamid
Agreement is nice. Disagreement is better.
Episode details

Can a cohesive nation survive without a common identity or shared values?

That question is at the heart of this week’s podcast with political theorist

. Last week, David’s essay in Wisdom of Crowds rebutted the claim that the Israelites can be understood as a modern nation. Throughout history, various peoples, David argues, have coalesced around a shared sense of “peoplehood” without a claim to a nation. From here, a rich conversation ensues as to whether a people—and democracy itself—can endure without anything more than a commitment to peaceful coexistence.

Shadi maintains that his conception of democratic minimalism and a belief in “the people” (even if they’re not real) are enough to sustain a democracy. Damir finds this to be insufficient. While a degree of myth-making is necessary to constitute a nation, more is required to undergird an enduring society. But what exactly?

In the full episode (for paying subscribers only), Shadi presses David on his assertion that the modern Canadian state, despite being democratic, has far more power over individual citizens than under pre-modern dictators. The three also discuss whether the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that democracy is rebounding, ebbing, or headed for a different trajectory altogether.

Lastly, not only will paying subscribers have access to the full episode—including an awkward but vaguely touching coda from Shadi on his doubts over the future—but they will also be able to watch the whole conversation and take note of our facial expressions on video. We’re really excited to be offering this new subscriber benefit, so please consider joining us.

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