The word “country” derives from the Latin contrata, which means “terrain opposite the viewer,” in the sense of terrain in front of the viewer and distinct from the wider landscape. This etymological origin highlights the idea of a country as a distinct piece of land with its own particularities and people. Today, the word country is used interchangeably with nation, meaning a sovereign geopolitical entity.
Countries come and go. In eastern Europe, for example, borders have been shifting for hundreds of years. In the post-French Revolution era, rarely does a country go a hundred years without a revolution or deep change of government. So, it’s worth examining traits of healthy countries in general, rather than focusing on any particular historic time period or geographic area, which can lead to status quo bias. Technological, political, and demographic factors may combine in the near future to create new countries. This makes theories of countries-in-general relevant to futurism as well.
In no particular order, here are some desirable features of a country and its government which come to mind:
1) Strong economy. Ideally, a country should have a vigorous economy that is diverse, meets basic needs, is attractive to foreign investors, keeps employment high, provides substantial average real wages, has minimal public debt, and a high-tech sector. If the changing demands of the global economy put people out of work, they need to be retrained. A strong economy means having tangible assets, not a lot of “resources” in the form of tangled financial instruments and mass money printing. Contemporary examples of countries with strong economies include Switzerland and Singapore. Garrett Jones, a GMU economist, has pointed out the strong relevance of average national IQ to national GDP. The average IQ of “smart fractions” may play an even greater role than national average IQ.
2) Strong military and strategic alliances. The foundation that allows a country to exist is its military. Without it, the country cannot assert its economic and political interests vis-à-vis other countries, national and international corporations, powerful individuals, and so on. The point of having a strong military is to not have to use it. Despite the naive Wilsonian vision of geopolitics as a set of sovereign entities interacting based on orderly international rules, the world has more in common with a playground than a court house, where a country needs military strength to avoid being bullied at home and abroad. Having a strong military is distinct from militarism, which makes the military the focus of the state, or interventionism, which involves intervening in foreign conflicts as a matter of course.
3) Low crime. Would you feel safe letting your sister or daughter walk around at night in your neighborhood? In the town where I grew up, it is safe, in the town where I live now, it isn’t. In the UK, 95% of women said in a survey that they don’t feel safe walking around alone at night, and 65% don’t feel safe during the day. At least 70,000 women are raped yearly in the UK, and 80,000 women are raped yearly in the US. Rape in London is up 53% in the last four years alone. Overall violent crime is down since a peak in 1992, but it’s still far higher than in traditional communities and countries. In Austria, only 22% of people (including men) feel unsafe walking at night. Average statistics in the US are similar, but we see a huge disconnect between urban and suburban/rural safety.
4) Strong leadership. Without strong leadership, a country’s government spends an inordinate amount of time and money bickering amongst itself. Drawing in huge portions of the populace, it becomes a continuous low-intensity civil war. This devolves to pandering to the lowest common denominator, whose uneducated whims then direct the course of the country. This circumstance is reminiscent of weak leaders like Napoleon III, who couldn’t chart a course without consulting popular opinion. A leader that follows the masses for every decision is not a leader at all. The whole point of leadership is to achieve a quality of decisions and initiative superior to those of the masses. The same applies to any organization. The point of having a CEO is not just to have a mindless robot that integrates employee preferences.
5) Geopolitical identity. A particular country needs a particular spot of land to call its own, and borders to delineate that land from other countries. Otherwise, it is more like a no-man’s-land that anyone can occupy than a distinct country. A country needs to take responsibility for its own land and the people on it, and to do that, it needs a defined chunk of land with a defined group of people. For most of modern history, this was considered rather elementary, and only in very recent times has there been any confusion on the matter. A country needs a geopolitical identity to distinguish it from neighboring countries, to articulate its interests on the local and global stage, to give its citizens a feeling of solidarity and interdependence, and to define its territory for legal reasons.
6) Civic participation. Underlying the social and demographic health of a nation is its civic participation. By this, I mean participating in physical clubs or associations of any kind, rather than volunteering to pick up trash on the highway. Robert Putnam, a recently decorated Harvard professor, found that civic engagement in America has fallen by about half since a peak in the 60s. This phenomenon of disengagement has led to hikikomoris (young men who stay inside all day), plummeting self-esteem linked to higher rates of suicide, socially anxious men who want the government to pay women to date them, general social and physical weakness, and so on.
7) Ethnic and cultural identity. Maintaining most of the above requires coherent cultural and ethnic identit(ies) between citizens. If there are multiple cultural/ethnic identities, they need to be either assimilated into one another, be distinctive and have clear guidelines for interaction, or be administratively separated. For instance, Austria-Hungary in 1910 had a multitude of different ethnic groups, and political autonomy was granted to these groups which insulated them from administration by rival groups. Different racial groups are empirically demonstrated to hesitate making decisions for one another, rightly so. Following these guidelines is a recipe for long-term stability. People with opposing cultures occupying the same sovereign area eventually degenerate into civil war.